A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 26 – Stand By Me

Stand By Me – March 26, 2010

Andy and I are currently attending PAX East, a gaming convention full of awesome. One major piece of awesome from today’s con experience was attending the inaugural keynote address, delivered by Wil Wheaton. So let me take a moment to say just how very cool it was to be there and hear him speak live and I’m not ashamed to say that I got a little misty eyed when he talked about the gaming community and friendships made through games. I’m not a hardcore PvP gamer, but I do love games and I’m all for gaming as a pastime and as a community.

Anyhow, in honor of our Wil Wheaton Live! experience today, we decided to watch Stand By Me. It’s another one I’ve seen several times, but that I’ve not watched in ages. Wil Wheaton made a couple of references to it during his speech today and it made me all excited to watch it tonight, so I’m enjoying it.

Except for the leeches. Leeches evoke a similar (but lesser) panic in me to that which I get from snakes. Let me tell you, Snakes on a Plane is going to be difficult. So yes, I’m over at my laptop at the desk in our hotel room while the leech scene plays so I don’t end up with leech nightmares. But other than the leeches, this movie is fantastic. It’s more than a little melancholy, which doesn’t really fit a gaming convention mood, but to be honest, if you look at the theme of friendship that’s at the movie’s core, I can fit it into our weekend. (ETA: Wil Wheaton has posted an excerpt from his speech at his blog here and he posted a part that fits perfectly into my point.)

It feels more than a little cheesy to talk about how the point of the movie is the friends you have and finding yourself and how good friends will help you do that, but what else is more important there? Be who you want to be. Stand up for what you believe in, be it yourself, your friends, your hobbies, your dreams. I like that message, even if the movie presents it through Richard Dreyfus’s adult view back, which inevitably makes it something hazy and nostalgic. Standing up for yourself shouldn’t just be nostalgia. It should be something you do every day. But then, I don’t think the movie needs to say that explicitly. It implies it if you look close.

I’m going to keep it short tonight, as I have a headache from too much time spent with too many people in loud spaces with little food and water. We’re going to endeavor to get a movie watched tomorrow morning and write our reviews when we get time during the day while we wait in lines.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Stand By Me

March 26, 2010

Stand By Me

Today we’re attending PAX East, and we were there for Wil Wheaton’s great keynote speech about gaming, imagination, and treasuring this time with other gamers.  He even quoted Stand By Me during the speech.  So we’re reviewing Stand By Me tonight… then it’s back to the con for more gaming fun.

Stand by me is one of two non-horror films in our collection based on Stephen King short stories (the other being The Shawshank Redemption.)  Today’s film does show some of the same everyman fifties comraderie that would later be used to such great effect in the flashback scenes of It.  Stephen King really knows how to invest every-day existence with gravitas and importance.  I remember once that a grade school friend of mine asked me why I made everything in my life to be so operatic and larger than life: why I couldn’t just accept my life as normal like everybody else and just live it.  For years I didn’t really have an answer for him.  But now I begin to have an inkling of one.  Eric, it’s because it’s my life.  The only life I can ever experience firsthand, and I’m the only one living it.  So of course it’s a big deal to me.

I’m not quite sure why that annecdote comes to mind, except that this is a movie all about the friends we have in our childhood who we loose touch with.  And it’s about an adventure where almost nothing happens, these four friends go out to see a dead body one of them has heard about, spend a day and a night getting to it, then go home.  Really that’s pretty much it.  So it’s not a movie about the journey so much as how the journey is percieved by these four characters.  It’s a movie about growing up, I guess.  And anybody will tell you that growing up is not something I’m really qualified to talk about.

I do enjoy this movie a lot though.  The characters are so simple and real.  The soundtrack is so fantastic.  And what a great cast!  Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Keifer Sutheland, John Cusack, Richard Dreyfuss… every one a star!

Watching it now, though, I realize just how much the Wonder Years stole this movie’s bit.  How did I never notice that before?  I like Wil more than Fred Savage though.  Whatever.

I miss some of my grade school friends.  I see John on Facebook, but I don’t have any idea what happened to Kenny and Tez and Randy and Eric.  It’s a strange old world, and that, at least, the movie gets spot on.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 25 – TRON

TRON – March 25, 2010

Andy and I are going to be attending PAX East this weekend, so we thought we’d watch some videogame-related movies (and Stand By Me, because Wil Wheaton is giving the keynote address at the con). So, TRON first as a pre-con treat. And wow, it’s been ages since I watched this. I think it’s probably been at least fifteen years. You know what’s weird? Jeff Bridges is in this. He won an Oscar this year. Fisher Stevens was in last night’s movie and he also won an Oscar this year (I’m totally serious – he won for the documentary about dolphin hunting). Total coincidence. We picked Hackers last night because sadly enough, Acid Burn is the strongest female programmer character I could think of in our collection to celebrate Blog About Ada Lovelace Day with. Strange. Whatever.

You know who else is in this movie? David Warner. In a triple role! I have a mild fondness for David Warner for some bizarre reason. He’s popped up in the oddest places. This, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze, Quest of the Delta Knights (one of our favorite MST3K episodes and a double role there), and my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. Looking at his IMDB page, he’s been in everything! He’s everywhere! Also in this is the dude who played Grandpa in The Lost Boys, which is providing more than a little amusement for me. I keep expecting him to pop up with a stuffed gopher or something.

It’s fun to see the vastly outdated computers and tech in the movie, though to be honest, I can’t really speak to how far off the existing tech was at the time the movie was made. I wasn’t really paying attention to that originally. But the thing is, what saves this movie from the laughable ridiculousness of Hackers fantasy tech is that in TRON it’s supposed to be fantasy tech. That’s the point. It’s a science fiction movie about hackers and programs that have developed sentience. It’s not supposed to be realistic. That would defeat the point.

I can see why this movie has remained a cult favorite. Even dated as it is, it’s got a good plot and it’s still fun to watch. I’ve been avoiding previews and whatnot for the upcoming sequel/remake/whatever because I get burnout too easily on new stuff and I don’t want to ruin it for myself, but I’m curious to see how it will turn out.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

TRON

March 25, 2010

Tron

Greetings, programs!

In celebration of the Penny Arcade Expo video gaming exposition that we’re attending this weekend Amanda and I are watching movies about and based on video games this weekend.  First up we have the seminal video game movie from the early eighties when Disney wanted to take advantage of the popularity of arcade games to make a movie about them.  the result: TRON.

I’m amazed by how well this movie has aged.  I mean, sure, the live action parts of the movie takes place during the eighties.  Everybody uses big clunky terminals.  Arcade games are still in.  But most of the movie takes place inside the computers with the struggle of the everyday working programs against the megalomaniacal Master Control Program.  And although the state-of-the-art computer graphics of the day look slow and plodding, they are perfect for the world of TRON.  The truth of the matter is that the world inside the computers was dated when the movie was first made, and so it hasn’t aged at all.

I’ve always thought that the computer segments were highly derivative of early silent sci-fi films.  It’s the make up, and the colorized black and white.  And the silly helmets that cover the actor’s hair.  It looks like something out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

I think there are three things I really like about this movie:

1) The world building.  They’ve invented this entire universe inside the computers where programs live.  A world where our video games are a diabolical arena where programs captured by the MCP are forced to battle lest they be deleted.  I love the tanks and the light cycles and the recognisers.  I love the light discs.  It’s all so very cool.

2) The soundtrack.  Wendy Carlos’s great digital music is the perfect fit for the world inside the computer.   It has a synthetic feel (being all synthesized) but it also feels epic and grand, which is what the movie needs.

3) The games themselves.  Or more accurately the promise of the games.  When I saw this movie I wanted to play the lightcycle game and the disc game.  They just look so cool to play!  At the time that this movie came out (or about a year later, since the games didn’t come out in the arcade at the same time as the movie was in theaters) I used to go to Kelly’s, a local ice-cream parlor, which had a few great arcade cabinets.  They had the TRON light disks game there.  I remember playing it a couple times and being disappointed that it didn’t live up to the promise of the movie.

If anything I think that TRON has improved with age, as the nostalgia for a time of arcade cabinets and the dawn of computer graphic effects in movies adds a patina of wonder to the film.  Here’s hoping that the sequel is as much fun.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 24 – Hackers

Hackers – March 24, 2010 (I realize the date is easy to find on these posts, but I’m noting the date in the case of posting being delayed – it’s a habit I want to have)

Make no mistake, this is a bad movie. Completely aside from the laughable plot and ridiculous characters, the tech in the movie is either completely non-existent or was already out of date when filming began. It’s hilarious in so many ways. And yet I love it. I love it beyond belief. It’s got some fantastically cheesy moments and it’s got some fun stuff like Penn Gillette as the clueless security guard and Fisher Stevens as “The Plague”. And Stevens is an Oscar winner now!

Now, I’ve done some reading on a few of the early big deal hacking cases. In particular, Kevin Mitnik, rtm and the East Germany group that Cliff Stoll tracked down through dogged persistence. And I will say, a few things, like the ban on touching a computer or phone and the shutting down of massive swaths of the internet? Those are straight out of a couple of those cases. Mitnik got hit especially hard and when I was in college I think he was still banned from even touching a computer with a single finger. So I’ll give the movie a nod there. What I won’t give it a nod on is pretty much everything else, from the hacking the main characters do to the GUIs on every damn computer in the movie.

Not that I won’t watch and enjoy and laugh my ass off when the characters get all excited about a 28.8 baud modem. OMG! 28.8! I mean, man, I remember being totally blown away by the very idea of a Jazz drive. So I should cut the movie some slack, but not too much, because that would be silly. The level of accuracy is about an inch high.

Okay, for those who don’t want to touch this movie with a ten foot pole, here’s the quick plot: Dade Murphy is a super hacker who fucked up a shitload of computers when he was eleven years old and got slapped with a computer and touchtone phone ban for the next seven years. He and his mother move to NYC when he’s eighteen and there he befriends a group of popular pretty people at his high school who happen to also be super hackers. One mistakenly hacks into a computer at an oil company and copies a ‘garbage’ file which is actually a malicious worm that the company’s resident tech guru has installed to steal money from the company. Knowing his little plan has been seen, the tech guy concocts a virus to frame the hacker for and calls in the NSA, hoping to pin everything on the kid who copied the file. Soon he discovers that Dade is connected to the hacker and uses his record to blackmail him into helping him. Then Dade tells his friends and they stage a massive hacker attack on the oil company to tie up their computers and attention so they can get enough incriminating evidence against the tech guy.

It’s convoluted and totally ridiculous and the climactic virtual battle is hilariously over the top. And then completely aside from all the fake tech there’s some amazing fake law! But fake law’s pretty standard movie fare. It’s the fantasy tech that really makes this movie something special. Very, very special.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Hackers

March 24, 2010

Hackers

“So you wanna be hackers/ Code crackers/ Slackers”  Sorry… this movie just starts Weir Al’s All About the Pentiums running in my head.  Its a movie about hackers for people who know nothing about computers.  The user interfaces in this movie are beyond ludicrous.  It’s not just that they look far beyond anything that the tech of the day, it’s that they don’t make any blooming sense.  It’s a common thing in movies, of course.  We’ll be exploring it further when we review Minority Report and Johnny Mnemonic.  Real computer hacking is too boring to make a movie, of course.

I know computer people.  They’re pale introverts who quote Python and code for MUDs.  They understand PPP and have too many wires behind their computers.  They play video games.  They think in hexadecimal and know assembly code.  (Or at least they did in my day.  Nowadays it’s all botnets and DNS attacks.)  They do not have loud parties or hang out in clubs.  (Though the Wipeout like game in their club IS kind of cool.)

So it kind of takes me out of the movie that there’s all this magic tech and the hackers are portrayed as such hip cool kids.  Still, it’s a fun if silly movie.  And it has a totally kickass soundtrack.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 23 – Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox – March 23, 2010

So, Wes Anderson has always struck me as someone who likes dioramas. You know the things. Kids make them in shoe boxes. But he likes little details and still pictures that have entire stories in them. So really, a movie that’s all stop motion animation is pretty damn perfect. I’m glad to have this one on DVD too, because it means we can pause and look at the details (like the chef Rabbit wearing orange crocs like Mario Batali’s). That was impossible when we saw this in the theater.

Now, this is a Wes Anderson movie, so it’s quirky and full of bizarre moments, but it’s based on a children’s book. But then, it’s based on a Roald Dahl book. So bizarre and quirky is really rather fitting. When I saw the previews for this I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. The idea of a stop-motion animated version of Fantastic Mr. Fox seemed perfect, but I’m always wary of short children’s books being made into full length feature films. It can be a really difficult thing to add enough to the story to get a feature out of it while retaining the spirit of the original. A lot of movies fail, but a few succeed spectacularly (I’ll get to talk about Shrek eventually but I urge people to go find the picture book it’s based on). I’d say Fantastic Mr. Fox succeeds. And given the reactions of the audience I saw it with, it was well received by both kids and adults – at different moments – which is pretty much how I view Roald Dahl’s work.

I really enjoyed the movie. The characters were built up well and the plot was expanded in a way that doesn’t make it something entirely other than what it started as. The original story is a fairly simple one, so it would have been easy to add and add and add until it was unrecognizable, but that didn’t happen, thank goodness. It’s got some great moments, like the scene outside the tree with the Fox family that has a song from Disney’s Robin Hood playing in the background – they’re foxes, get it? When Bean goes nuts in his trailer and trashes it, that there is some amazing animation as well as a great character moment. The weird rambling song in the middle and Bean’s admonishment that his assistant wrote a bad song! And every time the animals eat it makes me laugh.

But now I’m sort of at a loss as to what else to say. If you like Wes Anderson’s stuff, definitely take a look. If you like Roald Dahl’s books, it’s worth seeing the movie. But if either one of them rubs you the wrong way, I’d say let it go. Because the movie is a good marriage of the two styles. Then again, if you’re a stop-motion animation fan, it’s a lovely piece of art in that respect too. And if you’re like me, you’ll end up going through the movie and pausing a billion times to see just what’s been hidden away in the background and edges and places you can’t always see when you’re paying attention to the plot.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Fantastic Mr. Fox

March 23, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox

This is a Wes Anderson movie.  By which I do not simply mean that it is written and directed by Wes Anderson (although it undeniably is.)  What I mean is that when you settle down to watch this movie you’ve got to be prepared for a certain particular kind of anarchy.  Because Wes Anderson has made a career out of making Wes Anderson movies.  He’s created his own genre of film.  You have your action films, your dramas and comedies, and then there’s your Wes Anderson movies.

“I’m not different… am I?”

“We all are.  Especially him.  But that’s kind of fantastic.”

If you know what to expect from these movies then you might, as I did, think it odd that this is purportedly a children’s movie.  Wes Anderson doesn’t seem likely to make children’s movies.  He makes movies for himself, and I love him for it.  His films are full of neurotic characters who don’t really know what they want and are fundamentally flawed.  Things don’t turn out the way you’d expect them to.  And although the characters rarely get what it was they wanted, they usually find a way to come to grips with being themselves.  So how does that work in a mainstream Hollywood animated film?

The answer is: particularly well.  For one thing the movie is based on a book by Roald Dahl.  Roald Dahl is a very strange author who writes very strange books which don’t pander to children.  It’s actually a perfect fit.

For another thing there’s the animation in this film.  It isn’t concerned with being perfect.  It isn’t all clean lines and smooth surfaces like an early Pixar film.  The fur is mussed, the human puppets are almost gruesome (though quite expressive) and the fire and explosions are all paper cut outs and cotton balls.  The animation itself, particularly in the wide shots, is almost joyously simple.  And yet there are a few segments that must have taken an unbelievable amount of work.

And Wes Anderson’s particular form of verbal patter is perfectly suited for this chaotic art form.  His characters are often brutally honest with each other.  Indeed it’s a trope of his work to have a character baldly and blatantly tell another character something obvious that they probably don’t want to hear about themselves.  His characters are self-absorbed, caught up in their own lives and often oblivious.  Which is strange for a children’s movie – but that’s what’s so cussing perfect about it.

All in all the movie has a great charm to it.  All of these things that on paper you wouldn’t expect to work together blend together into something strange and wonderful.

Oh, and of particular note is the eclectic sound track.  In much of the movie incidental music is replaced by the music the characters are listening to, which is a strange mix of theme songs, pop songs, and even opera.  (If you consider Porgy and Bess opera.)  And the original music for the film has a fun twangy folksy feel to it.  All of it gives the film an other-worldly quality.  It’s like a folk tale of its own, something filled with deeper references and layers.  I definitely feel like with each additional viewing I will be discovering new little tidbits and nuances that I had missed before.  (There’s so much happening in some scenes that there’s simply no way to catch it all in one viewing.)  And I do hope there will be many, many more viewings to come!

March 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

Movie 22 – Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon – March 22, 2010

Tonight’s movie is Frost/Nixon. Far more serious fare than most of what we’ve done so far. See? We do own more than comedies and scifi/fantasy action. Okay, so most of what we own is action/adventurey, but we do have some things like this. But we might not have bought this if we hadn’t seen the play on stage in Boston with my parents. We watched the play and we loved it. I did a lot of theater in high school and saw a decent amount of stage productions, so when I watch something on stage now I watch it with an eye not just to the performances but to the production as a whole. And I’ve got to say, Frost/Nixon was a fantastic production. It was so pared down, so focused, it was amazing. Yes, it placed the interviews that are the point of the movie in historical context, but the entire point of the show was to watch David Frost and Richard Nixon talking, sparring, prodding at each other. And there were a couple of fantastic performances. Stacy Keach as Nixon, specifically, made me almost feel bad for Nixon. Almost.

Anyhow, we loved the play and when the movie came out on DVD we went ahead and bought it, thinking it would be interesting to see how the movie presented it and the differences between the stage and the screen. What I found was that while I really enjoy the movie, I liked the focus of the show on stage. The intense lighting, the spare set, the small cast, it all served to make you pay attention to very specific things. I liked that.

Now, that being said? I think the movie is excellent. The atmosphere is fantastic and the acting is superb. And the story and writing do what they do in the play: They take an event from history, one which we know the outcome of already, and present it in such a way that there is tension about how it’s going to play out. It’s a matter of record that eventually Frost managed to get something out of Nixon that no one had really managed to get. But the script displays it as so far from a sure thing and the acting backs that up. The fear being shown that Frost and his people had not just lost control of the interviews, but that they’d never had it in the first place. The desperation of Frost’s team to get Nixon, not just because they had a hell of a lot of money riding on it but because for some of them it was a long-term goal. Reston’s flat out stated as being passionate about it. Frost’s whole team does an excellent job at showing just how freaked they are and the wide variety of reasons why. Meanwhile, Langella, as Nixon, does an amazing job portraying a man who’s done horrible things and justified them in his own mind. An intelligent man who’s not about to let go of control easily.

An aside about Nixon: Up until Frost/Nixon, my best pop culture reference to Nixon was Billy West’s Nixon-head in Futurama. Which means that no matter how good Keach was on stage or Langella is on screen, I still expect Billy West’s version every so often. “I’ll sneak into people’s houses and mess up the place! A-roooo!”

Back to the movie. It’s tense. It’s very tense. There are some truly heavy moments, but then every so often a bit or two of humor. Oddly enough, it’s often Nixon saying something amusing (the “Do any fornicating?” line, for example), which I’m sure was intentional. As I said above, by the end of the play I almost felt bad for Nixon. While Langella evokes a similar emotion in the movie, for me its impact is a little lessened because I’d seen such an amazing performance on stage. The final scenes, watching Frost just sit back, knowing he’s delivered a blow Nixon wasn’t prepared for, and Nixon speaking seriously about things he’d never intended to speak about, it’s an amazing piece of film. It’s an amazing piece of film about an amazing piece of film.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s not light fare. It’s got light moments, but it’s not light. It’s fantastic. The only criticism I have is that it’s not the play.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Frost/Nixon

March 22, 2010

Frost/Nixon

This is a very interesting movie.  As my wife is probably pointing out in her review we actually saw the stage show before we saw the film.  The version we saw was a traveling company headlining Stacy Keach as Richard Nixon.  It was a powerful and moving performance.  Here we have the original stage cast: Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost reprising their roles for the big screen.  I do constantly find myself comparing Langella to Keach, since Stacy Keach was my first exposure to this version of Nixon.  I’d say Langella’s Nixon is more soulful, and Keach’s was more passionate.  The stage play was a very sparse thing.  It had barely any set, just some chairs and a deceptively simple backdrop, using lighting and slides to create an environment.  It’s a play that is simply about this confrontation between these two people from completely different worlds.  David Frost and his jet set ways and Nixon – here portrayed as a man sadly obsessed with his lost power and his shattered reputation.

In the commentary track (or perhaps it’s some of the making-of featurettes on the DVD) the writer, Peter Morgan, describes Frost/Nixon as Rocky: the political debate.  It’s all about sparring and jousting.  The Nixon character describes it as a duel.  The movie is put forth as a period piece.  Ron Howard has re-created the seventies in lush detail, but in service of this simple interview.  As the actual interview goes on the lighting on the two men in the foreground, the harsh glare of the television lights, pulls them out of the scene.  It’s more like the stage play.  Just these two men.

It’s a great story and a great movie.  Ron Howard directs with a deft and simple hand, letting the performers and the script shine.  And shine they do.  Frank Langella is all bluster and power as Nixon, Michael Sheen is wonderfully engaging as Frost, so clearly out of his element and in over his head.  And the script really is the greatest star.  Peter Morgan makes Nixon into a very human, and even humorous character.  Nixon gets all the best lines, really.. the whole movie revolves around him, and the climactic last round of his boxing match with Frost hinges on him having a believable human soul.

I’m enjoying watching this again… and hope to have a reason to watch it more in the future.

I also feel I should go buy a copy of Good Night and Good Luck as a companion piece.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment