Tuesday, September 29, 2015

AFI Top 100, #64: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)

Movie Stats:
Released 1977 (USA)
American, in English (lots of French, mostly translated; some Spanish & Hindi, mostly not translated)
Director - Steven Spielberg
Stars - Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Plot Summary:
The appearance of visitors from outer space affects the lives of energy worker Roy Neary (Dreyfuss), mother Jillian Guiler (Dillon), and scientist Claude Lacombe (Truffaut), amongst others.

Very minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
It was confusing. For most of the movie, I didn’t understand what was happening. Nothing is explained.

It didn’t make much sense. For example, [SPOILER] If the aliens really wanted Roy to go with them, why didn’t they just take him? It was shown to be well within their capabilities. Why did they basically make him go insane and drive his family away? Also, why did they want Roy? And why did they terrify Jillian in the process of taking her child? Why take her child at all, seeing as how they gave him back? [SPOILER] The aliens are supposed to be benign but honestly they kind of seemed like dicks to me.

Boring and way too long. I lost interest an hour and a half in. Those last 50 minutes were interminable.

Good Stuff:
Pretty good performance from Dreyfuss.

It was nice to see government guys being portrayed as thoughtful for once. Most movies, it’s: “Something we don’t understand? Shoot it!” Here, they seemed curious rather than bloodthirsty. It was a good change of pace.

The special effects have held up decently.

The Verdict:
I just don’t get this film. What’s the point of it? The aliens come, [SPOILER] make a bunch of people in India sing their tune, steal a little kid, drive a bunch of people crazy trying to figure out why they keep seeing a mountain in their respective heads, show up at said mountain, give back all the people they’ve stolen for the last hundred years or so, including the little kid, and take Roy away with them, the end. [SPOILER] What? I mean, what? I feel like I’m missing something, so if it made sense to you, feel free to explain it to me in the comments. It wasn’t terrible. But I certainly wasn’t wowed. It’s one of those films that you hear a lot about, and that people seem to love, and then you watch it and you’re like, “That’s it?”

I give it 2.5 stars.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." at Cinemark Playa Vista

Theater Info:
Cinemark Playa Vista and XD
12746 W. Jefferson Blvd., Playa Vista
Cost: $9.50 for a matinee showing

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (Spain)
American & British, in English (also Russian, German, & Italian, most of it translated, some of it not)
Director - Guy Ritchie
Stars - Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander

Plot Summary:
When a nuclear scientist goes missing, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) are forced to team up together to stop a shadowy criminal organization from using the man’s knowledge to build weapons. Vikander co-stars as Gaby Teller, the missing scientist’s daughter.

Very mild blue language; violence (including torture); very brief female nudity (side boob only); heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
The pacing is really strange. For example, did we really need to know about the bullying that the crazed torturer endured in his childhood? Couldn’t they have saved the stupid sob story and given us some more action instead? Also, that torture scene was way too long. I’m not saying that because it made me uncomfortable (it didn’t). I’ve seen far worse torture scenes. It was simply too long.

Speaking of action scenes, they’re sort of nonexistent. As in, a lot of the action happened off-screen or in a montage (except for chase scenes). You don’t really see Napoleon or Illya beat anyone up; it’s just implied that they have. I get that it’s not a James Bond movie, and I’m pretty sure it was a stylistic choice by the director (who also cowrote the script), but I found myself wondering if Cavill & Hammer suck at fighting and that’s why it was lacking.

Good Stuff:
The soundtrack is perfect.

Everything about it is gorgeous. The leads are all ridiculously good-looking. The clothes are amazing. I want to own everything that both Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki (as the Italian, Victoria) wore. The cinematography is exquisite. Never have I wanted so badly to visit Italy.

It has some very funny moments. My favorite was when Napoleon and Illya, two very 1960s era manly men, argued over women’s clothing. Illya, through clenched teeth: “It doesn’t have to match!” Me: ROFL.

The Verdict:
I liked it a lot. Because of the pacing issues, it felt a little long (it’s slightly less than two hours) and I found the lack of fight scenes a bit puzzling. Other than that, I thought it was pretty enjoyable. It’s sleek and stylish, exactly what you’d expect from a Guy Ritchie film. The story was pretty solid, if a bit cliche, and all of the performances were decent. As an aside, this is the third movie I’ve seen this year starring Vikander, and I have to say that I’ve developed a bit of a crush. I think I may have reached the “I’d watch anything with her in it” point. She sure exploded onto the scene rather suddenly, didn’t she? As to this movie, if you're looking for something fun, light-hearted, and mod, you should check it out.

I give it 4 stars.

About Cinemark Playa Vista:
When trying to find a nearby theater I hadn’t yet visited, I discovered this one. “I didn’t know there was a theater in Playa Vista,” I thought to myself. When I looked it up, the Google image showed a building under construction. “Must be an old photo,” I thought. That was a false assumption. While the cinema is finished, most of the shopping complex that it’s in is still under construction. There’s not much signage yet, so I was a bit confused and wandered around a little until I found the cinema (while construction guys stared at me without offering assistance). On the bright side, it looks like they’re going to charge for parking in their structure, but don’t have that set up yet, so I got to park for free. I appreciated that, since the theater was rather expensive. I’ve been in theaters just as nice or nicer and paid far less. Also, it was absolutely frigid in there. It’s been pretty hot here lately, so I was wearing a dress but brought a sweater. Still, I was so cold that I had to curl my legs up onto my seat so I could fully cover them with the skirt of my dress. Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of this cinema. I probably won’t be going back.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Out and About: Chicago, Day 3

To read more about this trip, click HERE and HERE.

I barely took any pictures on Day 3 so I almost combined it with the post for Day 2. Eventually I decided that would make the post for Day 2 too long. Therefore, this will be the shortest of my posts in this series.

After we left DeKalb on Sunday morning, we took the scenic route back into the city, which was pleasant. Unfortunately, that also meant we got into town later than we intended, so we had some trouble finding parking before the game (and, subsequently, finding our car after the game, but that story is too humiliating for a public forum). Here are some pics from Soldier Field:

As someone who writes smut for a living, I have to say that "Bear Down"
has a slightly different meaning for me than it does for Bears fans.

Crowd shot.

Action shot.

After the game, we met a friend of mine for some deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's. Afterward, my brother dropped me off at my hotel, the Inn at Lincoln Park. I feel the need to publicly defend this little hotel. After booking my room, I made the mistake of reading the Yelp reviews, which were almost universally terrible and made it sound like I was going to get raped and murdered in my bed. However, I don't normally put much stock in Yelp reviews, so I proceeded to stay there. While my room was certainly small, and the hotel is obviously old, it was in no way gross or creepy or dark or any of the other terrible things I read on Yelp. Don't be afraid to stay there!

This hotel is a little over a mile from Wrigley Field. After I dropped off my stuff and rested for a bit, I decided to walk up there, just to say I'd seen it. I saw it:

I also saw some interesting things along the way: 

The Landmark Theaters here don't look like this.

This t-shirt made me laugh. Poor, beleaguered
Bears fans.

The Alley is, apparently, a "rock and roll department store." I liked the gargoyles. I also liked that I saw lots of people lurking nearby (even though it was closed) who looked exactly like the people you'd expect to see near a "rock and roll department store":

LA is well known for its numerous and confusing parking signs, but I can't say I've ever seen anything like the below sign here. How, exactly, does one know if a pile of snow is over 2 inches? Do Chicagoans have to carry rulers in their cars?

That's it for Sunday. The nearly 2.5 mile walk to Wrigley and back tuckered me out after a long day, so I went back to my cozy hotel room and relaxed.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

AFI Top 100, #65: "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)

This movie was previously reviewed for my Best Picture Project. Below is the pertinent information about it: the movie stats, plot summary, and the rating I gave it. You can read the full text of my review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1991 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Jonathan Demme
Stars – Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

Plot Summary:
With a serial killer who likes to skin women on the loose, FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster) is assigned to seek the help of incarcerated psychopath, and former psychologist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins).

4 stars

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Out and About: Chicago, Day 2

To read more about this trip, click HERE.

On Saturday morning, I got up, checked out of the hotel, and went out to explore the city a bit while I walked down to the Art Institute of Chicago. Here are a few of the things I saw along the way:

Yes, another shot of the Chicago River. It's so darn picturesque!

Detail on the downtown courthouse.

Doors leading into the courthouse. It's hard to
believe any government building could be this pretty.

I love how oddly narrow these are.

I saw someone else taking a pic of this building so
I stopped and took one too. Not sure what it is.

Magnificent Ionic columns.

Chicago Board of Trade.

Equally magnificent Corinthian columns.

I would love to live somewhere where the
advertising boards look like this.

Statues and fountain just outside the Board of Trade.

Right about the time I stumbled across the above courtyard, a storm rolled in and absolutely poured rain. It hasn't rained like that where I live for months, so I loved it. Here's a partially cloudy shot from down by the museum:

Now, I have to tell you that I love the Art Institute of Chicago. I've been to a lot of different art museums. This one is my favorite, hands down. So I was very, very excited to go there and I had a great time. However, I don't like to take a ton of pictures of art because I feel like they just don't translate terribly well. So I'm only posting a few.

A lot of what I really admired was the furniture. I can hardly fathom the kind of dedication it took, hundreds of years ago, to create intricate furniture like this:

I also really enjoyed this full suit of armor:

Here are the pieces of art that I connected with the most:

Green Dancers by Edgar Degas.

This piece is by Charles Ray. I neglected to write down
the name and now I can't find it.

One of the famous Chagall windows.

The friend I went to Palm Springs with earlier this year turned me on to what's enjoyable about the mid-century modern style, so I particularly enjoyed this funky clock corner:

I spent about two and a half hours at the museum and saw perhaps half of what was on offer. Then my brother arrived to pick me up, so I had to go, but I think that was a good thing because I was beat. Last year, my brother went to a training near DeKalb, Illinois. He expressed an interest in going back out there to explore the area, so we did.

Once we got off the tollway, I enjoyed the scenery, the same meadows and farm fields that I remember from my youth (spent in nearby Michigan). On my GPS, I noticed a place called Shabbona Lake State Park and asked my brother if he'd be interested in checking it out. He was and we did:

It was lovely, so I'm glad we went. Afterward, we drove up to DeKalb, where we spent the night. We didn't do much of note, just had dinner, drove around a bit, and went to see the movie "No Escape" (my brother's choice; I liked it well enough). After two days of travel and lots of walking, I was happy to have a relaxing evening.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

AFI Top 100, #66: "Network" (1976)

Movie Stats:
Released 1976 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Sidney Lumet
Stars - Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall

Plot Summary:
When old dog TV news achor Howard Beale (Finch) has a mental break on air, studio execs decide to exploit him for their benefit. Holden co-stars as Max Schumacher, Howard’s best friend and fellow newsman; Dunaway as Diana Christensen, a young upstart lacking a conscience; and Duvall as Frank Hackett, the ruthless corporate shill.

Lots of blue language; sexy times; violence.

Bad Stuff:
It’s surprisingly melodramatic.

It’s too long. If it were even 15 minutes shorter, it would feel like less of a chore to get through.

It felt like the writer (Paddy Chayefsky) really plumbed the depths of the dictionary to come up with this script. On the one hand, it was nice to watch a movie that seemed a bit more erudite. On the other hand, it was very distracting when people kept talking in a way that real people don’t talk to each other.

Good Stuff:
It was true-to-life in a very uncomfortable (but good) way. It was timely when it came out and it remains timely now, 40 years later, which is a bit depressing when you think about it.

Dunaway’s character was absolutely chilling. She was excellent in the role.

I liked that it explored a lot of complex topics, such as: facing one’s own irrelevance and mortality; news as entertainment; the exploitation of the mentally ill for personal gain; and the pervasive, insidious influence of capitalism.

The Verdict:
This film has a lot to say. I’m not convinced that it does a great job of saying all of it, but I can appreciate a movie that remains relevant over time. I thought the “love story” was predictable to the point of eye rolling and it caused the vast majority of the unnecessary melodrama. The movie would’ve been better without it. Other than that, I thought it was fairly smart and clever and intricate, the kind of movie that you should see at least once. I mean, you probably already know the famous quote, don’t you want to know the context of it?

I give it 3.75 stars.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Out and About: Chicago, Day 1

My brother had two tickets for the Chicago Bears' season opener against the Green Bay Packers and so, after discussing it for a few months, we decided that I would join him for the game. However, it seemed like a waste of money to fly out there for just one day, so I decided to make a long weekend of it, and perhaps see a couple of friends in the process. I'll be making four posts about this trip, one for each day that I was there.

I arrived on Friday afternoon and took the train to downtown Chicago, a very easy process. Here are the first few pictures I took once I got downtown:

Chicago River.

Pretty skyscrapers.

After checking into my hotel on the Magnificent Mile, I headed back out to grab some food and explore Millennium Park, a walk of just over a mile. It will perhaps surprise you to learn that the last time I spent any significant amount of time in Chicago, this park didn't even exist yet (hint: that was a long time ago).

First, before I get onto the park pictures, here's one of the cute little chocolate mousse I had after my ravioli dinner:

After dinner, it was over to the park, which was just across the street from where I ate. A stranger obligingly posed under this cool fountain, to give me an even better shot (he was posing for his wife/girlfriend). Fortunately, it was raining off and on that afternoon, so he already had an umbrella.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Chicago is how much it looks and feels like a city. In fact, having now lived in multiple cities, and visited a few others, it has the most "city-like" feel of them all. I mean that in a good way. You don't see sights like this in most of LA, or Dallas, or Austin, for example:

Here's the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Later in the evening, I would see a free opera concert here, which I didn't take any pictures of:

South of the pavilion is the Lurie Garden, a lovely oasis in the city:

Loved, loved, loved these pavers.

East, across the street, the park went on. On this side, there was a mini golf course, a rock climbing wall, and what looked like the coolest playground on the planet. Here are some shots I took on my way back through:

Further east, across another street, was Lake Michigan. 


Later, after a little bit of rain, a rainbow.

I walked further south along the lake and finally crossed back west, where I stumbled across that famous fountain:

And saw some more of Lurie Garden as I moved north once more:

I managed to catch the sunset over the city:

After the concert, I walked back to my hotel. I actually paid for a metro day pass but left it in my hotel on accident, but it was only a mile, and I felt safe. Along the way, I snapped a couple of cool shots. I really enjoyed how, everywhere I went in the city, I stumbled across interesting architecture, fountains, and sculptures:

I ended my first day in the city as it began, with a shot of the Chicago River:

After I got back to my hotel, I briefly got to see a friend before crashing out and sleeping like a rock, looking forward to a trip to the Art Institute in the morning.