October 25, 2011

The Mill and the Cross- Film Forum

Mike: On Friday night we made a rare visit to Film Forum to check out The Mill and the Cross. Film Forum is nice and they show amazing arthouse and classic films, but there are two problems that prevent us from going here regularly:

-The screens are small. When you go to see a classic film, you want to see it on a somewhat big screen. Film Forum's screens leave much to be desired. Also, they don't have stadium seating - something every movie theater should have - so often your view is partially obstructed by people seated in front of you.
-There is very little legroom. It's very uncomfortable for me to see a movie here, and I imagine the experience is the same for anyone over six feet tall. My knees hurt, and I'm sure the ways in which I contort my body to fit isn't very healthy.

So even though there are a lot of films I want to see at the Film Forum, we hardly ever go there and there has to be something special for me to endure two hours of pain and discomfort.

But The Mill and the Cross piqued my father's interest so Erica and I joined my folks for a screening on Friday night.

Erica: Another reason we don't go here often is that they do not offer discount tickets, so tickets are full price

I had no expectations going into this movie. For some of the movies we see, I have no idea what they are about going in and I like it better that way.
Mike: I found to the film to be fascinating. It's a mood piece and a rather passive filmgoing experience. There's hardly any talking and it's slow moving. You are an observer, and you learn about the people depicted in Breugel's painting. Life moved at a different speed in those days, so the extremely slow pacing is appropriate.

Visually the film is remarkable, even if just for its intentions. Not all of the ultra low budget special effects are convincing, and the use of sets and green screening is apparent. But it's effective enough, and some of the tricks are very impressive.

Seeing The Mill and the Cross is not a typical film experience. While it will offer some viewers merely a challenge to their attention spans, others will appreciate the film's meditative qualities.

Erica: I agree with Mike in that this movie is definitely a challenge to the viewers attention span. I thought the movie was interesting, however extremely slow moving. It is only a 91 minute movie that is a true acting showcase for Rutger Hauer, who had to act without much dialogue. I understand the pace had to be a little slower due to the premise of the film, however, I felt there was something lacking in this movie for me.

On a positive side, nobody in attendance was texting and surfing, they were there to see the film and appreciate the movie. This is a great movie for art lovers who want to know what goes into a painting of that magnitude of Breugel's famous "Way to Calvary" work from the 1500s. 


October 18, 2011

Take Shelter- Angelika

Mike: On Columbus Day we made our way to the Angelika Film Center on West Houston to catch Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, who has been in every film that has come out this year. We don't go to this theater very often, even though I used to live on the other end of Houston and could conveniently walk over to catch a flick. Plenty of reasons why: There's no discount, so you pay the full $13 price for a film. You don't know what screen it will be on, and you might be stuck watching your film in a tiny room with a grinding defective sound system. Not a lot of legroom. No stadium seating, so your view might be partially obscured by other people's heads. And of course, you can hear and feel the subway running below you. But other than that, the Angelika is a nice place and crowds tend to be better behaved. And they show films that don't always make it to the multiplexes.
I'd been hearing a lot of buzz about Take Shelter, and I wasn't disappointed. It's really a showcase for Michael Shannon, playing a husband and father who starts noticing symptoms of hereditary schizophrenia in his mid-thirties - the same age his mother was when she was institutionalized. He has harrowing nightmares and visions of a destructive storm of biblical proportions coming to town, but his self-awareness doesn't stop him from putting all his free time and financial resources into a building an underground shelter. People start to notice something off about him and his obsession with the shelter causes things to fall apart around him, Jobe-style, as he seems to get more and more paranoid and crazy. All the while though, he knows that he's going bananas and is totally aware of his illness, which makes it a fascinating character study. He wants to be normal and healthy and even takes steps to fix it - counseling and medication - but at the same time, he's unable to deny his visions of the storm and continues work on the shelter.
Shannon's denouement is so heartbreaking that you actually want the storm to come and show everybody that he was right. Shannon delivers one of his strongest performances yet, fully utilizing his creepy look.

Erica: I wasn't as enthusiastic about the movie but it was good. I had no idea what I was walking into. I think Shannon did a great job playing the schizophrenic who pours all his time, energy, and money into a bomb shelter because he had a vision.I agree with Mike in that I felt sorry for his character and I found myself rooting for a storm so he can be viewed as a little less crazy then he is. Plus, he bought all those cans of soup and I wanted him to be able to use them. I think this movie is one of those movies that is much better than it sounds and if you have an opportunity to see it, we both recommend it.

October 17, 2011

Contagion-AMC 34th Street 14

Erica: After watching 50/50, we decided to keep the diseases coming and went to see Contagion. There is a benefit to seeing movies after they have been out for a couple weeks, less people in the crowd to annoy you. We walked in during the previews so I didn't have a chance to see if anybody was texting. We made it in plenty of time to see my new favorite, silence your cell phone Muppets video. Anyway, onto the movie..

Mike: I really liked watching Contagion. Soderbergh is such a hit-or-miss director - while there's always something interesting about his films, they can turn out to be snoozes or complete misfires. Contagion seems like an attempt by Soderbergh to make somewhat of an Irwin Allen flick, only a bit smarter and tighter. I don't know if that was his intention, but if it was he definitely succeeded. With the necessary pseudo-intellectual blabber and tech/medical terminology peppered throughout to bring the hokey disaster genre up to date and make it seem plausible, Contagion delivers where a film like 2012 didn't. Whereas 2012 was fun and had plenty of thrills, it was a silly disaster flick to showcase eye-candy special effects. Stupid, but fun. With Contagion, it's realistic and current and convincing enough, but at the same time, the eye isn't off the ball: this is a movie with thrills and scares meant to entertain.

Contagion's who's-who cast of big names and familiar faces gives everyone their moment in the spotlight - except Gwyneth Paltrow who, as you'll know from the commercials, dies at the beginning. Some are a little too intense or hammy or seem to take themselves too seriously, but again, this is a disaster movie in the vein of Irwin Allen. You're supposed to sit there, have a good time, gasp here and there, and go 'Oh look, it's..."

I should warn that there are a number of pretty gross scenes, which I guess makes this a popcorn movie where you shouldn't eat popcorn.

I have to agree with the do not eat popcorn during this movie (or any food for that matter...) but I did not think this movie was that good. I did not feel the movie was original at all. Seeing these types of movies always make me feel sick when I leave. I don't feel well and with this one, I didn't want to touch anything on the subway or in the theater when I left. They try to inflict fear into the filmgoer, but with me, it inflicted a fear of a sequel...

October 15, 2011

50/50-AMC 34th Street 14

Erica: We did a double feature, weird disease Sunday (we saw Contagion right after). I don't know if it was because it was a holiday weekend, but the audience seemed 'patriotic' and wasn't rowdy (although I would hope people would behave themselves in a movie like this). We bring you 50/50.

Mike: Even though most of them are 80s/90s movie-of-the-week weepies, there have been a few good films about cancer. 50/50 can be added to that list. I think it's tough for a movie about a subject like cancer to succeed because it needs to walk a fine line. It's easy to go for cheap cries, but today's audiences are turned off by easy sentimality and they're more aware of how and when their emotions are manipulated. But how can a movie about a subject like cancer not be sentimental? 50/50 doesn't try to - it's about a young guy getting cancer after all, and there are few things more depressing and less funny than a young guy getting cancer. 50/50 succeeds by adding plenty of witty dialogue and humor while showing what the main character has to go through to survive. It's a cancer movie for the Gen X and Y generations.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proven to be a capable actor in a handful of films over the last few years and here proves that he can carry a mainstream feature. Seth Rogen, who I usually don't care for too much but can be funny at times, has his presense in the film carefully dosed. He's there when the laughs are needed, but not too much. Just right.

In fact, 50/50 is way better than Rogen's last cancer movie, the painfully unfunny hodgepodge that was Funny People. 50/50 is way more streamlined and focused.

Rogen is usually annoying in his films. I was a fan of his on Freaks and Geeks, but never thought he can carry an entire movie (see: Green Hornet) so I was pleasantly surprised that he was not in this entire movie. I think they did a great job of making the most of a terrible situation. While the movie was sad, which is expected, as it is a movie about a guy in his late 20's diagnosed with a rare form of cancer based on a true story, they added humor to the mix. Levitt is a good actor, leading man he is not but he did well enough to carry the movie without Rogen providing comic relief in every scene. 

I think Mike was being nice with what he said about Funny People. It was more like 'Unfunny People', where you didn't care about the characters. In 50/50 you care about the characters and want Levitt to pull through.

I highly recommend this movie. You will laugh, there is a 50/50 chance you may cry, but you will not regret watching 50/50. 

October 12, 2011

The Ides of March-AMC Empire 25

On Saturday we visited one of our preferred theaters, AMC's Empire 25, to check out George Clooney's latest, The Ides of March. The Empire is nice because all screens are fine. Comfortable seats, stadium seating, and it's AMC so we don't spend more than $7.50 per ticket. But sometimes it gets busy, so we avoid it on Friday and Saturday nights. The audience for Saturday's 3:15 showing was quiet and respectful. At one point, someone started snoring and a group of women giggled over it, but that was it. The way an audience should be.

George Clooney directs and plays a supporting part as a smug, slick politician, curiously similar to his own persona as you see him on talk shows and in interviews. Ryan Gosling is front and center and delivers another solid performance, and very different from last month's Drive. Also along for the ride are some of Clooney's All-Stars - I think they were a team on Laff-a-lympics or Yogi's Space Race or something... they're Clooney cronies who always seem to appear together in similar dark ensemble or political themed pics, even though I don't know if they've actually worked together before. Jeffrey Wright, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Richard Jenkins and Matt Damon must have been busy, because they're not here for this one.

At first Ides of March seemed like it was going to be a behind-the-scenes account of a political campaign with no single major plotline. But after about twenty or thirty minutes, something happens and the film turns into a political thriller. That said, at the end of the film you're left with a good picture of how campaigns run and your views of politicians are reinforced, albeit by a piece of fiction.

The Ides of March seems like Oscar bait purposely released at the end of the year. While it has solid performances and a tight script, in the end it's a just a good film. I think it will be passed over by the Academy - if somehow it does get some accolades, it won't be deserved.

Erica: For what this movie was, it was good. I am not a huge fan of political dramas but the ensemble, Academy Award nominated cast, made it a good thriller. Clooney has that smile that he flashes in every movie and women flock to the theaters for. Ryan Gosling is in, what it seems to be, every movie this year and as Mike mentioned, he plays a completely different character as in Drive. I am, quite frankly, getting a little bit tired of Gosling but that may just be the Gosling-overdrive 2011 has been. He's like Jude Law circa 2004. That being said, middle aged women have plenty of eye candy in this movie and it will get some accolades come awards season, whether or not it is deserved (I agree with Mike on this one) is up to the Academy, and they love George.

October 11, 2011

The Way-Museum of the Moving Image


Erica: We saw this in a preview screening at the beautiful newly remodeled Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Queens. We decided on paying the extra few dollars to see it a night early because Estevez and Sheen were in attendance (and there were no annoying moviegoers texting and not paying attention during the film) I think Mike covers everything that needs to be said about this movie so lets start the family affair.

Mike: I'd been interested in the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) for a while. The Camino - a 500 mile pilgrimage through France and Spain made by Christians, challenge seekers, hiking enthusiasts and other people who don't have to be at the office for six weeks - was something I'd read about that really struck me, so to hear that Emilio Estevez was making a film that used it as a backdrop was something to look forward to. So my interest in the subject matter was definitely there. Added to that, I've been rooting for Estevez for years. I always thought he was a talented, charismatic actor and while it was a shame to see him disappear from the screen in the last fifteen years, I respected his shift to directing. Of the films he did, I don't remember Wisdom well enough to know whether it was any good (it sure entertained me at the time, and the fact that he was only like 20 or 21 is remarkable), and the only thing I remember about Men At Work is that even at age ten I knew it was pretty dumb. But I thought The War At Home, Rated X and Bobby were all excellent. With Bobby he worked on a grander scale and not all of it worked for me, but it was clear that Estevez was really dedicated to the film's subject. The same goes for his latest film.

So anyway - going into the film I had two prejudices: I liked the camino and I liked Estevez. It's no surprise that I really, really liked The Way. For starters, it's great to see Martin Sheen on the big screen again in a starring role. He gets his share of juicy parts, but he's been relegated to character actor status. I never watched The West Wing, so to me his return to the forefront here reaffirms his ability to carry a picture. His three supporting players are interesting and provide comic relief but it's Sheen's show.

What really makes The Way such a pleasant moviegoing experience is its ability to capture so much of the camino. Not just its beauty, which Estevez and his cinematographer take full advantage of, and the countless shots of people walking through pretty landscapes never get old. And not just its spirituality - Catholic or not, people have different reasons for making the journey, and the only thing the film tries to convince us of is its impact on its four main characters. But most of all, the film gives a start-to-finish, almost day-to-day account of what it's like to make the trek. The camraderie of strangers, the sore feet, the bunk bed hostels, the food, the stamp collecting, the people encountered along the way, etc... It's like an abridged guidebook, and I'm sure that the Spanish bureau of tourism is very happy with Sheen and Estevez right now.

I could have done without some of the music choices and Sheen's co-stars could have been either contained or fleshed out a bit more effectively, but The Way is Estevez's best film yet and one of my favorites of the year.

October 04, 2011

Drive-AMC 34th Street

Erica: Our first film back from vacation was Drive at the AMC 34th Street. We went to a 6pm showing and surprisingly, there was no annoying texters, nobody answering calls and nobody talking. Everyone there genuinely seemed to be there because they had an interest in watching the movie. I don't know what happened while we are away, but whatever it was, I am not complaining.

I was not sure what to expect from Drive going in, which I think is sometimes a good thing, not always but was pleasant in this case.

My first impression was that this movie was violent. I don't think that is a bad thing, it was a good movie, just far more blood than I thought there would be. As Mike mentioned when we leaved the theatre, it reminded him of Taxi Driver, one of my favorite movies.

Gosling does not strike me as the type who could carry a movie like this, he seems like a small town, shy boy. Much to my surprise, he totally worked in this movie. It kept bothering me that he never changed out of his white satin scorpion jacket for the whole movie but I got over it.

Mike: For some reason I was really looking forward to this movie. I saw two of Refn's films prior to this (Bronson and Valhalla Rising) and didn't think either of them were too great, but it was clear to me that the guy had potential and he had at least done some very interesting stuff. An amazing cast, cool promos, a weird 70s/80s feel - all made this one of my most anticipated films of the year.
From the heart-pounding edge-of-your-seat opening minutes on, I was in movie geek heaven. The slow pace is likely to bore action fans (Erica might not have noticed, but an Asian couple sitting in the row in front of us, probably expecting the film to be more Fast Five, couldn't keep away from their smartphones) but anyone with a normal attention span (or at least properly medicated) will be rewarded with a really cool-looking, beautifully shot, dark little flick with fascinating characters played by actors at the top of their game (Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks stood out) and some of the best car chase scenes committed to film. And I should also note the soundtrack of retro-ish songs that are allowed to play out, often in full. One of my favorite films of the year so far, Drive was absolutely awesome from start to finish.

The Bluth Family is back


While it is still too early to put on your party hats, the cast of Arrested Development have confirmed that the Bluth family is back in a limited series and movie at a panel discussion with series creator, Mitch Hurwitz at the New Yorker Festival.

I was a latecomer to the Bluth family but think that the show was original and unlike any other situation comedy on TV. 

With Arnett on a new sitcom, will this actually be happening? Only time will tell, they have been saying they wanted to make a movie for years, and that other commitments have been preventing them but this is so far, the closest we have come to a movie so keep your fingers crossed. We will be following this story as it develops and keep you updated.

The Hangover Part II too racy for Utah


In 2011, media and politics are plagued with controversy. Why do I find this article fascinating?

This is a movie theater in Utah that serves alcohol being fined for showing The Hangover Part 2.  This is an R Rated movie. That is a hard R, we have seen and reviewed this movie on our site. This fine is absolutely ridiculous and the fact that a theater that provides alcohol to its patrons is getting fined over showing an R rated movie is probably one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. This movie was shown at theaters all over the world. If people are offended by the content, don't go see the movie.

A quote from the article, "Assistant Attorney General Sheila Page acknowledged that alcohol-free theaters also showed the film, which opened in Salt Lake County over the Memorial Day weekend. But those theaters do not fall under Utah’s liquor statutes, which forbid bars and clubs from showing images of certain sex acts and full frontal nudity." offers no explanation as to why.

I am baffled by the fine this theater has to pay and want your opinion on this situation.

Please weigh in.

October 03, 2011

The Help-Clifton Commons 16

Erica: We saw The Help in our favorite Jersey theatre, the Clifton Commons 16. As usual, the crowd was a delight.
We went with Mike's parents who, unlike us, were alive during the civil rights movement. I think it is more interesting to see the film with someone who lived in this era to get a take on its accuracy.

The movie was really good. I think the casting was spot on and so was the costumes and mise-en-scene (what appears in front of the camera). I thought the interaction between each character just worked really well. I mean this in the best possible way, I felt like I was back in history class (That is a complement because I enjoyed history class).

I normally find Emma Stone quite annoying (her voice gets to me-sounds like she smokes a carton a day and sounds like she's 40) but in this movie, she was actually tolerable.

Mike: I really enjoyed The Help. I think it has been painted as a Blind Side-like guess-which-one-doesn't-belong 10-pic Best Picture nominee that Academy voters drool over. But that's not a fair comparison. It's not nearly as cheesy as Blind Side. A little too sentimental and 80s-TV-movie-with-a-message at times, but an excellent cast keeps and an interesting story make it a very worthwhile watch. Most of all, I was surprised how funny it was. Seriously. Rip-roaringly hilarious. It even has its share of toilet humor that you'd expect to see in an American Pie or Hangover movie.

Like Erica, I don't like Emma Stone either, and I hate her cigarette-smoking Lindsay Lohan voice. I also had a tough time sympathizing with Stone's character and her luxury problems. Thankfully, despite her being front and center, the movie is really about the maids and its their stories that you walk away with at the end of the film. All that said, Stone was a bit more bearable than usual.

The running time is a bit long but the film breezes through... at least until the last 15 minutes or so, when we're treated to a Return of the King style series of about five different endings. No stone is left unturned and every question you might have had about anything is answered.

The crowd was fairly pleasant, although there was at least one selfish bad parent who brought a baby, who cried a few times. As much as you might love the movies, when you have a baby, either you get a babysitter or you just don't go to the movies for a few years. My brother and sister-in-law had a baby a year and a half ago. Number of films they've seen in a theater since then: Zero.

Also, at one point a phone started buzzing and an older lady sitting a few seats to my left opened her purse (taking her time of course) and answered it. She hung up very quickly, but it still baffles me whenever people do that. Number one, your phone should be on vibrate. If it vibrates loudly, like some phones do, you should set it to buzz once or just turn it off completely. And if you absolutely have to answer it, walk out of the theater and take care of it in the lobby.

To my painful embarrassment, the lady in question was actually my mother. Yes, yours truly, Mr. Movie Theater Etiquette's very own flesh and blood. Can you imagine how mortified and humiliated I felt? It wasn't even an important call. Needless to say, the lady with the phone got an earful from me after the movie.