Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jason watches TRON: LEGACY in IMAX 3-D

And I liked it in much the same way I liked the original. It's dazzling nerd-eye candy, it's fun, and it makes no sense. For years I've had a secret desire to apply for an IT job with the only qualifications on my resume being "watched TRON about 50 times."

There are clever ideas in this sequel--evolution of computer programs, fascism, Zen, crossing the border from the computer to the real world, father-son relationships, etc. Of course, they aren't fully developed and they make no sense, and in my geek bubble I don't give a damn. I know if I could step back and be objective, there's plenty to criticize and be disappointed with in TRON: LEGACY, but as it is I would watch it again.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,045

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jason watches 127 HOURS

And let's get this out of the way--yes, there's an explicit scene of Aron Ralston (James Franco) cutting his own arm off. It's bloody and intense, but just short of ridiculous.

This is based on the true story of Aron Ralston, outdoors-man and adventurer who got his hand pinned under a rock in a canyon and was trapped for 127 hours before he cut his hand off and walked to rescue. As for the movie, James Franco is impressive in a role that really calls for him to carry pretty much everything. It starts off at a breakneck pace as he's racing through the Utah desert on bike and on foot. He meets a couple of girls, goes swimming with them in an amazing underground lake, and then eventually takes off (after getting an invitation to a party the next night). And then everything stops when he gets trapped.

At this point you'd think the movie would slow down. He literally can't move, so up until the end the rest of the movie is either in his head or down in the canyon where he's trapped. But Danny Boyle seems physically unable to slow down, and has to throw about a million quick cuts, flashbacks, hallucinations, and various camera tricks at the audience. Yeah, it kept it from being boring, at the expense of being frequently annoying. Yes, it's a pretty amazing film, but I was left wondering what it would be like to see a more straightforward film just of a man trapped under a rock and dealing with it, without all the fancy shit. And yeah, that might be boring for 90 minutes, so maybe I'd like to see a 20 minute short of it instead, whatever. I don't know how to end this post.

Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,918

Jason watches BLACK SWAN

And let's get this out of the way first--yes, there's an explicit scene of Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman. It's hot, but tasteful, and not at all pornographic. And it's a very small part of the movie.

As for the rest of it, yeah, it's pretty great. It's a tight psycho-sexual drama, and there's some effectively heavy-handed use of visual themes of reflection and transformation. As for a story, it's the story of "Swan Lake," taking place in a troupe of ballet dancers preparing to perform "Swan Lake." Confession, I don't actually know the original story of "Swan Lake," but I trust that the synopsis given in the movie is accurate. And as theater director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) says, although it's been done to death, they're going to do it raw, visceral, and "real" (remember that). Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a perfectionist ballerina, who is still a little innocent girl. Leroy promises that if he were only casting the Swan Queen, it would definitely be her, but the lead also has to play her evil, seductive twin the Black Swan. She gets the role after talking to him in private, which leads to all sorts of rumors and recriminations from the cast. More importantly, a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the cast. She's a free spirit from San Francisco, and although not as polished as Nina she easily gives herself over to the dance, and becomes her alternate. And friend, and rival, and object of desire, and tormentor.

Beautiful, great acting, and a polished, confidant direction, but I was at a bit of a loss to get what it all adds up to, or why I should care. There's the pretty obvious theme that to become the Black Swan (i.e., to become an adult, with all the sexual, fleshy degradation that entails) necessarily means the destruction of the innocent Swan Queen. But there's also a climax that suggests it's just as much about suffering for your art, which led me to wonder that if Darren Aronofsky actually believes in sacrificing for your art, why doesn't he kill himself? Oops--Spoiler Alert.

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,824

Jason hosts bad movie night and watches IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Because this beloved Christmas classic needs to be taken down a peg, and I was just the drunken bastard to do it.

It takes way to long to get to the memorable part; Pottersville looks a hell of a lot more fun than Bedford Falls; it makes sport of suicide, molesting librarians, and a little girl looking at her "flower."And the grand finales celebrates teaching religion in school. Ah, simple times!

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,564

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for WILD ORANGES

Plus, of course, a couple of shorts.

THE FORTUNE TELLER (1923): Another Koko The Clown "Out of the Inkwell" short, this time Koko plays with a fortune teller who is visiting the Fleischer studio. Some wackiness, some card tricks, good times.

CURSES (1925): Al St. John plays the baddie in this spoof of action serials that's a favorite here at Niles.

Then an intermission, and the main feature.

WILD ORANGES (1924): King Vidor directed this fine melodrama. John Woolfolk (Frank Mayo) lost his fiance in car accident, and will never love again. Instead he finds solace in the sea. Then he puts ashore on a remote island. Millie Stope (Virginia Valli) lives there with her grandfather. But they're not alone, there's also an escaped killer on the island. He has an eye for Millie, and he wants John to leave. He threatens them both, just as John falls for Millie. John tries to leave, but can't stay away, and returns for one of the best drawn out knock-down brawls I've seen on film.

Total Running Time (estimated): 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,434

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum--Dec 4

Here we go:

KOKO'S FIELD DAZE (1922): Koko and his dog pal compete in a track and field "field day" events, of course sabotaging each other. And then they jump off the page into the Fleisher's cartoonist's Field Day, where they sabotage that, too. Hilarious.

IT'S A GIFT (1923): Snub Pollard stars as an inventor with hilarious Rube Goldberg devices (on a more modern take, I felt like I was watching Wallace and Gromit at times). His magnet-powered car might even be the solution to the oil crisis.

AIR POCKETS (1924): Little known forgotten comic Lige Conley (I had never heard of him before) stars also as an inventor, and one with a unique automobile. His is collapsible. Lot's of crazy antics, a climactic (and not at all realistic) airplane chase. Funny, although some of the racist elements are pretty uncomfortable to modern audiences.

Then a brief intermission, and our feature presentation.

HUMAN HEARTS (1922): An epic melodrama starring ruggedly handsome House Peters. He plays Tom Logan, son of "Paw" Logan, founder of Loganville. He's the strongest, handsomest, most eligible bachelor, and when Paw dies and Tom gets his inheritance, he'll be the richest. So a scheming con-woman plots to seduce him (best line, from Paw who sees right through her from the start: "Nothing good comes from a woman who flirts.") However, she never counted on actually falling for him. So much so that she marries him even when Paw cuts him out of the will (he really, really doesn't approve, and is unrealistically stubborn). Things get worse when her partner-in-crime shows up, leading to Paw's murder, Tom getting framed, and things generally turning very, very bad.

I thought the story had promise, and despite a few glaring errors (one young man is diagnosed with a "he'll be okay" with a minor scalp wound before the same doctor reveals he's brain-damaged and will have the mind of a child for life) it was a pretty good story. It was just really long. Actually, it was 70 minutes, but it felt like a lot more.

Running Time: 110 minutes (estimated)
My Total Minutes: 217,330

Jason watches THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC with the Voices of Light

I can't believe I've lived here in the Bay Area for over 10 years and I've never before been to the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Well, that's been rectified, and that place is freakin' beautiful! 'Nuf said.

As for the movie, of course THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is a classic. I can't say much that hasn't been said much more intelligently before. I hadn't known before that it was based on actual court records of Joan's trial that were discovered only a few years before Dreyer made the movie. Of course the extensive use of closeups, the stark sets and the contrasts with the dynamic camera movement and editing are remarkable cinematic achievements. I had forgotten the wild riot scene at the end, which was nearly as impressive as the rest of the film.

But what made the performance was the live score--a 22 piece orchestra and 180 voice choir. It was powerful, soulful score, and the perfect balance of voices and orchestra. The voices were primary (the notes said that the idea was since Joan heard voices the score would be based on voices. Sometimes just a few female voices for Joan, and sometimes all voices filling the theatre. The instrumentals complemented the voices perfectly, never overpowering. Just beautiful.

I should note that I am by no means religious (in fact, I identify as atheist), but I can appreciate the power of this film and this score, and I understand and sympathize with those who say this is a powerfully religious experience.

Total Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,220

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watched THE RUNNING MAN

So named because it's like a constant dribble of diarrhea. Get it, "running" as in "the runs?" It's a poop joke! And that's all this movie deserves.

But at least with Jesse Ventura we get a little Governor-on-Governor action.

Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,908

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum--Nov 27

A quick rundown of Thanksgiving weekend at the Edison Theatre.

KOKO'S THANKSGIVING (1925): A Fleischer "Out of the Inkwell" production, where Koko runs the projector and shows clips of his previous adventures to Fleischer's Thanksgiving guests.

NEVER TOUCHED ME (1919): Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard fight over the attention of the lovely Bebe Daniels. Basic slapstick, not one of Lloyd's more inventive films.

ONLY ME (1929): Lupino Lane in a tour de force of multiple roles. I think he plays upwards of 20 roles here, as a patron of the Palace Theatre, all of the performers, an annoying prank-pulling kid, and others. Hilarious.

Then a brief intermission, and the feature:

FEEL MY PULSE (1928): The lovely Bebe Daniels is back, as an heiress who has been raised to be a hypochondriac. Several medicines daily and avoid all excitement that might agitate her heart--that's the regimen. Her uncle has other plans, he thinks she needs excitement and so he'll take her to his ranch. Well that won't do, but she remembers she inherited a sanitarium on a secluded island. That's the perfect place to escape to and live a life of relaxation. Or so she thought. Turns out in the absence of any oversight it's become a front for bootleggers, and seems nearly nightly is raided by hijackers. Adventure, action, comedy, and even some romance ensue. All things that agitate the heart. Of course, it turns out that's good for her.

Total Running Time (estimated, since I couldn't find running times for the first two): 121 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,807

Jason watches JOHANNA

Once again, I've fallen over a week behind in my reviews. In any case, thanks to my fellow blogger and twitter follower Brian Darr (of Hell on Frisco Bay) for giving me a head's up about this amazing film. It was the second half of a Orsi Toth double feature at the Roxie (the first was DELTA, but I didn't get up there in time to see it).

In a way, it's appropriate I didn't write this up until seeing THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC at the Paramount (more on that later), since it's sort of an operatic re-invention of the Joan of Arc story. At least in as much as the titular Johanna is passionate, possibly crazy, but helps a lot of people and is beloved for it by the people and hated by the authorities. Big difference, she's not leading the French Army, she's a drug addict rescued from a near death experience who then cures all the patients in the hospital--by sleeping with them. The head doctor becomes infatuated with her, but since he's not ill she won't sleep with him--her body is only for comforting and healing the sick. And so a final showdown of the hospital staff vs. the patients is imminent.

I really don't have much more to say, other than it was pretty amazing. Oh, and to admit I got the Joan of Arc connection from IMDb, but once it's pointed out I can't see it any other way.

Running Time: 86 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,686