Category Archives: Movie

“Song to Song”


Here is what my local theater said about this Terrence Malick movie:

In this modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples – struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman) – chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal.

I guess that is accurate, as far as it goes.  It doesn’t mention that there is little to no actual plot,* and that none of the characters has a name.  There’s an evil music business tycoon who steals Gosling’s copyrights.  Gosling and Mara have disfunctional families.  There are a lot of shots of stages and backstages, but the supposed musicians Mara and Gosling never perform publicly (he does some noodling on pianos for her, and she holds a guitar once or twice).  I don’t think Gosling’s expression ever changes.  Come to think of it, I don’t think it changed much in “La La Land,” either.

I found it pretty annoying to try to follow, at least for about the first half (it’s long, too — almost 2-1/2 hours) and then I gave up and just went with the flow.  Malick found some gorgeous nature scenes to include, and some amazing houses/apartments, and I liked the bit part Patti Smith had.

I far prefer his earlier film “Tree of Life.”  Apparently audiences agree — though my local theater made a big deal about its opening, it quickly moved into the second smallest room, which holds 40-50 people.  At the prime-time showing I went to, there were only five or six people.

I have to give him one thing: though I don’t think his latest film is successful, it was compelling to watch.  I never looked at my watch and hoped it would be ending soon.

*The lack of plot is probably tied to the fact that no one ever does anything, other than roll around with someone else (not sex, though) or stand for long periods looking away.  A few people stand on stages, but only Patti Smith really does anything on one.  Hard to have a plot when nothing happens.  It’s the barest exposition ever of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” or “girl meets boy,” etc. if you prefer.




I’m back — not that anyone probably noticed I was gone for a few  years.  Got too busy with work.  But, now I have more time and I would like to express myself.

This afternoon my son and I took a break from all the dreadful posturing about the “Wealthcare Act” and other disheartening news emanating from the new “administration” and went to see a movie about cats.  In Istanbul.  In Turkish with subtitles.  It was delightful — a balm for the spirit on a too-cold day.

The film followed seven semi-feral cats — feral in the sense that no one “owned” them, but not feral in the sense of being wild — and the ordinary people who cared for them.  It was really nice to see a grizzled shopkeeper cuddle a cat, or take a kitten to the vet after an accident.  There was a man in a boat — fisherman? we weren’t told quite what it was he did — with luxuriant hair, who very sweetly and openly kissed one of the cats he had with him on a trip over the water. Generally the cats had their own agendas and schedules, which the humans observed but did not attempt to control.  They allowed them their independence.

I was quite impressed with how strongly they all felt about the cats, and what lengths some of the people went to on their behalf.  And, what they thought about the cats’ relationship to humans, and their future in an area under development pressure — some of it was quite poetic.  No one came across as a crusader.  They just loved the cats who shared their city.

For all our fondness for animals in America, it seemed to me that these Istanbul cats lived on a much more equal footing with humans.  They treated them more like adults, where we tend to infantilize our pets.  If you can find this movie, go see it — it’s a great antidote to current events.

Update: my theater brought “Kedi” back!  Maybe they decided to do this when they found out how people were staying away in droves from “Song to Song” — they had told me they had to let “Kedi” go because of the big new openings coming up.  Hah.

“It Came From Beneath the Sea”


Every now and then I get the opportunity to see a really dreadful movie that is nonetheless very enjoyable.  This one, part of my theater’s Science on Screen series, was a hoot (oops, didn’t notice that the web promo called it that, too — well, it was).  It was in black & white and was made in 1955 on a very low budget (hence the two missing arms?).

A gigantic (albeit six-armed) octopus from the greatest depths of the sea is galvanized into action when radiation from H-bomb testing in the Pacific affects its normal feeding habits.

An atomic submarine captain (Kenneth Tobey) teams with a pair of scientists (Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis) to stop the monster before it terrorizes major coastal cities. But after snacking on a couple of freighters and scooping up some tasty landlubbers from a beach, the enraged ‘pus manages to make it way to San Francisco. In famous set pieces, the sea beast demolishes the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ferry Building, thwacks a helicopter out of the sky, and sweeps an enormous tentacle through Market Street, before a final showdown.

With fantastic stop-motion animation by special effects master Ray Harryhausen (Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans), this hoot of a sci-fi adventure (complete with a romantic triangle) is a classic of the Golden Age of monster movies, and rarely shown in 35mm on the big screen.

University of Chicago biologist Michael LaBarbera is a big fan of vintage monster flicks, especially those from the ‘50s. In his published paper “The Biology of B-Movie Monsters,” he explores the realities of movie-creature anatomy, including the limits of King Kong’s and the 50 Foot Woman’s bone structure, why a real-life Mothra would have breathing problems, and how the Incredible Shrinking Man would need to eat his own weight daily just to survive.

Join us before the film as Professor LaBarbera discusses the biological implications of really big and really small B-movie creatures, focusing on the massive cephalopod in It Came from Beneath the Sea, one of his all-time favorite B’s.

About the Speaker

Michael LaBarbera teaches biology and biomechanics at the University of Chicago, where he is a professor in the Department of Organismal Biology & Anatomy and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an Associate Editor of The Biological Bulletin, and served on the Board of Reviewing Editors of Science for 11 years. Professor LaBarbera has published on everything from the biomechanics of marine invertebrates to why animals don’t have wheels to the aerodynamics of flying snakes. He has lectured to non-scientist/general public audiences in over 30 U.S. cities and has appeared on many radio and television shows.

The presentation was very interesting.  Before it began, I noticed a man in a suit sitting by himself at the end of the first row (where I always like to sit, in the middle — if I wanted to see movies from far away, I would just watch them on TV).  So I went and asked if he were the presenter, and he was — we had a little chat about how great the theater is.  Then I went back to my seat and embarrassed the heck out of myself by accusing the other person in the front row of eating my popcorn.  She wasn’t, of course; I was just being unobservant about where my seat actually was.  She was very gracious about it, but my distress at my behavior did overlay the lecture, so I don’t remember too much of it, and the beginning of the movie.

The plot, such as it is, is pretty well described in the theater’s blurb above.  I did notice an interesting dichotomy in the movie’s treatment of women.  The lead scientist who made the key discovery was female, and her character was allowed to be an expert and to tell the military men what was what (though in high heels and tight skirts).  But the rest of the time it was “don’t worry your pretty little head” sorts of things, and when they finally went out to battle the giant sextopus, she had to stay behind with all the laypeople.

The nuclear submarine scenes were interesting (must be very primitive compared to subs today — although, some may still be in service?  Not sure if they decommissioned them all) and the Captain (the one who eventually gets the girl), played by Kenneth Tobey, looked very familiar.  So I looked him up:  he later went on to star in the TV show “The Whirlybirds,” which I remember watching as a kid!  He had a lot of TV and movie roles after that, up into the 1990s.  But first, he vanquished the monster that had demolished the Embarcadero.

“The Sessions”


This screening was an unexpected pleasure — a special one-off showing of an indie film I had not even heard of.  And it turned out to be a terrific event — with the director, producer and star available for Q&A afterwards!  They actually counted the empty seats after we were all in, to see how many stand-bys could be accommodated.  (I love my local theater!)

From the email invitation:

Winner of the Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, The Sessions is based on the poignantly optimistic writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes). Confined to an iron lung due to polio, O’Brien is, at age 38, determined to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapists and the guidance of his priest (William H. Macy), he sets out to make his dream a reality. Co-starring Helen Hunt.

It was a really nice film — made me think about things I never had considered, which I suppose was the intention.  But it was funny, too.  The actors were excellent.   I guess this is why they call them “actors,” but John Hawkes was SO different from the last two parts I saw him in (Martha Marcy May Marlene and Winter’s Bone — both scary roles, and one was a really bad and creepy guy, brrrr!).   He came across as (is that any better than “came off as”?) an intelligent and thoughtful person in the Q&A as well.  Articulate and not apparently too full of himself — he seemed like such a normal and interesting person that I feel a little funny writing about him like this.  (Still remembering that he is an actor, though…)  I wished that I had a question to ask him but I settled for complimenting him on my way past (a benefit of my penchant for the front row).

I found some biographical material on him on the Internet, and it seems he may have a good background for playing scary rural guys.  I did not realize he was as old as 53, though — there is that actor business again, allowing him to play younger roles, I guess.

It didn’t really sink in that the movie was based on a true story, till the end (I was not paying enough attention to the beginning, which included real footage of the main character, and apparently I didn’t bother to read the invitation very thoroughly).  Perhaps that fact explains why some of the characters were not well developed, such as the therapist played by Helen Hunt (my goodness, she is in good shape!) and the priest played by William H. Macy.   I suppose that his role’s purpose was to allow some of Mark O’Brien’s comic lines, which I imagine appeared in his writings, to be spoken on screen.   Anyway, he looked great with the shaggy hair.

Back to Helen Hunt:  her husband was played by Adam Arkin, and aspects of their relationship were raised but not really resolved or even pursued much.  Possibly they are both still alive, so that might have limited what was allowed to be shown on screen?  ( I mean the real people the roles were based on.)  But, they were not the main story, and I think the main story was told well.  I do recommend this movie.