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Favorite films and television of 2017 (part 3)

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There’s always content from any given year that, try as I might, I do not get to watch until the following year. This year has been no exception, though I have been able to see many more limited-release films theatrically since moving to Portland last September, which saves me from having to wait for them to come out on DVD and pick them up through Netflix. This entry will cover what I’ve seen during the first two months of 2018, which is 90% material created for 2017.


“I, Tonya”

Of the 2017 films I saw these past two months, I really liked “I, Tonya”, “Molly’s Game”, “All the Money in the World”, “Brad’s Status”, “Call Me By Your Name”, “Inxeba (The Wound)” and “Phantom Thread”.


“All the Money in the World”

Having now seen roughly 90-95% of the films I wanted to see for 2017, I feel I can make some kind of list of my favorite films from the year. In my previous entry I declared “Lucky” as my overall favorite of the year, and I stand by that. I pass along this list of my ten favorites, in order of when they were released during the year:

  1. “Get Out”
  2. “Long Strange Trip”
  3. “Oh, Hello On Broadway”
  4. “It”
  5. “Lucky”
  6. “The Florida Project”
  7. “mother!”
  8. “I, Tonya”
  9. “All the Money in the World”
  10. “Phantom Thread”

“Phantom Thread”

With the Academy Awards being handled out this upcoming Sunday, I thought I would make a second list of my preference for each of the nine films nominated for best picture. I was lucky to have seen all nine nominees in the theater (even before the nominations were announced), so my streak of seeing the eventual best picture winner will continue into its twenty-first year.

  1. “Get Out”
  2. “Phantom Thread”
  3. “Dunkirk”
  4. “Darkest Hour”
  5. “Call Me By Your Name”
  6. “Lady Bird”
  7. “The Shape of Water”
  8. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  9. “The Post”



“Get Out”

I really liked the first four on this list, and generally liked the next four, and basically didn’t feel much of anything for “The Post”. It just didn’t captivate me. I feel “The Shape of Water” may be the big winner on Sunday, or at the very least Guillermo Del Toro will be named best director, and I only wish he received this honor for his much better film “Pan’s Labyrinth” or even “Pacific Rim”. It will be akin to Scorsese winning gold for “The Departed” when he made so many other superior films. But that is the nature of Hollywood’s best-known popularity contest, I suppose.


“Inxeba – The Wound”

Other films I liked include “Okja” (a global tale about GMO food production), “Trophy” (big-game hunting vs. conservation), “The Insult” (the fragility of Lebanese/Palestinian relations), “24×36” (documentary about the history of movie posters) and “78/52” (documentary about Hitchcock’s famous shower scene from “Psycho”).


“Call Me By Your Name”

“Good Time” was well written but I think I would have liked it more had it not been so chronically depressing. “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” felt like a mashup of “Spirited Away” and Harry Potter, with a Scottish raccoon that felt too out of place.


“Brad’s Status”

A few disappointments — “The Post”, as I mentioned before… it just didn’t interest me. Spielberg should have teamed up with Aaron Sorkin to pump up this subject matter (freedom of press). Too bad he was busy writing and directing the captivating “Molly’s Game”. I also saw “Downsizing” and couldn’t care for the lead character, this sad sack played by Matt Damon, nor the yappy housecleaner who devotes herself to caring for the sick and informed.

I have seen a few 2018 releases… last night we saw “Annihilation” which I loved for its visual beauty and the creative imagery of horror (the bear creature that barks like a screaming woman). I saw “Hostiles” and “Black Panther” and liked both, though seeing them once was enough.


“Everything Sucks”

On the television front, I watched the second season of “Baskets”, which was better than the first. Netflix material I saw and liked: the first season of “Everything Sucks” and the fourth season of “Black Mirror”, particularly “USS Callister”, Hang the DJ” and the black/white cat-and-mouse tale “Metalhead”.



On the flip side, the fourth season of “Grace and Frankie” convinced me the show is running on fumes (Lily Tomlin looks totally uninterested in most episodes), “Godless” needed a dialogue coach to teach the cast how to speak with a southern accent that doesn’t sound like it came out of a 1950s western, and “Alias Grace” that did something with the lead male character in the final episode that made absolutely no sense and completely ruined the ending of what had been a so-so tale of wrongful prosecution.


“Black Mirror – Hang the DJ”

We’ve also been watching the first two seasons of HGTV show “Good Bones”, a fun mother/daughter team that buys and renovates homes in Indianapolis, and I rewatched every episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, a show that’s unfortunately approaching a Simpsons-level of zombification.


“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

I received my MoviePass card the first week of January and have already seen 12 films, which would have cost me $121.05 in ticket sales (I’m keeping a spreadsheet) but has actually only cost me $10 per month. Right now I’m averaging $1.67 per movie… not too shabby!


“78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”


Written by camcarlson

March 2, 2018 at 1:13 AM

Posted in Cinema

Favorite films (and television) of 2017 (part 2)

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[minor spoilers ahead]

I’ve decided to not wait much longer into the new year to write about what I liked about the second half of last year. I’m sure there’s a better way to phrase that, but let’s stick with it. I don’t want to excessively edit this entry, given the amount of material I have to cover. Below is what I’ve seen and liked…


“The Shape of Water”

Before I begin with 2017, I want to briefly touch on a catch-up film from 2016, “Certain Women”, the latest film by Kelly Reichardt, she who previously made “Old Joy”, “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Wendy and Lucy”. Her latest film is a mixture of three stories, connected to each other in varying ways. The film beautifully captures the look of Montana: wide expanses of land, mountains off in the distance, cold, windy, alone. I was drawn in by one scene in particular — Michelle Williams’ character has come to the home of an old man whose lawn just happens to include the collapsed remains of an old school house, and she would like to buy the sandstone rubble to use in the construction of her new home. The old man (René Auberjonois) is at first standoffish to her offer as the rubble continues to serve a purpose – it reminds him of the past, and his memories. But after a bit of meandering conversation on his part, he brings up bird whistles, and Williams provides the correct response to one of his calls. Having made a connection, they eventually agree on a price, though it is clear from the look on his face that the idea of losing the stones does not sit well with him. It’s a touching scene, and it helps make this film one of my favorite from last year.


“Certain Women”

Of the 2017 films I saw this year, I really liked “A Quiet Passion”, “It”, “Lucky”, “The Florida Project”, “Lady Bird”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “mother!”

Of these films, I most liked “Lucky”. It was the final film to feature Harry Dean Stanton, who passed away last year at age 91. Granted, Stanton spent his many decades in Hollywood as a character actor, having only once before been the lead in a film (“Paris, Texas” back in 1984; a film so great, it’s hard to top). Lucky reminded me of my 92-year old grandfather, in the way that he’s still alive, crotchety but approachable, with his daily routines that keep him plugging away at life. There’s a scene where he sees a doctor (played by Ed Begley Jr.) and the doctor tells him he can’t explain why he’s still alive, but whatever he’s doing seems to be working, so just keep doing it. The film features a cameo by Tom Skerritt as a veteran passing through town; he and Lucky sit next to each other at a diner one day and talk about their service, and Skerritt shares a painful story about WWII. The film also features a cameo by David Lynch as a dapper friend who has lost his tortoise, and gives a heartfelt speech about what friendship means to people (and tortoises) who have lived as long as they have. Usually when I see a movie about elderly people, it’s hard for me to not think about how they’re likely going to die soon, and all the various sentimental feelings that come with that. “Lucky” may be the only film about an elderly man that stares down those thoughts and puts me at ease. Lucky is going to be all right, no matter how he meets his fate.



The film that best transported me into a singular environment was “The Florida Project”, set in the land of cheap motels near Disney World, bright pastel paints, thick white summer clouds, melting ice cream, bored kids with the entire world as their playground, and dead-end teenage moms living in the margins of society. The lead is played by 7-year old Brooklynn Prince, who does better and more convincing acting in this role than nearly everything else I saw last year.



I wonder how different “Boyhood” would have been had it been about a girl (and/or if it had been directed by a female filmmaker). I guess we’ll never get to see “Girlhood”, but if it’s any consolation, we do have “Lady Bird”, the story about a headstrong senior at a Catholic high school who is chomping at the bit to get the hell away from home once she graduates. Saoirse Ronan was 22 when the film was made, which is well enough for playing a 17-year old student — my main gripe with films about students is usually how much older the actors are in comparison to their characters. Laurie Metcalf as the mother who has mastered passive-aggressive relations.


“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“mother!” received mixed reviews, most of which were very strong — people either loved it or hated it. I’m drawn to movies that elicit that kind of passion, and in this case, I definitely liked this film. Darren Aronofsky has made a career tearing his characters apart (“Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Wrestler”, “Black Swan”). “mother!” takes this propensity to the extreme. Some people didn’t like how the film was made, lots of close-up shots of Jennifer Lawrence either from the front or behind, but I thought it helped disorient the audience to the surroundings, preventing anyone from feeling too comfortable with the film’s setting (filmed almost entirely inside of a rehabilitated house). It reminded me of the disorienting feeling of watching “The Blair Witch Project” and how it helped create a feeling of unease. Much has been written about what the film is suppose to mean — it’s rich in allegory — so since it’s already been said, likely better, by others, I won’t waste time trying to give my own two cents.



Other films I liked include “Baby Driver”, “The Big Sick”, “Blade Runner 2049” (though the theater I saw it at turned the volume up waaay too loud), “Darkest Hour”, “Free Fire”, “A Ghost Story”, “In This Corner of the World”, “Ingrid Goes West”, “It Comes At Night”, “The Shape of Water”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, “Super Dark Times”, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “War for the Planet of the Apes”.


“Blade Runner 2049”

A few disappointments — “Personal Shopper”, the latest film pairing between Kristen Stewart and director Olivier Assayas. Perhaps I’m not in tune to appreciate French quasi-horror films (at least not modern ones), or perhaps I appreciated Stewart and Assayas’ previous collaboration too much (“Clouds of Sils Maria”).


“Clouds of Sils Maria”

I also didn’t care for “The Beguiled”, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (the visuals were top-notch but the dialogue simply awful) or “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (the dialogue/delivery and basic premise of this film, ugh) or Cate Blanchett’s “Manifesto” from 2015 (visually interesting but rendered boring by its overbearing politics).



“Shin Godzilla” was the most silly fun I had watching a movie in a while. A perfect blend of modern CGI and rubber monster suits. The 1983 French documentary “Sans Soleil” was so captivating, when it was over I immediately watched it a second time.


“Shin Godzilla”

I liked “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” from Ang Lee (a 2016 release), and would have liked to have seen it on a theater screen when it was screened in 4K HDR 60fps.


“Lady Bird”

Netflix continues to put out quality original content. Last year they released a few good movies: “Mudbound”, “First They Killed My Father”, “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” which *finally* gave Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller two great roles to work with. It’s strange seeing either of them doing quality work that doesn’t leave me feeling rubbed over with a cheese grater, but both of them? Santa came early this year.


“Big Mouth”

Speaking of Netflix, I discovered “Big Mouth”, my new favorite comedy and animated series, and “Mindhunter”, a brilliant psychological drama created by Joe Penhall with David Fincher directing the first two and last two episodes.


“Ash vs. Evil Dead”

I also fell in love with “Ash vs. Evil Dead”, or at least the first two seasons available. Not only did they recreate the cabin from the original two films but they brought back Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and Henrietta (Ted Raimi inside the body suit) and Ash’s severed hand, and Xena (Lucy Lawless) and created some new creepy deadites, including the reality-shifting Eligos. Groovy!


“A Quiet Passion”

I also liked the first season of “Dark”, the second season of “Stranger Things”, the third season of “Schitt’s Creek”, the fourth season of “Bojack Horseman” and the HBO limited series “Show Me A Hero”, which should be required viewing for all “West Wing” fans. Supposedly “Portlandia” is over after 7 seasons and it didn’t feel like they did anything special at the end of the last episode, which was a bit of a letdown. I puttered through the first few seasons of “Community” on Hulu before skipping ahead to the last couple episodes of the sixth season, and now await the movie. I also discovered what may be the only season of “Tornado Hunters” which airs on CMT of all channels. It’s silly fun.

Now that I live in Portland, I have access to many movie theaters, and unlike Cedar Falls, they’re not all owned by the same corporation. Which means I can now sign up for MoviePass. A flat $10 per month and I can see one big-screen movie per day. That plus being in close proximity to the world’s best video rental store with about 90,000 titles, and I’m truly living in a golden age of cinema.

Written by camcarlson

January 7, 2018 at 4:54 PM

Posted in Cinema

Never tell me the odds

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Here’s how “Rogue One” stack up against the other Star Wars films in terms of box office receipts. The below list is domestic (North American) box office returns, adjusted for inflation.

  1. Star Wars (1977, plus 1982 and 1997 re-releases) – $1,540,734,500
  2. The Force Awakens (2015) – $935,195,600
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, plus 1982 and 1997 re-releases) – $848,609,400
  4. Return of the Jedi (1983, plus 1985 and 1997 re-releases) – $813,613,900
  5. The Phantom Menace (1999, includes 2012 re-release) – $781,199,400
  6. Rogue One (2016) – $532,177,324
  7. Revenge of the Sith (2005) – $513,157,600
  8. Attack of the Clones (2002) – $462,502,300
  9. The Clones Wars (2008) – $42,360,400

First off, should “The Clone Wars” even be considered? I think it should, given the now-existence of “Rogue One” as another filler movie between two official ‘episodes’ in the series. To be fair, “The Clones Wars” was released more as a plug for the television series on Cartoon Network between 2008 and 2014, chronicling the events between Episodes II and III, than as a standalone episode.

As shown in the list above, the original trilogy clearly does very well compared to the other films, aside from the latest episode. The original 1977 film made more than 50% more than “The Force Awakens” did two years ago, though it should be noted that “A New Hope” was re-released two times and “The Force Awakens” has (so far) only been in theaters once. Let’s see where they stand 10 to 20 years from now.

The mid-range ranking for “The Phantom Menace” can be attributed in part to pent-up demand for a new Star Wars films after 16 years, helped by the 1997 re-releases of the original trilogy. As an aside, I saw all three films during this re-release while I was in high school, and having owned and watched the 1995 VHS releases, I was quick to note the various non-subtle changes Lucas had implemented in each film. *shakes head*

“Rogue One” is at sixth place, just barely above “Revenge of the Sith”. Not bad, but not overly great. Given that the first film in each trilogy seemed to make more money than the two films that followed it, one could assume that the upcoming “The Last Jedi” and any subsequent non-episode Star Wars film won’t be making as much as “The Force Awakens” or “Rogue One”, respectively. That’s my speculation.

I also wanted to compare the films via their worldwide box office receipts, but couldn’t find reliable numbers for the 1982 re-releases of “Star Wars” or “The Empire Strikes Back”, nor the 1985 re-release of “Return of the Jedi”, nor the brief IMAX run of “Attack of the Clones”. But I could find foreign receipts for the rest, and used the same inflation rates I used for the domestic ticket sales, and came up with the following:

  1. Star Wars – $3,027,564,982
  2. The Force Awakens – $2.065,018,988
  3. The Phantom Menace – $1,786,351,047
  4. The Empire Strikes Back – $1,763,990,825
  5. Return of the Jedi – $1,355,979,402
  6. Revenge of the Sith – $1,145,374,925
  7. Rogue One – $1,055,724,829
  8. Attack of the Clones – $966,762,247
  9. The Clone Wars – $82,237,171

“The Phantom Menace” jumped up from fifth to third place, given the increased importance in foreign movie theaters between 1983 and 1999. In other words, the original trilogy made more of their money here in North America compared to later films in the series. Totally understandable given the huge growth in multiplexes, especially in Asia, during the past quarter century.  It’s no surprise that “Rogue One”, knowing it needs to play to more than just a white/American audience, features two Chinese actors in prominent roles (Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen), along with other non-white cast actors (Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, et al).

On this list, “Rogue One” falls slightly behind “Revenge of the Sith” but remains slightly ahead of “Attack of the Clones”. Not a very enviable position, all three being near the bottom of the heap (aside from that slacker “The Clone Wars”). My thought on this is, going back to the point on how the first film in the original trilogy and the prequels did better business than the subsequent two films, is that audience demand had been made, and tampered off in the following years.

There was a three year gap between the films of the original trilogy and the prequels, whereas only 12 months between “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”. Three years felt like a good amount of time to build up a bit of demand and anticipation for the next installment. So I wonder if audiences at some point in the near future will get fed up with a new Star Wars film being fed to them on an annual basis. Eventually, Disney will start to see diminished returns on their $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilms, though they have clearly made most of that back with their first two Star Wars releases. But one has to wonder, how long can that last?


Written by camcarlson

August 16, 2017 at 6:53 PM

Favorite films* of 2014 (Part 1)

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In keeping with last year’s bright idea of writing two posts about my favorite films of the year, I’m going to write a little something about the movies of 2014 that I’ve seen so far and enjoyed. I have to do this past-tense as, obviously, I waited until after New Years to do this.

Anyway, here goes…


There were four movies I really enjoyed in 2014. My favorite by far was “Boyhood”, a brilliant, low-key, honest story of a boy’s life. It wasn’t until just last year (2013) that director Richard Linklater revealed he had been filming the same four actors for a few days a year over a period of 12 years. We watch the boy, Mason Jr., and his sister Samantha grow up, and their divorced parents Olivia and Mason Sr. grow older and (in their own ways and on their own schedules) wiser. As much as the film is about childhood, it is equally about parenthood, though through the point of view of Mason Jr.; the film takes the autobiographical point of view of Mason, recalling both important and mundane moments in time. That’s how it is for everyone when taking a stroll down memory lane — sometimes we remember the monumental events that shaped who we are, and sometimes we recall some random moment, a song playing on the radio or a sunny afternoon or that time we rode our bikes down the street covered in slush and got our pant legs sopping wet. But I digress… Most of the adults in the film impart advice onto Mason, some nothing more than efforts to control him (his teachers, employers and both stepfathers) but some genuinely useful (his father, while discussing parenting: “We’re all just winging it”).


My next favorite film was ‘Under the Skin”, a dark, seductive sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien posing as a prostitute who lures men into her dark cavernous oil-liquid sex-cavern of a home and literally sucked the innards out of their skins. Mmm-hmm. It’s a morbid premise, but Johansson excels in portraying the alien seductress, probably her best film role to date.


There are only a few films by indie favorite Jim Jarmusch that I have really latched onto — “Dead Man” and “Broken Flowers” and the scenes from “Mystery Train” with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. His latest film, “Only Lovers Left Alive”, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, tells the tale of two centuries-old vampire lovers, awash in gothic melancholia. After centuries spent influencing music and science, Adam now spends his days holed up in a dilapidated Victorian home in Detroit (the perfect run-down setting for this film), sneaking into hospitals to buy blood like a drug addict. His wife, Eve, flies from Tangier to join him and shake him free of his suicidal funk. John Hurt guest stars as a vampire Christopher Marlowe. Jarmusch’s films are, for me, best enjoyed by focusing on the mood rather than the plot.


And then there’s “Wild”, the indie film starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman who has lost everyone close to her, either through misfortune or by her own doing, and she embarks on a spiritual cleansing of sorts by packing way too much shit into a hiking pack and embarking on the Pacific Crest Trail in true greenhorn fashion. The film connected with me in that it rekindled a lot of memories of my time hiking in the mountains of New Mexico in the summer of 1997. A few memorable scenes — an older man running a camp graciously helps Witherspoon’s character strip the chaff from her pack and obtain proper footwear; the unsavory yet necessary muckwater treated with iodine tablets; being mistakenly interviewed by a reporter for “Hobo Times”; removing a boot to pop a blister and yank off a bloody toenail, only to watch said boot tumble down a few hundred feet of a steep rocky cliffside, immediately followed by much cursing and tossing of the matching boot in an act of angry defiance. The hike is something I’d like to try at some point in my life, preferably while I’m still “young”; that is, while I still have healthy knees and ankles.

I also really enjoyed the following:

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Wes Anderson’s saddest, most elegant film to date; my favorite scene is the chase between the attorney (Jeff Goldblum) and the henchman (Willem Dafoe) through the dark museum just before closing.

“Blue Ruin”, the most practical, bloodthirsty revenge film since “No Country for Old Men”.

“Interstellar”, a believable end to life on Earth, the cool TARS design and a star-swallowing black hole I couldn’t look away from. The docking scene was the most suspenseful four minutes of any film I saw in 2014.

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” with its crazy two hours of drum solo soundtrack and 99% single-shot camerawork… and Michael Keaton, who is the most perfect person to cast for this type of role since John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich”.

“Nightcrawler”: no one can tell me Jake Gyllenhaal can’t act after having watched this film. He is just great in channeling a greasy businessman version of Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”. Creepy sociopath with a laser-like focus on success and absolutely NO morals whatsoever.

“Citizenfour”, which has convinced me our government will do just about whatever it wants to regardless of the law.

Other films I’ve seen this year and liked include: “Big Hero 6”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Chef”, “Cold in July” (much like “Blue Ruin”), “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Dear White People”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Enemy” (another great performance — two, actually — by Gyllenhaal), “A Fantastic Fear of Everything”, the 2014 version of “Godzilla”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, the beautiful black and white camerawork of “Ida”, “Land Ho!”, “The LEGO Movie”, Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, the strange of beautiful “Noah”, “Snowpiercer”, the ultra-trippy “The Congress”, the beautiful animation of “The Wind Rises” and “The Dance of Reality”.


2014 has been a really strong year for documentaries. Aside from “Citizenfour”, I really enjoyed “Maidentrip”, about a 14-year old Dutch girl who became the youngest person to sail around the world alone, over a two-year voyage. I also liked “Life Itself”, based on Roger Ebert’s autobiography; “Tiny: A Story about Living Small”, “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, and the fist-clenching frustration induced by Errol Morris’ “The Unknown Known”, about Donald Rumsfeld (a sequel of sorts of his 2004 doc “The Fog of War”, about Robert S. McNamara).


Now, some holdover movies from 2013 that I didn’t see into well into 2014 and wanted to share: “The Broken Circle Breakdown”, “Prince Avalanche”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “Dear Mr. Watterson” and “The Heat”. Two films from 2013 I really enjoyed and recommend are “Nebraska”, Alexander Payne’s touching tale of an old coot, his exasperated wife and loyal son, chasing a million dollar prize through the small dying towns of the Great Plains, beautifully shot in black and white; and “Prisoners”, a surprisingly captivating (and depressingly dark) tale of abduction and revenge.

Thanks to Netflix, YouTube and the UNI Library, I have continued to discover a number of great older movies:

“The Red Machine”


“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (Dario Argento’s film film)

the late 80s techno-metal Japanese horror film “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”

the 1983 WWIII film “The Day After”, which Wikipedia claims was the most-watched made-for-TV movie in history (over 100 million viewers) and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube

a pair of early David Cronenberg horror films, “The Brood” and “Shivers”

perennial 2010 Portland favorite “Cold Weather”

Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga”

the 2012 film “In the Family”, a really really damn fine film about custody rights in a Southern state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

I also *finally* saw “Westworld”, the 1973 sci-fi western that was the first feature film to utilize digital image processing (to simulate an android’s point of view).

[I also want to point out I finally had the opportunity to re-watch the 1997 made-for-ABC “The Shining” miniseries, which is pretty awful.]


*And thanks to Netflix, I have binged on a number of episodic programs: “House of Cards” and “Orange of the New Black”, both of which were better in their first seasons than their second; the entire series run of “Twin Peaks” and various episodes from the first four seasons of “The X-Files”; and “BoJack Horseman” hands down the funniest show I have watched in a long time. I also rented on DVD the first season of HBO’s “True Detective”, a very well-written and well-acted show.

Written by camcarlson

January 4, 2015 at 4:30 PM

Silent Symmetry

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Written by camcarlson

October 26, 2014 at 4:55 PM

Posted in Cinema, video

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The history of the movie trailer

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Well whataya know, something I didn’t already know about the history of the cinema! Watched this video this afternoon and found it rather informative.

Written by camcarlson

April 6, 2014 at 7:58 PM

Posted in Cinema, video

Favorite films of 2013 (Part 2)

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A few months ago I wrote about the films that I had enjoyed up through November 2013. As in most years, many studios hold onto their Oscar-calibre films until December, sometimes only rolling them out in limited release before the end of the year and then expanding their screen presence throughout January. A prime example of this would be “Philomena”, which I have not seen — it has been nominated for numerous Oscars this year, including Best Picture, but due to its limited release it only came to the Cedar Valley a couple weeks ago… February 2014… though it is nominated for 2013.

Anyway, a bit of housecleaning first: I forgot to mention on my prior list that I had seen “The Croods”, “Despicable Me 2” and “The Heat” during the first 11 months of 2013 and enjoyed them all. “The Heat” is what “Identity Thief” wishes it was: funny.

fruitvale-station-traile 660

Of the two dozen or so movies I’ve seen in theaters or rented in the past few months, only two have left a big impression on me. Those were “Fruitvale Station” and “Her”. The former is a story about a day in the life of Oscar Grant, who was assaulted by BART police officers on New Years Day in Oakland CA. I am careful to write that description as not to reveal what happens in the film, though it is based on real events that occurred in 2009. The first hour or so is a well-told story about a man who seems down on his luck who, when faced with morally questionable opportunities to get ahead, chooses the harder, right path instead. Then the final half hour takes place and I was left frustrated and angry with what happened. Frustrated because I have been conditioned through years of feel-good stories to believe that if you do the right thing, life will be fair and just to you in return. This film was reality crashing down on that foolish assumption. Life does not weigh our actions and dispense with luck or sorrow accordingly. Life happens at random, sometimes due to the stupid decisions of others, completely outside of our control, completely independent of what we do or say.


The latter (“Her”) is Spike Jonze’s latest film, which he also wrote, about a man who falls in love with his OS. Sounds kinda silly what I write it out like that, but the film is anything but. It’s thoughtful, sweet and tender, though realistic, highly observant to human behavior, especially in regards to introverts, and puts the entire relationship arc on display through the lens of a not-so-distance future where technology is even more heavily embedded into our daily lives then it is now. Joaquin Phoenix did a great job as the lead character, and Scarlett Johansson provided the best voiceover work in a movie since Andy Serkis voiced Gollum (but since he’s still doing that in the Hobbit series, let me instead compare it to Ben Burtt’s work in “Wall-E”).

Other new-release films I’ve seen since December…

The Hunger Games Movie Number 2: Catching Fire – a good movie. Slightly more entertaining than the first. Made a shit-ton of movie, which was the goal I suppose. Two more films will follow, based on the third book in the series. Yes, two film adaptations for one book… they’re splitting the book up into a 5-hour film epic, because it’s just that good! Or maybe because the studio can make more money from charging customers twice for tickets to see how it all ends. (see “The Matrix” sequels, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, and also the TV series endings for “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad”, amongst others…


The Desolation of Smaug – it was okay. I was very impressed with the CGI work for Smaug, and Benedict Cumberpatch does a great job bringing the sinister dragon to live via voiceover… but I still feel three three-hour films were not needed to tell the simple story containing within Tolkien’s book. It’s only two hundred-some pages long… not the epic The Lord of the Rings was, which was already divided into three segments anyway. But I will echo the praise of Søren Hough in regards to the high frame rate (HFR) 3D process. The film was  shot at 48-frames per second, which makes it look so incredibly crystal clear on a big screen. Visually, the second best film experience of 2013 (behind “Gravity”).

American Hustle – there were some good scenes in this film, but as a whole, I just didn’t get into it. Which is a shame, because I really liked “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook”, David O. Russell’s two previous films. I was more entertained by the cameos of Louis CK and Alessandro Nivola (lead actor of “Junebug”, also featuring Amy Adams) than by any of the lead performances. I may see it again, later this year, but after one viewing I wasn’t in love with it. Some people have compared it to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” but I definitely don’t see that in this movie, aside from the double character narration.

Frozen – saw this the same day I saw “American Hustle” (that was my pick for Xmas Day theater viewing; “Frozen” was Viet’s). It was entertaining. I was happy to see Disney going against convention with having a charming prince come to the rescue of the princess/damsel in distress; in this film, the prince is a deceitful villain, and it’s sisterly love that saves the day. Good job with the twist there, Disney. HOWEVER… I thought the visuals and the overall story of “The Croods” was better.

The Spectacular Now – better-than-expected film about high school romance. The lead male character’s charm wore thin after a while though, but I loved the female lead.

Blue Jasmine – a good Woody Allen movie, but not nearly as entertaining as “Midnight in Paris” or “Match Point”, his two best films since the 1980s.

Behind the Candelabra – rented this HBO film last month. I knew next to nothing about Liberace going into the movie aside from his skills at the piano and his love for anything that sparkled. Pretty good story, solid performances from both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It’s a shame this didn’t come out in theaters, but it goes to show how willing cable television is to pick off the talent that Hollywood won’t suppose anymore.

The Wolf of Wall Street – this film seems to have some solid support from film reviewers that I respect, but I just didn’t get into it (see also “American Hustle”). It went on and on… and on… and on… so much hedonism and greed and drug use and excessive profanity, occasional nudity, violence, and general madcap insanity… I guess there’s a point to be made there, about Wall Street behavior in the 90s, but I’ve also read conflicting tales from Wall Street traders from the 90s who said they spent 16 hours a day glued to spreadsheets on their desktop monitors, not snorting coke off a hooker’s twat. But hey, three hours of business types glued to their monitors is not entertainment. The film’s screenplay supposedly employed the word “fuck” over 500 times, more than twice as much as the screenplay for “Pulp Fiction” (which for nearly 20 years had held that dubious honor).

Dallas Buyer’s Club – Of all the also-rans on this list, this one was my favorite, though I do not feel inspired to watch it again anytime soon, that being the benchmark by which I determine how much I like a movie. Excellent performances from Matthew McConaughey (yes I had to look up his last name to spell it correctly) and Jared Leto (knew that one). I read somewhere online (wish I could provide the link but I don’t have it anymore) that the real life Ron Woodroof may actually have been bisexual, not the homophobe he’s portrayed as. Hmm… that would shake the narrative of the film up a bit, eh? But no matter. It’s still a good movie. My respect for it has only been cemented since having just finished watching the 2012 documentary “How to Survive a Plague”.


Blue is the Warmest Color – a well made French film (last year’s Palme d’Or winner) that explores one teenagers first serious relationship with another woman: her coming to terms with her own sexuality, the initial denial amongst her friends, falling in love, evading her parents, embracing the routine of a long-term relationship, jealousy and doubt, affairs, confrontation and breakup, heartache, attempts at reconciliation. The film depicts sex between the two women very frankly and explicitly, but not in a tantalizing way. It’s sensual, not pornographic. Still, I thought of the late 90s Swedish film “Show Me Love”, also about two teenage girls who fall in love and deal with the inevitable taunting of their high school classmates. Not as expansive in scope, but a good film nonetheless. Props to the two young lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adéle Exarchopoulos.

Other non-theatrical films (2013 or prior) I’ve rented:

-the 1923 silent film “Souls for Sale”
-a trio of films by master Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda: “Ashes and Diamonds”, “Kanal” and “A Generation”.
-the archival footage used to make “For All Mankind”, about NASA’s Apollo program; especially entertained by the many shots of astronauts tumbling over in the Moon’s weak gravity.
-early Miyazaki film “Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro” with its engaging story and beautiful artistry.
-the maddening illogic of Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of “The Trial” starring Anthony Perkins.
-the haunting beauty of the Japanese horror film anthology “Kwaidan”. Favorite segment: ‘The Woman of the Snow’. The end of the ‘Black Hair’ segment is wonderfully chilling. And then there is the ‘Hoichi the Earless’ scene, based on a retelling of the Battle of Dan-no-ura, which I studied extensively in my Prehistory of Japan course at UNI. Watching that segment brought back a lot of what I had read and written about that famous naval battle. Okay, let’s just say I loved this entire film.


Films I wanted to see but didn’t get a chance to include “The Art of Killing”, The Missing Picture, “Nebraska”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “Dear Mr. Watterson”, “Prince Avalanche”, “The Broken Circle Breakdown” and “Upstream Color”.

And finally, though not worthy of being mentioned in the same post as these aforementioned fine films, but I have to proclaim “Admission” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd as perhaps the most boring film of 2013 I saw. Perhaps… it’s pretty close to “Identity Thief” in terms of how badly I wanted to toss the DVD out the window not even an hour into the movie. Not funny in any substantial sense, and no noticeable chemistry between the lead. Just… ugh. Waste of time. Please don’t waste yours on either film.

Written by camcarlson

March 2, 2014 at 8:18 PM