Saturday, July 22, 2023

Weekend Open Thread


  1. Yay, the Weekend Open Thread is back! :-D I might as well take advantage of it and post away. "Barbie" will have to wait 'till later, all the Dolby Cinema screenings in NYC are sold out for the weekend! :-(

    OPPENHEIMER (IMAX 70mm). Every 70mm IMAX screenings for the next two weeks has been sold out at AMC's Lincoln Square (only IMAX in NYC with 70mm projector) for a while. I was ready to watch "O" in plain ol' 70mm film like a peasant (boo!), but at 10AM Friday I checked the AMC app and there was one cancellation opening for the 10:30AM IMAX 70mm Friday screening... right smack in the middle of the theater (yay, sweet spot!). So I "ran" from 113th Street to 68th and (barely) made it in time to an event I thought I'd have to wait weeks to enjoy properly. :-)

    Quick and simple: "O" is going to win Best Picture (a dense character study using IMAX tech to bring audience's closer to compelling character's inner turmoil and CG-free particle/explosion effects? Yes, please!), Best Director (Christopher Nolan has done a ton of profitable, critically acclaimed work that has gone unrewarded by the Academy; perfect storm to celebrate a stellar body of work), Best Actor (ditto Cillian Murphy, a great supporting thesp justly rewarded with a ticket into the A-listers club) and Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr. doing even better McCarthy-type acting work than in 2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck") almost automatically. Every other potential Oscar (music, editing, costume/production design, special effects, etc.) would be gravy, especially if Florence Pugh gets a Best Supporting Actress nom for visualizing adultery under pressure. Best little moment that stuck with me: Truman's Defense Secretary Henry Stimson (James Remar, a speck of sand in "O's" beach worth of AAA talent) sparing Kyoto from nuclear destruction because he and his wife honeymooned there. :-( One of the best cinematic experiences of 2023 by an H bomb-sized margin. What, too soon? :-P

    LOST IN THE STARS (2023, THEATER). Chinese "Gone Girl"/"A Simple Favor" knock-off, but a really good one that knows if you're going to lean into this sub-genre's tropes you have to go balls-to-the-wall crazy to stand out. I don't want to spoil anything (even describing the basic plot is a risk), but this keeps topping itself right up until the final shot and even past the credits. I want an American remake not because I disliked this Chinese original (it's plenty good as is), but for this insane tale to be exposed to a wider U.S. audience. Highly recommended if you're into this particular type of thriller.

    ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011, BLU-RAY). You can watch John Boyega become a movie star while a decent-but-low-budget alien invasion flick (which becomes charming as the body count stacks up when Jumayn Hunter's Hi-Hatz loses his shit) with a social message (that is easier to follow if you turn subtitles on) unfolds. Other than Nick Frost sticking out as stunt casting that didn't work ($6 million worldwide box office on a $12 million budget?! :-O), this one has aged remarkably well for an 11-year British genre export.

    TERRIFIER (2016, THEATER). You know what's scarier than watching Art the Clown pull a "Bone Tomahawk" on a dopey drunk girl for the first time (and OMFG! :-O) in a packed movie theater? The STUPID "father" that brought two little kids (6-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy) to the screening and sat next to me. The little girl wouldn't shut up asking for a cellphone, and her "dad" kept telling her to shut up and watch the screen! :-O It took everything in me to not bolt out of my seat and get the manager to report child abuse... but at least this "father" had the decency to take the girl out of the theater for the "Bone Tomahawk" scene (little boy watched the whole thing), then promptly returned so all three could watch the rest. And yes, now that I've seen one of the best slashers of the past 10 years on the big screen I'm ready for the 135 min. (!) "Terrifier 2" whenever it returns to cinemas. :-)

    More later. Nice to be back. ;-)

    1. MORE later? :)

      Sounds like Dad couldnʻt get a babysitter.

    2. I was hyped for Oppenheimer, but now...well, I'm more than hyped! I'm visiting Toronto 2 weeks from now, so I should try to see if I can tickets in one the "real" IMAX theatres there. We don't have any here in Ottawa.

    3. Glad you're back!

      Also, glad the weekend open thread is back. Thanks Patrick. I don't post every week, but look forward to reading what people have been watching.

    4. Great reviews as always JM! im soooooooo stoked for Oppenheimer. I recently read the book its based on and am fascinated to see how it all translates

    5. Iʻm happy for Cillian Murphyʻs chances of getting best actor for Oppenheimer. I wonder if it could be a push for him to make a change and play a cute, charming, sexy role thatʻs worthy of his pretty face for once? A role with a little joy in it, no? I actually talk to Cillian Murphy in my head quite a bit when I see his films. My message (which shouldnʻt matter to him or anyone) always along the lines of - you have that face. Are you going to use it for good or evil? (And yes I am kind of aware that I sound like an abusive, creepy producer.) Show off those teeth, Cillian. Try winking and smiling at a girl. But thatʻs not his thing, thatʻs not his thing at all. He is Oppenheimer. Iʻm coming to accept it.

  2. Barbie! Oppenheimer! I havenʻt seen them yet! They sound great! Robʻs reviews on this site are awesome, per usual. So much so that I hesitate to mark them with my passing-through comments (like "No way, Barbie gets cellulite??")

    I wanted to talk about something to do with 12 ANGRY MEN. So at the beginning, only one guy on the jury understands what "reasonable doubt" means and how it applies to their case. As soon as he gets talking he makes the meaning pretty clear to the others, but there are still stragglers. The rest is the drama of straightening out every manʻs crooked thinking. So I had this thought about the movie a while ago and suddenly I was less impressed with the whole story. I was like "Well thatʻs dumb. If only they all had understood what the term reasonable doubt meant at the beginning. It's EASY logic. Apart from the one really emotional juror, Iʻm surprised the rest didnʻt catch on sooner." So fast forward to this week...I look at my own problems and I see that I do the same exact thing. Some concepts that seem so basic and logical...are so hard for me to apply. Itʻs like I donʻt actually understand them at all. It feels akin to being very clear about the flaws in someone elseʻs thinking, yet not being able to recognize the same kind in your own. And weirder - even if you do recognize them, not knowing how to correct them. Itʻs odd. But it definitely makes me feel I should be less judge-y...

    1. That's a good thought. It's much easier to criticise others than examine ourselves, and even harder to correct the obvious flaws we have. Self improvement for the win!

      Sidenote, I once was on a jury (I got the letter weeks after turning 18), and there was an older person that didn't understand "reasonable doubt". It took about 4 hours to get them to agree, and there were heaps and heaps of doubt, but she was countering with "but what if he did do it". You can't convict someone just because "well, maybe he did it". It took so long to make them understand what "reasonable doubt" meant. And the judge had spent a full hour drilling the explanation of "reasonable doubt" to us. It was just racism on display, tbh. Older white lady was convinced that the young black man was guilty just "because". That's why you have more than one person on a jury! I was so glad when when everyone (except the one) agreed with me, because you're not allowed to talk about it until the deliberation part starts, so I had no idea what anyone else thought. But yeah, so much doubt. They're only evidence was a security guard that picked a guy from a lineup, and it wasn't him. And then picked another person from another lineup, and it wasn't him either. And then they were trying to convict a guy he picked in a 3rd lineup. That was the only evidence. Maybe he was the guy? But there was doubt.

      I've still never seen 12 Angry Men. I should watch it!

    2. Super great thoughts and introspection Meredith!!!

      I, like Paul, had similar experiences on jury duty recently. Its very very interesting to see how personal bias plays into the process. Honestly given the insane polarization of people right now im kind of surprised that any jury reaches a common verdict.

    3. Paul and Mashke, thank you for sharing! I think you might really like 12 Angry Men, Paul. I donʻt know anyone who doesnʻt like that movie. And itʻs about a jury! And thereʻs racism! You could relate!

      I can see myself trying to draw a picture for that older woman in your story. Give me a chalkboard. We need visual supports! But thatʻs beside the point. The point is, it is so much freaking easier to see problems in others. And itʻs easier to see problems when theyʻre about racism and big social problems rather than personal ones for me. I would dismiss (and maybe get angry/annoyed) about obvious personal bias in people before but now that I realize I have so much it, I find it more interesting.

  3. Ok, I ran into a bit of a wall during Juneploitation. Work got really busy. A bit of a family thing (don't worry, everyone is healthy now) was a time suck. And I. Just. Couldn't. Make. It. Through. Red Sonja. The last week ended up being several movies that I only watched the first 30 minutes, and a couple very tired nights I just watched Star Trek instead.

    But! I did finish. Late, but I finished the month (in July). Here are my mini-reviews:

    80's Action! Red Sonja (1985, dir. Richard Fleischer)
    This was the movie that defeated me, but when I revisited it after a break, I actually enjoyed it. It's definitely a weaker entry into the 80's Sword and Sandal movie oeuvre. Fleischer directed many great movies. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and The Vikings. His Wikipedia photo looks like it's from the 1800's.

    Hixsploitation! Whiskey Mountain (dir. William Grefé) I later found out was a film that Tarantino praised. It was pretty good! A bunch of people go into the woods to try to find some historical guns, and are met with some evil marijuana growers that "You folks aren't welcome around here". Both the protagonists, and the antagonists were kind of "hicks", which made it all the more delightful. It would have been better if our heroes weren't so gung ho about the Confederacy.

    Italian Horror! The Pajama Girl Case (1977, dir. Flavio Mogherini). This ended up not being horror at all, and more of a giallo. Very unique movie as far as giallos go, and very good. It has 2 completely separate stories, but they come together at the end and everything is explained.

    Sammo Hung! Yes, Madam (1985, dir. Corey Yuen was produced by Hung and he played a small part in it. It was fantastic watching a movie where Cynthia Rothrock is a main character. This movie is gold! So good.

    '80s Comedy! Risky Business (1983, dir. Paul Brickman). This movie was mentioned recently on the podcast. Cruise was so young! It's strange that Brickman never had much of a career after directing this great movie.

    Free Space! Vanishing Point (1971, dir. Richard C. Sarafian). Wow, did I love this movie. I watched it after the recommendations on Cars! day. There's so much great stunt driving in this, and the rest is just "day in the life" about an amphetamined up guy just living life to it's fullest. I loved this.

    Sequels! Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984, dir. Steven Spielberg). I had only seen it once before, and it was in the basement of a divorced uncle when I was pretty young, and was scared by it. Very different from the Disney movies I was used to watching. It was the same uncle that let us watch Predator 2 in the same basement. I was thinking, "Wow, my uncle lets my cousins watch these crazy movies", but in reality, he was just a derelict father. But we're all flawed in some way. Some more than others though.

    1. Even without life's distractions, Junesploitation is a challenge. I feel fortunate to have had the time and energy for it the past six years. Yes, Madam! was a hit with a lot of us last month. Vanishing Point is such product of the '60s counterculture. Unfortunately, The Man always wins. Without a specific giallo day this year, I saw many people blending it in with Italian horror day. Many seem to not differentiate between the two, though.

  4. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (2023 XD)

    Full disclosure: i LOVE this franchise and find it endlessly rewatchable. I had a loooot of fun with this latest entry. I think Haley Atwell is outstanding. Overall i dont like it as much as the last 2 as i think the villain isnt super intriguing and this feels a bit more set piece-to-set piece than previously but thats not a super dig on it as its still an incredible action flick. Cruise continues to impress.

    Double Feature - WW2 Nite: SISU revisit....i have soooooooooo much fun with this flick. Multiple viewings and its fun every time. I think the landmine scene is one of the most creative action/escape scenes in a long, long time. DUNKIRK...i feel like this movie is super under most peoples radar? maybe? i hadnt rewatched since IMAX. OMG this movie is dont watch experience it. It doesnt feel like a conventional war movie at feels like you are just thrust into key moments and watch them unfold...the audio for this movie (which i played ear-bleeding-loud) may be more important to the experience than any movie i can think of in a long, long time.


    MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART 1 (2023, IMAX): Caught the last IMAX showing at Lincoln Square before AMC switched over to "Oppenheimer." This would easily be my second or third favorite "MI" flick ("Fallout" remains top dog) if the villain being a sentient AI program (with the underrated Esai Morales as its human henchman) wasn't a bridge too far for me to cross. I'll take Philip Seymour Hoffman's Davian over flashing lightshows at a night club. Kudos to the filmmakers for being timely when they conceived the narrative, but not even Tom Cruise jumping mountains can make me stop rolling my eyes whenever stopping a "Terminator"-type rogue AI is brought up as a serious threat. Kudos to Hayley Atwell for basically carrying the narrative on her shoulders (her character is the only one with a compelling arc) and Tom Cruise for letting his co-stars upstage Ethan Hunt during critical moments (Venice street brawls) for the film's betterment. Worth seeing, but shame it was on IMAX for just one week. :-(

    INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY (2023, THEATER). Screw the haters, I had a good time with this one... until Tom Cruise's latest brought it down by re-doing some of its set-pieces (like the train action scene) eons better. It's not perfect (Antonio Banderas has shockingly little to do despite being third-billed) and has some serious tonal issues (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her Short Round are treated like the stars/leads without earning it, with cranky old Indy relegated mostly to frowning sidekick duty), but there is enough cool stuff (Mads Mikelsen, the opening 20 minutes, the horse and tuk tuk chases, an ending that's both predictably unpredictable) to end the franchise on a mostly uplifting note. Shame that John Williams retires with a generic, not-that-special score that doesn't stand out. Not as good as "Raiders" and "Last Crusade," but much, much better than "Crystal Skull" and the God-awful "Temple of Doom." Yes, I'm going there. :-P

    Hit my Barnes & Noble for the Criterion 50% off sale, and immediately watched two of 'em. THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (1965, BLU-RAY) is one of the most visceral man-vs.-beast cinematic spectacles ever captured on film, thanks to director Francesco Rosi's cameraman using 300mm film lenses to get close-ups-from-afar of a rookie matador (real-life toreador Miguel Mateo) face-to-face with bleeding-to-death bulls to the delight of fevered crowds. Animal lovers should steer far away, but if you can handle the Hemingway-inspired subject matter this is a compelling rags-to-riches peek into Spanish culture in the early 60's.

    ECLIPSE SERIES 35: NORMAN MAILER (1967-1970, DVD) compiles three "features" helmed by the towering American writing auteur that convinces himself (and his troop of acolytes) that he's making important cinema. NOPE! 1967's "Wild 90" (three gangster holed in a NYC apartment one-up one another while getting drunk) is borderline unwatchable, and its practically unintelligible without subtitles on. 1968's "Beyond the Law" (two NYC cops try to woo two young dames by recounting their night at the precinct interrogating "perps") starts strong and features a compelling hook (racism and mistreatment of prisoners), but Mailer can't help but make his Irish-rogue copper the centerpiece of the drama to the film's detriment. And even though it shows growth from where he started (plus it's in color!), 1970's "Maidstone" (a Fellini-type American filmmaker runs for U.S. president as he films a sexually explicit arthouse picture) still comes across as Norman Mailer in love with himself. Despite the large cast (including Andy Warhol star Ultra Violet) a young and thin Rip Torn steals the movie (and the Eclipse Box Set) by beating the shit out of Mailer, an awkward mix of real-life and staged realities colliding that is more entertaining than its then-ripped-from-headlines assassination subplot. Not recommended, but YMMV. I feel I got my money's worth, but just barely.

    More to come, got 9:45PM Saturday "Barbie" Dolby Cinema tickets.

  6. Following Adam's piece on The Matrix 2 and 3 movies, i went and bought all Matrix movies in 4k blu-ray. Let's face it, we all love the first movie, watch the second for the highway scene and prefer to forget the third even exist. Which is what i did. As for the fourth movie, it's still to soon to get a proper evaluation like the other ones, but i like it. As legacy-sequel go, it's not the worst, and as a closing of the Matrix franchise, i think it works

    Oh yeah, about Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning, i was bored out of my skull. And i like all the others (maybe not 2), so i was surprised by my reaction. But then again, i thought Top Gun Maverick was also pretty boring and derivative, so sue me 😎😜

    1. My cinematic lawyer will be in touch with you soon. 😉😁

    2. I'll give that to Maverick, the big action setpiece at the end it pretty good

      And the Dead Reckoning train scene made me want to watch Wanted (which has a very cool train scene). So i got the 4k blu-ray and i'm watching it now

  7. For the previous week, I finally seemed to have gotten back into a movie-watching mind-set after the Junesploitation fatigue. Being stuck in a house pet sitting also gave me plenty of free time.

    HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961, dir. Vittorio Cottafavi) – I have only seen this before in a pan-and-scan version with faded colors. This viewing was a great example of how watching a film in a nice presentation with the original aspect ratio can enhance the experience. Though it still is silly sword and sandal escapism, the spectacle element really shines through. There are plenty of impressive sets and locations to gawk at. The story is a slight one about Hercules reaching the island of Atlantis and fighting against its evil queen. Definitely a turn-off-your-mind kind of film and one of the better Italian peplum films of the 1950s and ‘60s.

    AT THE DRIVE-IN (2017, dir. Alexander Monelli) – Watching this is such a strange experience. I started going to the Mahoning Drive-In around the time this documentary was being shot, and I have interacted with everyone that is featured in the film for years. The film is a snapshot of the drive-in before the pandemic. Since then, the volunteers have largely been replaced by employees. Virgil still runs the drive-in, but Matt (who grew a moustache and let his hair get long) left in 2020 and is now the owner of Shankweiler’s Drive-In, the oldest existing one in the United States. Rob is now a projectionist at the Mahoning. Mark has since moved to Pennsylvania. Hearing those intermission reels playing in the background really brings back the memories of hanging out on the lot.

    TOM OF FINLAND (2017, dir. Dome Karukoski) – Being familiar with Tom of Finland’s unique take on the male physique, I was curious how his life and art are covered in this biopic. There is nothing negative I can say against the film, but I always felt at a distance as a viewer. As a film and as a biopic, though, there is much that I did appreciate. The story is compelling, and it does not shy away from showing the frank drawings Touko Laaksonen, the real name of Tom of Finland, created. The depiction of the treatment of homosexuals by Finnish society was not much different than in the United States.

    ZAPPA (2020, dir. Alex Winters) – This documentary about the late eclectic musician Frank Zappa flows beautifully. With the amount of material in his vault, I cannot imagine the task of editing this together. J.B. wrote an article about it back in 2020 that sums up the film better than I could. It is about a life, full of highs and lows and triumphs and faults, going about the day-to-day process of musical creation while having to deal with the hassles of reality. I am surprised that the DVD did not have more deleted scenes and footage on it, though. I am sure there was a lot more material that did not make it into the final cut.

    THE PSYCHIC (1977, dir. Lucio Fulci) – With the third watch, this has become one of my favorite Fulci films. It does start out slow, but the characteristic Fulci atmosphere grows as the story moves toward the finale. Though more of a thriller, this does feel like a warm-up to his supernatural horror. It does beg the question: is Virginia seeing what will happen or just taking actions that will create the outcomes of the visions?

  8. For this week, there are a few watches, some at drive-ins and others inspired by more time pet sitting.

    THE KARATE KID (1984) and THE LAST DRAGON (1985) at Shankweiler’s Drive-In – I had not seen The Karate Kid for over three decades, but I had watched it many times as a child. I remembered some scenes very well, particularly the tournament at the conclusion. It holds up as an example of 1980s underdog stories while reminding me that the young actors of that time are now senior citizens. I had forgotten about how many movies Elisabeth Shue was in in that decade. The Last Dragon was new to me, and what a good weird time it is. It could only come from the ‘80s. From the MTV stylings, the Motown soundtrack, the off-kilter kung fu plot, and crazy fashions, there is always something amusing to look at or hear. The final fight with “the glow” happening elicited many laughs.

    A couple of days later I went to Mahoning Drive-In to see the wacky Hong Kong flick INFRA-MAN (1975) on the big screen. Such a fun film to watch, and it is one of the rare examples of the ridiculous dubbing adding the to experience.

    THIS TRANSIENT LIFE (1970, dir. Akio Jissoji) on MUBI – Masao is a young man and aspiring artist who breaks every taboo in the world around him. I am not sure Blogger would appreciate the description of what he does. At the heart of the film is the collision of living a life free of any norms and what religious codes (Buddhism in this case) teach as appropriate. Blending art house style (great cinematography), pink film, religious debate, and a new wave spirit, This Transient Life kept me alert for over two hours, something that does not happen easily anymore. It certainly is not an easy film to watch. Even as someone who is familiar with Buddhism, there were still aspects I still did not comprehend.

    FITZCARRALDO (1982, dir. Werner Herzog) - I finally got around to watching the Herzog classic. I had seen Les Blank's doc about it, The Burden of Dreams, before, so I knew what I was getting into. The idea of moving an entire steamboat over a hill was crazy enough, but making it happen in the middle of the Amazon was even crazier. Klaus Kinski was born to portray the title character, channeling his own maniacal energy into the performance. Too bad Werner Herzog had to suffer so much abuse for it.

    Finally, I watched the 2023 documentary LOVE TO LOVE YOU, DONNA SUMMER on MAX. Her life and career involved a lot more than disco. It is a far more conventional music doc than the David Bowie doc MOONAGE DAYDREAM, which is on MAX as well.

    1. Loved Moonage Daydream, i was so happy when Criterion announced it

    2. That drive-in double feature sounds awesome. I'm pretty jealous of that one.

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