Weekly Round-Up: May 29 – June 04, 2016

My Memorial Day weekend was pretty packed, so not as much movie time as usual – managed to squeeze in some good ones though:

  • X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – This film’s intriguing premise (Oscar Isaac as a millennia-old mega-mutant who’s been awakened and must be stopped!) is slowed down by silly dialogue and the cliche “catching up on where everybody is, before bringing them all together.” We find out how Professor Xavier becomes bald, though! NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Night and Fog (1955) – It’s hard to say you “like” this kind of movie, but this mid-twentieth century nonfiction film (not quite a documentary) is undeniably powerful for its horrifying imagery and introspective narration. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Immortal Story (1966) – Unbearably long (at less than an hour) take of a wealthy older man who becomes obsessed with living out an urban legend, by recruiting a young sailor and providing a woman for him to couple with. Everything about this film felt stagnant, from the lifeless dialogue to Orson Welles, at possibly his biggest, perched within his throne. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Blue Velvet (1986) – Arguably David Lynch’s breakout film, finding his auteur voice as a balance between classic film sensibilities and unsettling surrealism. This loaded crime mystery is hypnotic, dreamy, and sublimely beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Valley of the Dolls (1967) – Another delightful “so-bad-it’s-good” flick, about three young women in the 1960s who succumb to booze and pills. I got to see this in theaters with an enthusiastic audience, cheering for key moments (wig-pulling) and outrageous dialogue (“You know how bitchy f**s can be”). Not for everyone, but if you love camp this one is REQUIRED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: April 10-16, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • The Avengers (2012) – Epic superhero tale bringing together Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America (each of whom had their own films) with Black Widow and Hawk-Eye to save the world from invaders. It got kind of spacey for me, but I liked how much time we got with Black Widow over the other characters, who we presumably know (if we’ve kept up with the MCU). RECOMMENDED.
  • Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967) – Slow-cooking erotic tale about a young woman who falls in love with a middle-aged man, and they spend a lot of the movie in their apartments. Wikipedia says this movie was controversial for its time (which I can understand), but the narrative wasn’t exactly groundbreaking even if its explicit content was. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Jungle Book (2016) – Gorgeous visuals bring the classic story to life in a whole new dimension as the jungles of India are animated to spectacular detail. My favorite parts of this film were how it differed from the Disney classic, particularly in the savagery of villain Shere Khan and the sweeping narrative (making it feel more flowing and less episodic). RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: April 03-09, 2016

  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005) – Certainly the strongest of the prequel trilogy, this chapter follows the young Anakin Skywalker on his path to becoming Darth Vader. Ian McDiarmid steals the show as Senator/Emperor Palpatine in all his cackling glory. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Spectacular sequel, with a terrific cast of new characters and respectful restraint for bringing back familiar faces. One of the finest films of 2015, and maybe just maybe my favorite Star Wars film. REQUIRED.
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) – My favorite movie. Got to see this as a Throwback Thursday screening at El Capitan Theatre, with producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise speaking about the film’s production. REQUIRED.
  • The Jungle Book (1967) – Bizarro yet truly inspired Disney film bringing together the dark romance of the jungle with swingin’ jazz music. Like Pinocchio, this features a cast of memorable villains, notably the dry wit of Shere Khan and the subtle predator King Louie. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see two weeks ago?

Weekly Round-Up: March 13-19, 2016

This past week took me forever to get through an audio commentary (aka non-chemical sleeping pills) but I got on a better roll afterwards:

  • The Graduate (1967) – This movie is still REQUIRED, but the audio commentary by director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh isn’t. It felt like more of a conversation than actually discussing what was taking place onscreen, though I enjoyed learning about the editing/pacing decisions from Nichols.
  • Zootopia (2016) – Wonderful political allegory about prejudice and tolerance, disguised as a family film about talking animals. REQUIRED.
  • Iron Man 2 (2010) – Essentially, a rehash of Iron Man 1. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Brooklyn (2015) – My second time with this movie was even more emotional, from a greater understanding of the story and choices our heroine Eilis is facing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: March 06-12, 2016

Sorry for the slow posts!

Two weeks ago, I saw:

  • I Knew Her Well (1965) – Very strong drama following a struggling model/actress in Rome. This has been referred to as “the female La Dolce Vita,” which it isn’t, as its overall mood and feel is more jolting and less dreamlike and flowing. Knockout performance by lead Stefania Sandrelli and featuring a terrific 1960s pop soundtrack. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • The Graduate (1967) – Full disclosure, this is probably my favorite movie of the 1960s. An essential American coming-of-age story with visionary direction and the powerful songs of Simon & Garfunkel. REQUIRED.
  • The Hunting Ground (2015) – Deeply troubling documentary on the campus rape crisis occurring at universities around the country, and the lack of response by administrations to put a stop to it. RECOMMENDED.
  • Poltergeist (1982) – This movie terrified me as a child, and it still doesn’t sit well with me today. The haunted house genre is pushed a step further with ghosts terrorizing and attacking children (not at all entertaining, to be frank) though its iconic visuals and genuinely scary moments are certainly commendable. NOT RECOMMENDED.

What did you see (not last week, but) two weeks ago?

Finding Elaine: UC Berkeley in “The Graduate” (1967)

Remember me to one who lives there.

Since I first watched it about ten years ago, The Graduate instantly flew into the swirl of my favorite films. Of course, late middle school / early high school age me didn’t fully grasp the complex themes masked by uncomfortable comedy and moody ambivalence, but this classic still spoke to me in a primal, instinctive way.

When it came time to decide where to pursue higher education, I landed on UC Berkeley – where many other onscreen characters have attended, including High School Musical‘s Troy Bolton, Looking‘s Patrick Murray, and The Graduate‘s Elaine Robinson.

The Graduate is probably the most notable film to be partially set at my alma mater, and likely one of the only to have actually filmed there. As is show business, several shots of Cal within this film are really shot at USC (sss!) but several are filmed in the places and streets I called home for four years.

  • Moe’s Books & Caffe Mediterraneum

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Moe’s Books is a still-operating independent bookstore with a wide breadth of literature, new, old, and out-of-print. I discovered this later in college and even got a book about the making of All About Eve there.

More exciting (to The Graduate fanboys like myself) is there Benjamin is sitting: the Caffe Mediterraneum. This is one of Berkeley’s most well-known coffee shops, where I’ve attended multiple study groups, political meetings, and social catch-ups. It’s the self-proclaimed “home of the caffe latte,” and they also boast a great breakfast and lunch menu.

These are in the “Southside” neighborhood, just 3 blocks from campus and 1 block from a house I lived in.

  • Unit 1 & Theta Delta Chi

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In this brief shot, we view the 2600 block of Durant Ave, just 1 block south of campus. First we see Unit 1, a large dormitory complex. I didn’t live there myself, but several friends did so I became familiar with it. Durant was also home to many popular eateries, including Top Dog (known throughout the Bay Area), La Burrita (terrific Mexican food), and a collection of restaurants known as the Asian Ghetto (I didn’t come up with the name). Durant Avenue was part of my everyday life.

As Benjamin runs into a frathouse, the camera quickly pans into another real-life location: Theta Delta Chi, or TDX. (The interior shots unfortunately are not the “real” insides of this fraternity.)

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During my later years in college this frat earned a bad rep, but I had a lot of positive memories here. When my friends and I would frequent frat row, we’d always hit up TDX and even went to a charity haunted house event they hosted one Halloween.

  • Sproul Plaza

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Possibly the most exciting on-location shots are those in Sproul Plaza, as Benjamin continues to try to win Elaine over. Sproul Plaza is the real heart of the UC Berkeley campus: where student groups recruit members & publicize events, religious fanatics preach from soapboxes, and passers-by can pick up the Daily Californian campus newspaper. It is the place to see and be seen, and I’m not even joking.

More so than the other locations in this film, Sproul Plaza is one of the most iconic images of UC Berkeley and of my own college experience. I was there for key milestones in my student tenure, like running for student government (I lost) and watching (not participating in) the Occupy UC mayhem, but more importantly it was part of my everyday. It is the main strip between campus classroom buildings and student housing, where everyone intersects within one space. It’s only logical that Benjamin sees Elaine here, as this is the one place that every UC Berkeley student can be found.

I loved The Graduate years before I even thought about Cal, and will continue to be as my memories of college slip away. But having an intimate knowledge and personal experience with several of the locations, however minor, in a cinema masterpiece will forever tie me directly to one of my favorite films.


 

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Outspoken and Outfreckled. Check out the other great entries here!

Weekly Round-Up: January 03-09, 2016

Happy New Year! Now that we’re post-holidays, we get back to “ordinary time” and a more regular cadence of movie-watching. 🙂

Last week, I saw:

  • In Cold Blood (1967) – Genuinely creepy, though occasionally slow crime drama. This was especially fun to watch as I’d just finished the In Cold Blood novel days earlier. RECOMMENDED.
  • Inside Out (2015) – First time watching this with audio commentary by Pete Docter & Ronnie del Carmen. Really enjoyable, with lots of tidbits and occasional meanderings (like calling up Bill Hader and Michael Giacchino mid-way). REQUIRED.
  • Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991) – Love her or hate her (I fall into the camp of the former), Madonna is a true tour de force of entertainment and this documentary is a terrific look into her insane lifestyle. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Music of the Heart (1940) – My first film viewing from the Rita Hayworth set I was gifted over the holidays, this is a charming musical comedy (with unexpected racism) about a talented singer on the verge of deportation, who finds refuge among the immigrants of the Lower East Side. RECOMMENDED.
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – One of my favorite contemporary films. Genuinely moving and tremendously uplifting romantic comedy-drama. REQUIRED.
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) – I hadn’t gotten around to finishing this (despite several attempts) until this viewing – glad I had, as this musical comedy is a menagerie of satirical characters, particularly an evangelical “consumer rights advocate” and the indecisive Texas governor. I’m surprised this hasn’t become a cult classic a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors, as this film similarly blends raunchy comedy with sweet, earnest characters. RECOMMENDED.

Also, honorable mentions for Mad Max (the original) and Capote, both of which I started but couldn’t finish.

What did you see last week?

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)

This film may be Jean-Luc Godard at his least accessible. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is the lucid journey through the experiences of French women in the 1960s. There is virtually no plot, just a series of scenes with her children and at work as a prostitute; blended in with all of this are scenes of other women in this line of work.

This “story” is told in a very interesting manner though, flowing between all these scenes and strung together by the whispers of an omnipresent male narrator as well as the women occasionally breaking the fourth wall and speaking to us directly. In addition, prostitution serves as an interesting metaphor; these are all women who appear to be middle-class, yet they are apparently forced into this lifestyle of exploitation by men.

This creates the gender divide recurring throughout the film. The women do what they need to in order to make ends meet, including resorting to prostitution. Meanwhile, the men often have their heads in the clouds, focusing on international politics or theory, lacking the practical “skill” the women employ.

I could follow the film through this much, but on top of this there was clearly a critical commentary on consumer culture and capitalism; it was hard for me to understand its place in all the action though, and the reversion to this theme made the end product seem a bit bloated to me, as if Godard tried to bite off more than he could chew.

This movie certainly reflects Godard’s effort to surge into more serious territory, particularly gender politics. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her isn’t for everybody, but it is good viewing for Godard aficionados. Most Americans (myself included) aren’t very conscious of representations of feminism in other countries, so this film is particularly illuminating.