Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015) movie poster

director Colin Trevorrow
viewed: 08/29/2015 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

I can’t quite believe it myself.  There I was, returning to the cinema to see Jurassic World for a second time.  I hardly ever do that, see a new film more than once in the theater.

This time, though, the explanation is relatively straight-forward.  When Felix and I saw Jurassic World back in July, my daughter Clara was away at camp.  What I underestimated was how disappointed she would be NOT to have seen the film on the big screen.  As many films as I see with my kids, both at home and in the theater, it truly is the odd one that one of the two of them gets a particular yen to see, something that they cling to and harp on, forcing my hand.

Luckily for us all, I had pretty well enjoyed Jurassic World the first time through.  So, I willingly took Clara and one of her friends to see it on their last weekend before the start of the school year.

And you know what?  They loved it.

I think I said it in my last write-up: “Chris Pratt & dinosaurs”.  What’s not to like?  Oh yeah, those sexist threads.  We discussed them.  But in the end a thrill ride is a thrill ride, and Jurassic World is the theme park as movie, and more than anything, it’s entertaining.  Highest of ratings from the 10 and 11 year old who accompanied me.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In (2008) movie poster

director Tomas Alfredson
viewed: 08/28/2015

Let the Right One In has been one of my favorite new films that I have seen since keeping this diary.  It’s lingered in my mind since first seeing it 6 years ago, and it’s been one of the few films I have really wanted to see again.  Of course, I saw the American re-make Let Me In (2010).  I’ve even read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel from which the film was adapted.

The film is more a love story perhaps than a horror story, and more than a romance, it is a depiction of alienation, loneliness, otherness, and the finding of a true friend or perhaps love.  Its echoes of child abuse, bullying, and darker truths transcend the easy reference “that Swedish vampire movie”.

As much as I had wanted to see it again, I also started wanting to watch it with my kids, and my kids have gotten to an age where it would not be inappropriate.  Whether or not they would like it, that I wasn’t so sure of.

Watching it again, I felt for the strengths of the film, the unromantic icy 1980’s landscape of suburban(?) Sweden and especially the brilliant casting of Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli.

The kids, I’m not sure what they thought of it.  Felix said he thought it was good.  Clara was a little less impressed, though now I’m wondering if it is because she thought it would be scary and was disappointed on that score.  I don’t know.  It’s still among the best contemporary films I’ve seen in the past 13 years, now no longer exactly contemporary.

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

Ernest & Celestine (2012) movie poster

directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
viewed: 08/28/2015

It would be understandable if you watched the French/Belgian animated production, Ernest & Celestine, and didn’t right away make the connection that it was co-directed by the team that brought us A Town Called Panic (2009).  We watched it and didn’t make that immediate connection (though we spotted the poster for A Town Called Panic in the bedroom of one of the characters).  A Town Called Panic has been one of my kids’ favorite movies of all time.

It’s a totally different style of film.  Ernest & Celestine is a traditionally cel animated film with a look-and-feel of illustrations, adapted from a series of books with a style akin to that of the original material (whereas A Town Called Panic was stop-motion animation.)  And where aspects of the humor have some similarities in sensibility, Ernest & Celestine is a much more straight-forward tale as opposed to the uber-anarchy of A Town Called Panic.

Ernest & Celestine is the unlikely story of a friendship between a bear and a mouse in a world in which bears live on the surface while mice live below ground, and the economy is oddly driven through teeth.  The two communities are in utter horror of one another, though the mice steal bear teeth to replace their own when they fail, and little mice, like Celestine, are forced to sneak into the bear world to collect teeth as real-world tooth fairies.

The American version features voices of Forest Whitaker, Lauren Baccall, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and others, and is a charming, odd, story, more fun than logical.

The kids both enjoyed it, though doubtlessly less than A Town Called Panic.  Still, something worth recommending outside of American animation productions.

I Stand Alone (1998)

I Stand Alone (1998) movie poster

director Gaspar Noé
viewed: 08/26/2015

Gaspar Noé has become one of the most interesting directors working today.  His 2002 film Irréversible was a harrowing tale of rape and revenge.  His 2009 film Enter the Void was a harrowing tale of death, drugs, and the beyond.  His upcoming film, Love (2015) is in 3-D and features hardcore pornographic images, though in the direction of art.  How harrowing that will be, I guess I will come to see.

Noé’s first feature film, from 1998, I Stand Alone, maybe it’s better if you don’t know really what all it entails.  It’s about an out of work horsemeat butcher, utterly embittered against the world, particularly women and the wealthy, and the image often seen accompanying the film (though not the one I chose here) features the middle-aged man with a gun pressed against his neck in a fierce stance of suicide.

I think the best way to see this one is to not know how it will end or what it entails.

What’s interesting here are a couple of things.  For one, I’d say this is clearly an earlier work, less polished, a bit more gimmicky.   Harrowing?  Sure, it is certainly harrowing on its own.

Most weird is Noé’s use of intertitles, including a 30-second countdown and warning at the pivotal point of the film that urges the squeamish to leave the room.  It’s a gesture Noé picked up directly from William Castle, and shows a playfulness that the film’s grim and ruthless outlook utterly belies.  He also uses claps of gunfire to punctuate scenes, with jumps in the image, zooming in on images, shaking things up throughout the duration.

I stand by my feeling that Noé is one of cinema’s most interesting and challenging, innovative and radical major feature filmmakers.  He’s not like anyone in particular.  The immediate directors who come to mind when trying to relate him, I would suggest Michael Haneke and David Lynch, though he’s not really anything like either of them.

I Stand Alone is perhaps the least of his three films so far.  But it’s very good, very unusual, and quite disturbing.

All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001)

All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001) DVD cover

director Shunji Iwai
viewed: 08/24/2015

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a 2001 Japanese drama about teens and bullying and an obsessive outlet in star-worship.  It’s very notable as a real emotional drain of a film.

Director Shunji Iwai employs a mixture of realism and naturalism with a truly dreamlike sensibility as well.  The result is effective and haunting.

Interestingly, for me, in film school in the 1990’s, a professor who specialized in Japanese cinema played another of Iwai’s films, 1996’s Picnic, and seemed to suggest something new happening in Japanese cinema.  I don’t know how predictive that was.  All these years later, this is the first of Iwai’s films I have seen.  It was good, interesting, and pretty compelling.  And a reasonable bit of a bummer.

Hackers (1995)

Hackers (1995) movie poster

director Iain Softley
viewed: 08/22/2015

I have a friend who liked to jokingly reference Hackers, the 1995 film about the burgeoning internet underground, which would make him laugh frequently.  So, of course, I queued it up and now, I’ve watched it.

The film is most notable for a young Angelina Jolie in one of her first big roles, starring alongside Jonny Lee Miller, who would go on to become her first husband.  And of course being one of the first wave of mainstream Hollywood movies to deal with the internet (which would certainly be a pretty interesting micro-genre point of research.)

Frankly, I think the more you are intimate with code, the more funny these would-be hackers might seem.  Their hip lingo that nobody ever used and their glamorous lives as high school students by day, coders by night, and fun cool dudes all around is indeed the kind of vision dreampt only by Hollywood and has little relevance to anything remotely like real life.  That is typical of Hollywood, I know, but when it’s your subculture that is being interpreted, then it’s more amusing to you.

This is definitely one to file under the “Way ’90’s” category.  I guess I didn’t find it as hilarious on my own as I might have with my friend, but for a pretty lame thriller, it’s entertaining enough, though not quite bad enough to be truly entertaining.  At least, from my particular seat.  Hackers, like those Window95 ads and other ways “we looked at the internet 20 years ago” is a time capsule of unintentional comedy.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) movie poster

director Stanley Kubrick
viewed: 08/22/2015 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

Still mind-blowing, even after all this time.

Actually, I think I can say that I found it far more mind-blowing than when I first saw it in the 1980’s, no doubt on a TV, most likely un-letterboxed in some pan-and-scan format.  This knowledge has kept me from re-visiting the film for years, waiting for a chance to see it on the big screen.  And finally chance offered itself.  And I daringly took my 11 year old daughter and 13 year old son to one of the classically confounding films of the 20th century.

My son has developed a taste for Kubrick, so I figured that he would be more up for it.  I did try to prime them with information about the film and tips that it was long and slow and not utterly clear.

Interestingly, they both kind of enjoyed it, though were completely confused by the ending and the black obelisks and ultimately what it’s all about.  But then again, hasn’t that also been the case for adults all these years?

Me, this might have been the perfect timing to see the film.  It’s such a visual and aural feast, a sensoria strange and open-ended, with the luminous and mind-bending ending that has you wonder, “What was that I just saw?”  I don’t know what to add to the infinite discussion that already exists about this film, other than to say that I was immensely wowed by it, seeing it big (the only way to see it) and being struck by its immensity and wild far-reaching vision (even knowing what it was going in.)

Amazing.

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977) movie poster

director Bill Melendez, Phil Roman
viewed: 08/21/2015

The third in the original run of Peanuts films, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown came during feature animation’s deep swoon in the 1970’s-1980’s, and the resultant picture isn’t quite up to snuff.

A few years back (probably more than I care to realize), I introduced my kids to A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) and Snoopy, Come Home (1972), which we all enjoyed.  Me as an adult returning to movies of my childhood with my kids, experiencing and enjoying the films for the first time.  At the time, though, the latter two Charlie Brown movies weren’t available anywhere.  (Who knows if we’ll eventually track down Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) (1980).

I remember very much seeing both of the latter films in the theater.  In fact, I even remember seeing TV spots for it.  I would have been 8.  This was also the year of Star Wars.  There was before and after Star Wars.  Childhood movies changed.

This is one where the Peanuts gang is sent off the camp, a camp inhabited by a gang of bullies and their nasty cat, who undermine everything the Peanuts gang is up to.  The gang is split into two, by gender.  The boys are Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, and Franklin, the girls are Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie.  Snoopy and Woodstock make their own way.

The bulk of the film is a race on river rafts down a river.  Never has the absence of adult supervision been more blatant than when these kids face any number of near death experiences over several days on their own in the woods.  The fact that there are any real dangers really conflicts with the traditional world of the Peanuts gang, not that you really think anyone is going to die.  Still, it’s sort of odd and out of step.

Clara ended up enjoying it, and I think Felix did too.  For my money, it’s actually pretty bad, whereas A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Come Home are genuinely good.  I think I even remember my mother being unimpressed at the time, though now I’m not sure if it was this one or the next one.

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966) Mexican release lobby card

director Ray Dennis Steckler
viewed: 08/20/2015

One thing about Ray Dennis Steckler.  He had a way with film titles.  From the man who brought us The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) comes the intriguingly named Rat Pfink a Boo Boo.  I know that I’ve given you an image there to look at, but what would you think that a movie with this title would be about exactly?

It seems that this film is well-noted for one other key oddity besides its title.  It starts out as one kind of movie and then suddenly pivots into another.  The first 40 minutes or so, it’s a creepy potential “roughie”, a genre of violent sexploitation with leering and rape and harm themes.  A gang of three young thugs looking for kicks starts stalking a pretty blonde.  We see them nearly kill a woman in the film’s opener so we know they mean business.

Only this gal has a boyfriend, a rockabilly-singing boyfriend by the name of Lonnie Lord.  Maybe he will fight off the bad guys and save her from a fate worse than death?

Well, he does.  But not as Lonnie Lord, but rather as Rat Pfink, with his sidekick Boo Boo, formerly the gardener of the building.  It’s after a long period of thought that suddenly the epiphany rises that these guys should put on some outfits and go battle crime!  Oh, yeah, and let’s stop making a roughie, now we’re making a superhero movie.  And a comedy suddenly too.

Apparently Steckler was inspired to parody the popular Batman TV show of its day.

Rat Pfink and Boo Boo get into their motorcycle and sidecar and zoom into action.  They pursue the bad guys like figures from a classic serial.  If the film didn’t get absurd enough, after beating the bad guys, suddenly an escaped gorilla, “Kogar” attacks them.

It’s things like this that really elevate a picture.

Oddly, though, in comparison with The Incredibly Strange Creatures, it’s a much better-looking production.  And both despite and because of its glaring oddity, it’s a pretty enjoyable piece of trash cinema.

The Grapes of Death (1978)

The Grapes of Death (1978) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 08/20/2015

I’m not sure that The Grapes of Death is really a great film title.  Not that the French title works all that better: Les Raisins de la Mort.  But, as the saying goes, “a rose by any other name…”

While I haven’t seen any of his hardcore pornographic films, I am making headway on the other, the primary oeuvre of French sexploitation/horror director, Jean Rollin.  And on the whole, I’ve come to really like and appreciate his films, often seeing pretty pervasive themes which rise above the vampires and the lesbians and transcend into something almost resembling feminism.

That said, The Grapes of Wrath is the first of his films that might be less so, though maybe not entirely.

Two young women are on a train heading to the South of France, when at a stop in the countryside, a man with lesions on his neck enters the train and kills one of the girls. Élizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal), our hero and protagonist, escapes to a farmhouse, where she finds more demented killers, a man and a more lucid young woman.  Escaping again, she stumbles on a blind girl and a village, more lesion-covered, pustule-seeping maniacs.  It’s not until she runs into two road workers from the North that she begins to realize that the insanity stems from the wine that people have drunk.  The men were beer-drinkers in a wine town and stayed fine.  It turns out to be an experimental pesticide behind the leprosy-like mania, effecting women less pervasively than men for some reason.

The settings for the film are lovely.  The mountains and hills and small stone villages where grapes are sown and harvested.  And the make-up effects are quite gruesome and potent.

The film ventures into another potential, though lesser it would seem, theme of Rollin’s, one of environmental collapse or disease, as in The Night of the Hunted (1980).

Rollin is consistently interesting, working within low budgets, crafting something uniquely his own from these not quite genre pictures, something evocative and thought-provoking, at times, haunting.