Monthly Archives: September 2012

“Sleepwalk with Me”

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This slight movie struck me as an exercise in self-indulgence.  I had read about it before seeing it, and the article seemed most interested in the fact that it is the first movie to be made from a radio segment, and the first movie produced by NPR’s (or one of those) “This American Life.”   It is not that those two things are not true, but they didn’t seem like big deals to me.  Nor did the movie, unfortunately.   I see now why the article had that focus — those possibly are the most interesting things about the film.

Here is the description from my theater’s website:

A burgeoning [sic — ?!]stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.

Winner of a 2012 Audience Award at Sundance, comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and stars in this sincere and hilarious film, based on his off-Broadway show and bestselling book. It’s also the first movie co-written by Ira Glass and co-produced by This American Life. The story: when an aspiring stand-up fails to express his true feelings about his girlfriend and his stalled career, his anxiety comes out in increasingly funny and dangerous sleepwalking incidents. Sleepwalk with Me features Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Carol Kane (Taxi [What, that in their minds is the most notable movie she has been in?!]), James Rebhorn (Meet the Parents), Cristin Milioti (star of Broadway’s Once), plus comedians Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Jesse Klein, Henry Phillips and David Wain.”

Disappointing would be a good adjective for it.  I guess it was interesting seeing the comedian get better at his jokes when he drew upon his actual life, but honestly, there wasn’t enough material to build a whole movie around.  And I didn’t even remember that I had actually heard the original version on the radio a few years ago, until the dramatic action climax, so it wasn’t as though I was bored by a story I already knew — at least not consciously.   After I did remember that, I recalled some humorous bits the movie left out, right after the dramatic action scene near the end, but I suppose they didn’t fit the new plot.

The setup is that the main character is talking to someone — the filmmaker? — while driving, some time after the events he describes, which are then shown to us in lengthy flashbacks.   (He seemed to me to take his eyes off the road far too long at a time in order to make eye contact with his unseen companion, which automatically made me anxious.   He never did hit anything, though.  I guess if I were to see it again, I would be able to avoid that anxiety, just as I could finally avoid worrying about the dog in “The Big Lebowski” the last time I saw it.   But I doubt that I will be seeing this one again.)

There were some funny scenes, and I think the actors did a decent job, but unless you have a free pass and there is nothing you like to watch on television that night, I am not recommending you go out of your way to see this movie.  Watch it — or some of it — on TV if it gets there, but I expect you have better things to do with your time.  You could listen to the radio, for one thing!

“Se7en”

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Not a movie for the squeamish — I was forewarned, fortunately, by a nice woman next to me in line.  This was another in my local theater’s series of films called Science on Screen, and it was preceded by a short talk about serial killers from a forensic psychiatrist.  Lovely!  He asked the audience how many people had not seen the movie, and when those proved to be a substantial number of us, he said he would not include any spoilers.  But in fact he did — I’m not sure whether I would have known the last victim’s identity in advance otherwise.   Perhaps knowing in advance made it less horrible when it came along at last.

Here is a brief description from the promo email:  “In an unidentified city rife with urban and moral decay, two homicide detectives, retiring veteran William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and newly transferred David Mills (Brad Pitt), hunt for a serial killer who meticulously stages each murder based on one of the seven deadly sins.

Until the last action scene, the movie was unrelentingly dark — dark apartments, dark rooms, dark offices, dark stairways, dark car interiors, dark skies.  And it rained a lot.   I suppose the filmmakers wanted to make a point — that in this unidentified depressing and depressed place, things were dark indeed.  They definitely had to lay it on with a trowel, though, for me to notice — I don’t usually come up with such concrete observations of filmmaking technique.

And the dark city was always crowding in on the characters — again, the only scene where it wasn’t like that was the last big scene, which took place out in the open, a long way from the city, in a desert-like environment with bright orange light everywhere.  I am not sure what it was supposed to mean, however: I am no film student, after all!  I could go look it up, I suppose, but then, so could you, dear reader.  Possibly I would figure it out upon repeated viewings of the movie, but I am not sure I could take seeing it again.

One positive aspect of this film for me was the surprising importance of the public library, both to the plot and as a location.  In the library scenes, the darkness didn’t seem as foreboding — was that because of my overwhelmingly positive feelings about libraries, or because the filmmaker somehow staged them that way?  At any rate, it is again gratifying to see a library having a prominent and constructive role.

Morgan Freeman was great, Brad Pitt was good, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s role was a bit off, I thought.  I tried to imagine her playing it some other way, but those were the lines she was given; there wasn’t much she could do with them other than what she did.

“For a Good Time, Call…”

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This was a pretty cute movie — I did laugh out loud quite a few times.  There was more to it, plot-wise, than I had expected from the preview (I don’t see why it is called a “trailer” nowadays — they don’t trail anything, they come before the main feature and before the movie being, well, previewed — so I prefer not to use that term) and from the theater website’s description, which follows:

The reserved Lauren (played by Lauren Miller) and the irrepressible Katie (Ari Graynor) are polar opposites… and past enemies. But when both come up short on the funds needed to afford their dream New York City apartment a mutual friend (Justin Long) re-introduces them and they reluctantly agree to room together.

These apartment-mates have nothing in common, until Lauren discovers that Katie is working as a phone-sex operator, and recognizes a good business opportunity. But as their business partnership takes off, their newfound friendship finds unexpected challenges that may leave them both, as they say, hanging on the telephone.

But, the movie got surrealistic in spots — it was occasionally hard for me to maintain the willing suspension of disbelief that is so necessary to lose one’s self in fiction, either read or on-screen.   I’m not that picky, but they tried a just ittle too hard to set up the situation sometimes, or went too far in attempts to surprise their viewers.

Still, I enjoyed it — the male lead used to be on “Saturday Night Live,” I think, and he did well.  Also, the star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” — a movie I loved! — had a small part, and she looked great.

I may have another update later, but now — I am off to the movies!

“2 Days in New York”

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I saw this Julie Delpy movie last week, the day after “Jaws” — now there is a contrast for you.  This is a comedy about romance and family — it is a sequel to her “2 Days in Paris” from a few years ago, which I did not see.   But having seen this, I would, if it were to come around again.

Julie Delpy plays the female lead as well as being the director — originally from France, her character now lives in New York City with her boyfriend (played by Chris Rock — he was quite engaging) and their two children, one his and one hers.  The plot turns on a visit from her French family — Delpy’s real-life father playing her character’s father, her odd sister, and her sister’s obnoxious new boyfriend.

It was pretty amusing, though there were some cringe-worthy scenes and lines — still, nothing really offensive, though I guess I wouldn’t take my mother to see it.   I thought it was interesting how putting racist statements in the mouth of a non-American — adding a distance to them? — let one see them from another angle.   Thinking about this now, I would definitely be intrigued to see more of Delpy’s work.

It seems like a remarkable accomplishment to direct and star in one’s own film, and I expect it is even more of an accomplishment for young women?   This particular film was much preferable to the one I saw last year made by another woman who also played the film’s lead character — “The Future” by “Miranda July” (made-up name).   That one was about a couple who were going to adopt a cat, but they didn’t get back there in time, and it was put to sleep.  Well, there was more to it than that, but as I am an animal lover that is what has stayed sharpest with me.  There was unfaithfulness, the  relationship broke up, there was some weird supernatural stuff (stopping time?) going on…Yes, I definitely prefer Julie Delpy as auteur-director-star.

“Jaws” — perfect end to summer

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I actually saw this movie on Labor Day evening, a time when I am usually not near a movie theater. But this year, I didn’t get away, so it was nice to commemorate the end of the season with a good old classic blockbuster.

There’s not much to say about “Jaws” at this point, I guess — this was my second time seeing it on the big screen, and so I was not surprised by anything the way I was the first time. They did make a point of telling us it was a newly restored film print, not digital — I can’t say that I am enough of a film buff to really notice the difference, but a sizeable portion of the audience was enthusiastic about this.

Robert Shaw played Quint deliciously over the top (I never did see what happened to that tooth he took out — did it go back in? Did he just pitch it?), and Richard Dreyfus was so YOUNG!! Roy Scheider was so miscast, as was his wife — they just didn’t seem to me to belong on a little island. Maybe that was intentional…Anyway, I don’t think we ever saw her again in movies, did we? (Yes, I should have done my research, but I am behind on my movie reporting.)

This just in (from Boston Globe obituary):

Ron Taylor, an Australian marine conservationist who helped film some of the terrifying underwater footage used in the classic shark thriller ‘‘Jaws,’’ has died after a long battle with cancer.  He was 78.

In 1974, director Steven Spielberg asked Mr. Taylor and his wife, Valerie Taylor, to capture footage of a great white shark for ‘‘Jaws.’’  Spielberg used Mr. Taylor’s footage in a now-iconic scene in which the shark in the film tears apart a cage holding one of the main characters.