LES YEUX SANS VISAGE “Eyes Without A Face” (1959)

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them, THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on October 16th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

From Monday, October 15th 2007:

In French with English subtitles
Directed by Georges Franju, starring Pierre Brasseur, Edith Scob, and Alida Valli.

A surgeon, guilt-stricken over the disfiguring of his daughter Christiane, sequesters himself in the French countryside trying to restore her beauty. How? How else. He and his nurse abduct women, surgically remove the face of their victim, and attempt to graft each face onto Christiane. With each failed surgery, Christiane is left to wander the chateau in a ghostly white mask, as her father descends into obsession and madness.

Franju was one of the founders of the Cinematheque Francaise — i.e. he’s no rookie — 8he helped define the rules that govern Film Noir for the French New Wave. I could not find a trailer to accompany this note, but once you’ve seen the photography of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, you will not forget it. While Franju acknowledges a debt to silent horror and the Surrealist movement, his style here is nonetheless way ahead of it’s time. Opting for black & white to avoid censorship of his surgery sequences, Franju refined a shadowy gothic tone that has influenced supernatural and other horror movies ever since.

It’ll finish Wednesday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from October 16th, 2014

Evidently, trailers have become available online for EYES WITHOUT A FACE in the recent years since batman13I wrote the above announcement for my west coast coworkers. Other developments have taken place as well. Other genre films over the years have borrowed elements from this film, including the knowing allusion of Jerry Hall wearing a strikingly similar mask to Christiane’s, Skin_I_Live_In_3under similar circumstances, in Tim Burton‘s BATMAN. More recently Pedro Almodóvar‘s THE SKIN I LIVE IN offers a bold-faced and loving tribute to this chilling masterpiece, fully borrowing the story and central conceit, albeit as a vehicle for Almodóvar’s trademark darkly comic ironic melodrama rather than as a straight forward horror film.

On a personal note, it’s heartening to see vanguards of celebrating unsung classics like The Cinefamily in Los Angeles or the Church of Film in Portland, OR embracing this film. When I initially shared the above announcement in my talent agency gig, my worthy adversary (and wet behind the ears whippersnapper) Evan dismissed it as “a B-movie.” Without hyperbole, dismissing EYES WITHOUT A FACE as a B-movie is like dismissing The Archer’s PEEPING TOM as a B-movie. While both may have had their controversial histories, both were ambitious, insightful, soulful, and as impeccably crafted as any Oscar-baiting prestige film. As occasionally happened in the ol’ lunch movie days, Evan and others busied themselves elsewhere and mocked what they had not experienced, while a small squad of the faithful were riveted the first day. The same friends showed up the second day, having read up on Franju and Valli, and found themselves a whole new corner of filmdom that they were excited to explore.

Yes, this is a mad scientist movie. And yes, William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST was just a supernatural movie. And yes, Jim Henson’s THE DARK CRYSTAL was just another Muppet movie. Dig a little deeper, friends. Long before the irony generation of the 90’s appropriated the trappings of genre to make personal statements, Georges Franju welcomed you into a dark house, and used the mechanics of horror to show you that human regret and sorrow can be the greatest sources of terror.

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Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on September 11th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

Directed by Jonathan Demme, written & performed by the late great Spalding Gray.

A few false starts notwithstanding, it has been 5 years since The Lunch Movie has been a regularly scheduled ritual of salvation at 24 frames per second. In my previous talent agency jobs in Los Angeles we screened movies in the conference room every day during our lunch hour. We watched movies that many of my younger coworkers felt remiss for having gotten through college in general, or film school in particular, without having seen. We fostered a climate that rejected “How can you work in the movie business without seeing (fill in the blank)?!” elitism in favor of “Here’s your chance to share this experience with friends” inclusiveness. And then it ended when I left those jobs and moved across the country.

In the interim, The Lunch Movie has become a blog that is part film criticism and part autobiography. Some films, the ones that move me to write, have impacted my life as much as family or close friends or personal heroes. Some films introduce me to personal heroes … but let’s come back to that in a moment. Through this blog I met as many international movie fans as my former legion of conference room coworkers, including the coolest pen-pal a nerd could ever hope for, Craig Jamison from The GullCottage/Sandlot and the driving force behind The Grindhouse With Craig & Jim podcast. In my current job in the Visual & Media Arts Department at Boston’s Emerson College, we have spent the past few summers testing the waters for returning to my old ritual, swimmingtocambodia-03during what is typically the slowest work period for academia. This summer, these seeds have taken root: this fall semester we will test drive the return of The Lunch Movie on Mondays & Fridays.

This Friday, September 12th, we will begin watching the movie that was responsible for my enrolling in Emerson in the summer of 1988: Jonathan Demme‘s SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA. This is Demme’s record of Spalding Gray‘s stage performance wherein Gray discusses his experiences in Thailand acting in Roland Joffe‘s 1984 film THE KILLING FIELDS. Joffe’s film told the true story of New York Times reporters investigating covert American operations in Vietnam who become swept up in the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I expected SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA to be a predominately making-of documentary, with Gray talking about the day to day process behind Joffe’s Oscar winning production. My expectation turned out to be the frame around a much larger picture. Gray ponders everything from CIA black-ops, swimmingtocambodia-05to his own misadventures everywhere from Manhattan to Bangkok, to the legacy of the Khmer Rouge and imperialist sexual tourism, to the search for “a prefect moment” where all of these experiences might crystallize into a moment of clarity.

I saw SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA at the Cedar Lee Theater, alone, because it wasn’t something any high school classmates were interested in. I was driven purely by the respect I felt for THE KILLING FIELDS and a strong recommendation from the Wall St. Journal’s Julie Salamon, paired with a manic version of The Journal’s pointillism portraits featuring Gray in the throws of what looked like an epileptic fit. Within the first few minutes I was grateful that I was alone. Demme’s coverage and Gray’s monologue style are so intimate and confessional that at times I felt like I was watching Gray live in SoHo’s Performance Garage. I was immediately fascinated by him; I imagined the difference between my high school teachers and college professors would be that higher education would expose me to faculty with Gray’s lucid perspective, emotional honesty, intellectual inquisitiveness, and command of both the subjects that he knows as well as the questions that he pursues.

The year after I saw SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA, I was enrolled in and weeks away from attending Ohio State University, when my Dad accepted a new job that would move our family from Cleveland to Boston. article01My Mom asked if I wanted to look at Boston area schools so I could study closer to home, which is when I discovered Spalding Gray’s alma mater Emerson College. Roger Ebert‘s review provided me, way before I realized it, a glimpse at why Spalding Gray is the quintessential Emersonian. From a liberal arts school with concentrations in literature, theater, film, performance, and communication disorders comes a man who wrote monologues, essays and novels, performed them in theaters around the world, acted in film and on stage, and whose work in all media reflected and chronicled a lifelong struggle with depression and a family history of suicide.

The first time Maria & I saw Gray live was at Emerson’s then newly acquired Majestic Theater with his MONSTER IN A BOX monologue. Since then I saw him perform on stage and hold literary readings nearly a dozen times in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Usually Maria was with me, but even when I went alone, I didn’t feel alone. That is a power and a skill possessed by a rare breed of performers. Spalding’s own passing occurred within weeks of my Dad’s; the two are somewhat synonymous in my mind. Spalding Gray literally altered the direction of my life, and for better or worse (personally, I feel for the better) helped me become the person I decided to be. To watch Spalding Gray perform is to become aware of the lies you tell yourself to get by one more day, the truth that is busting to be released from you, and the power that both have to change your life and the lives of everyone you touch. To distill that powerful a potion into an 85 minute film is a testament to the artistic symbiosis between Gray & Demme.Swimming-Cambodia

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CALVARY (2014)

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them, MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on August 31st, 2014 by Jim Delaney

July 22nd at Landmark Theatres Kendall Sq. Cinema, Cambridge, MA.

Written & Directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Isaach De Bankolé, Orla O’Rourke, M. Emmet Walsh, and Aidan Gillen.

Regardless of the fact that I created this site to discuss movies that I like & love, and hopefully that you like & love as well, I make a pretty sincere effort to resist hyperbole. That said … I damn sure hope that Ireland recognizes Brendan Gleeson as a national treasure. As much as Toshirô Mifune has done for Japan, Marcello Mastroianni for Italy, or Max von Sydow for Sweden, Gleeson manages to embody the strongest and most honest and the weakest and most vulnerable in his nation. CALVARY is his second film with writer/director McDonagh. I was a big fan of their previous film, THE GUARD, but that movie left me inadequately prepared for their latest collaboration.

In the opening sequence of CALVARY, we meet Father James (Gleeson) in a claustrophobicly tight shot on his face in a confessional booth.calvary-brendan-gleeson-kelly-reilly-02-636-380 A man’s voice through the screen tells Father James that he had been molested as a child by a priest over several years. The voice will never have his revenge on is attacker, as that priest is now dead, so this voice has decided he will take his revenge on Father James by the following Sunday. Father James is nearly but not completely certain who in his small town had just threatened him. We follow Father James for the rest of the week as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (he had been married before joining the priesthood), shepherd a turbulent lovers’ triangle who do no want his help, and manage a potentially large donation to the church by a local banker. Among other things. Busy week for a condemned man!

The most immediate surprise of CALVARY, given the threat that overhangs every minute, is how damn funny it often is. This is by no means a comedy, it is a searching drama that takes a much more bleak worldview than THE GUARD, but Irish gallows humor erupts in the most unexpected moments. If you’ve ever been in a funeral wake, and shared some fond memory of the8099447410_f6cdda0651_c deceased that made yourself or others laugh just a little too loud, then you have experienced the sort of unsettling humor and intensity that this film evokes. Humor and scorn are drawn from the focus on individual characters, as well as the scope of larger entities such as the church, banks, local government, and your friends and neighbors.

CALVARY is that rare film about practitioners of faith that makes no attempt to offer you comforting platitudes disguised as answers. Its success is in its clarification of the questions. MV5BMjAyODAxMzQyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODI0MjEyOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_ In what will probably turn out to be the most unforgettable sequence I’ll see in any movie this year, we see a pre-teen girl walking alone on a dirt road. Father James crosses her path and walks with her. She knows him and is not at all nervous about walking with him; we as an audience have come to know him, and we trust him on this road. And. Yet. Given the past few decades of sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church, locally in Ireland and elsewhere around the globe, all we can think of is the myriad reasons that this scenario could go wrong. What if he says something the she misunderstands, repeats, and creates the illusion of impropriety? What if she is a flat-out liar and implicates Father James in some behavior. What if we don’t know him as well as we think we do, and the story is about to veer in a totally unexpected direction? What if neither of them do anything untoward, film2-1_7-31-14 but a witness with their own perspective (or agenda?) reports seeing something other than what happened? This scene was more riveting than anything I’ve seen in an action adventure or horror film in longer than I can immediately recall.

I was deeply fortunate to attend a screening organized by the Boston Irish Film Festival that was followed by a Q&A with Brendan Gleeson & John Michael McDonagh. The scene I just mentioned, and several others, were turned inside out by the audience’s questions and held up to the light by the guests. There was a realization on both sides of the microphone that respect for and trust in authority figures is in really bad shape, with really good reason, and that facing these questions head on in absence of political correctness as this film does may be a crucial tool in reversing this phenomenon.Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 12.49.50 AM At the end of the film I was aware that I’d seen a unique and powerful piece of filmmaking. At the end of the Q&A I was aware that I had witnessed a social experiment, one whose impact I hope will grow over time if this movie can achieve a measure of cult status. Pretty impressive work for a film that was shot on the sort of abbreviated shooting schedule usually reserved for episodic television.

There is so much more I want to tell you about CALVARY, but this would require either spoilers of the film, or the revelation of way more personal information than you want from a movie review article. If you’ve checked the IMDb message boards then you’ve seen how divisive this movie has been.calvary02 All I should tell you is that I am firmly in the camp of supporters, and while I don’t expect that you will enjoy CALVARY, I think you will be moved by it. Sometimes movies can do more than entertain, or even inform; at best they can crystallize the human experience into an hour-glass.

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I CONFESS (1953)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on July 5th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

From Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, and Karl Malden.

Montgomery Clift plays Father Michael Logan, a Catholic priest who hears the confession of a killer. When Father Logan is accused of murder, the sacrament forbids him to reveal the truth, even to protect himself.

Hitchcock is famous for celebrating the landmarks and lesser-known areas of San Francisco, London, and other great cities. I CONFESS was shot almost entirely in Quebec City. Since Quebec has not been featured in nearly as many films as some of Hitchcock’s favorite cities, he had free reign to explore and use the city as a character.

It’ll finish Thursday
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from July 5th, 2014

I was baptized Catholic but I fell away from the church when I was fairly young. As a movie fan, themes if faith and doubt and sacrifice and redemption appeal to me, as much in films with a religious focus as in more secular films. I have read The Bible, and I have paid a reasonable amount of attention to what separates one denomination from another, because I am often fascinated ConfessBaxterby how these issues and themes come into play in storytelling. I am no longer a Catholic but some of my favorite movies either would have been very different, or simply would not have existed, without Catholicism and/or Christianity.

Alfred Hitchcock was raised Catholic. He was also a master storyteller who could wring maximum dramatic intensity from a scene while still playing within the rules of his faith. Watching a religiously themed movie like I CONFESS with the lunch movie crowd was always amusing. I could count on most of the audience to be aware of the suits and trappings of faith even if it was not their particular denomination. But there were always those uninformed few who needed concepts like Catholic confession, the Passover Seder, or the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama explained to them. This film was no exception; thankfully the 95 minute running time permitted us to fit I CONFESS into 2 consecutive lunch hours, while still having time to pause it early at the end of the first day to address all the questions of the uninitiated. The film raised questions ranging from adorably naive to defiantly provoking, with some seeking to understand the confess-cliftconfessional process, and others looking for loopholes either in the Catholic ritual or Hitchcock’s film. If you think this is funny, ya shoulda been there for THE EXORCIST!

With all this dogmatic debate aside, we were able to get down to the core of this unique little thriller. This is not a standard whodunit, since the murderer confesses his crime in the first reel, and much of Hitch’s trademark gallows humor is also missing. What you’re left with is a sombre character study of a well meaning man caught in an impossible situation. Montgomery Clift is perfectly understated as Father Logan; in a standard murder mystery a man in this situation could desperately pursue his own ends, but the bonds of the priesthood create a layer of complexity here that would challenge a lessor actor. In a similar situation in a very different movie, Bob Hoskins rages indignantly ConfessMonty against a murder taking advantage of the confessional in the underrated A PRAYER FOR THE DYING. Hoskins’ reaction worked for that story, but I CONFESS needed a performer who would go the opposite direction, drawing ever inward and feeling more trapped.

Montgomery Clift was 32 years old when he played Father Logan. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar later that year for his heartbreakingly nuanced portrayal of the bugling pugilist Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. We see him here at the dawn of an exemplary and tragically brief career of playing wounded men caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Father Logan has not only heard the confession of a murderer, but he stands to benefit, as the victim was aware of a potentially compromising secret about the Father. If this film were remade today, studio development execs would almost certainly make this secret far more lascivious, which would be a mistake. COnfessanne-baxterPart of what makes Father Logan a riveting hero is precisely that he is a good and honest man, and no matter which course of action he takes, he will be mistaken for the wrongdoing of another person.

As I mentioned to my coworkers in 2007, Hitchcock makes wonderful use of the city of Quebec, which had rarely been portrayed previously on film. He uses locations that would be familiar to tourists, or a draw to those considering visiting, such as the Parliament Building, the Old Quarter, and Hôtel Le Château Frontenac. Frontenac sits overlooking the St. Lawrence River like a glorious medieval castle, a hearty stone’s throw from La Citadelle de Québec. Hitch also follows Father Logan through parts of town that would not be found in your Michelin Guide: Eglise Saint-Zéphirin de Stadacona, where Father Logan hears the inciting confession, the Hall of Justice where Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue questions Logan, and yet again the Frontenac Hotel, where a climactic chase takes us ConfessMaldenthrough areas of the hotel that no guest would see. This is an aspect of the rarely sung artistry of Hitchcock: he takes a location you have heard about, and makes you want to see it, or he takes a location you know, and shows you something unexpected.

I CONFESS is not regarded as one of Hitchcock’s high art masterpieces. Its initial release was a little contentious, with Hitch even joking that an alternate cut may be required to appease the Quebec Catholic community, and another cut for the rest of the world. This may be solely my agnostic point of view, but I find movies that feature spirituality tested by doubt far more faith affirming that movies about blind faith. This is a timeless story set in one of the oldest standing cities in the western hemisphere. The elements of I CONFESS that may upset some Catholics are exactly what makes this story resonate 60 years after the film’s release, and 110 years after the French play on which it was based.

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Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on June 30th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

From Thursday, December 6, 2007.

Directed by James Foley, written by David Mamet, starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce & Alec Baldwin.

Times are tough at the Premiere Properties real estate office in Chicago. A sales challenge comes down from the main office — the winner gets a Cadillac El Dorado, the loser gets fired. Back-biting, in-fighting and crossed loyalties explode in the most incendiary dialog Mamet has ever offered.

It’ll finish Monday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from June 30,2014

I have gotten significantly off track with the original purpose of this blog in the past coupla years. What started with articles about movies that I love, with an emphasis on the movies that I used to show in the conference room at my old talent agency job in the mid-2000’s, has become co-opted by longer pieces on this site and shorter blurbs on social media. Time to get back to basics: an open conversation between you & I about a single film that I love, and hopefully that you either love, or that I can at least convince you is worth your time.

was one of the recurring classics GGBrassof the ol’ Lunch Movie days. Aside from this 2007 blurb above when we showed it on DVD in ICM, I showed it on DVD as well as VHS on my previous agency job at BKWU / BWCS, which merged with ICM in 2006. The parallels between this film and the talent agency business might be lost on the casual movie fan, but to those agent assistants, temp pool floaters, and other administrative pals who often joined me at lunch, there was a compelling similarity.

Adapted by David Mamet from his pressure cooker of a stage play, this film focuses on an office of real estate salesmen who specialize in barely legal semi-swindles. Though it was shot and edited with precision and style, and written with Mamet’s trademark gusto, this is an actor’s movie. This story lives or dies on its performances.ggLemmon Jack Lemmon as poor old Shelley “the Machine” Levene is the sort of keep-your-head-down-do-your-best-hope-The-Powers-That-Be-grace-you-with-their-notice fellow who has been a staple of salary-man stories since Arthur Miller‘s DEATH OF A SALESMAN and Rod Serling‘s Kraft Television Theatre classic PATTERNS. Al Pacino’s Ricky Roma is the sort of unreachable master of puppets that the movies hadn’t seen since Paul Newman as Frank Gallagher. Alec Baldwin threatens to steal the entire film with the most riveting monologue since George C. Scott in PATTON.

That Baldwin’s single scene probably rivals Gordon Gecko‘s business philosophy for quotability amongst Ivy League MBAs in the past generation speaks to the lasting impact of this film. We could argue that GLENGARRY created this Princes Of The Universe legion of greedy bloodsucking @$$holes in the halls of corporate power, or we could acknowledge that they were created by legal permissions, and this film merely galvanized them and made them easier for the rest of us to spot. Ed Harris, Adam Arkin, and Kevin Spacey play the sort of characters who embody truisms that predate 1980’s yuppie Successory posters: ggChinks “There are no second acts in American lives” and “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

So what does real estate have to do with the talent agency business? The administrative staff folks who used to spend their sunny Beverly Hills lunch hour with me in a dark conference room all understood the lives of the Premiere Properties gents to be a cautionary tale for their own chosen vocation. In Baldwin’s opening monologue, he makes it quite clear that Lemmon, Pacino, and company work in a satellite office, and thus not as valuable to the company or generally cool as the boys in the downtown office. Pacino’s Ricky Roma may be the big fish, but he’s in a small pond. These middle-aged and older men are pitted against each other for their jobs. My admin compadres all had the dream of being an agent, a showrunner, a development exec, or God forbid a few even had their own stories to tell and aspired to writing and/or directing. But how do they get there? The same way the salesman in Premiere Properties do: work hard, work smart, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, never say die, or some wannabe Lombardi-ism to that effect. The guys in the film hope to earn “the Glengarry leads,” sales leads that Baldwin dangles in front of them like the ggLeadscarrot before the whip, leads that are likely a ticket to a job in the downtown office. The folks in my office were either floaters hoping to get hired onto an agent’s desk, or agent assistants hoping to get hired onto a partner’s desk, or partner’s assistants hoping to become Coordinator during the next TV staffing season.

“I used to be a salesman, it’s a tough racket,” Baldwin berates the crew, right before miming a shot to drown his sorrows. Many of my coworkers went on to bigger and better things. Just as many gave up and moved back to whatever town they had moved from a few years earlier. One such agent assistant had worked previously selling used cars and in a similar real estate office; he promised me that the parallels were no great leap. That guy in particular was cut out perfectly for this work, and is doing quite well these days. I’ve seen hard asses give up and decent folks hang in and thrive, and vice versa,ggCar which also speaks to what makes GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS special: everyone has surprises in them. Each respond unexpectedly when truly challenged.

This is not a film with a lot of time for backstory, which is what makes it such a perfect actors’ film. The cast are called upon to flesh their characters out via the subtlety of mannerism and inflection to show us when they are in control versus when they are desperate versus when they are manipulating the game. An aspect of this film that has always fascinated me is that, while audiences have loved or hated it, they all seem to agree what it is. The backstory of these characters may be open to interpretation, but the rest of it is pretty damn cut and dry. Some people are repulsed by these characters, others are fascinated. It is my theory that anyone who has ever worked a year trying to sell something, whether it be million dollar homes to those aforementioned Princes of the Universes or t-shirts to tourists, will grasp what makes GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS resonate. Your job is to try to create a need in a person who may have been only wanting, or merely curious, at the moment you met them. It is that unique quality of confidence coupled with a defect of manipulation that makes these characters and this story compelling.

Now get back to work!!

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25 Years Later: Tim Burton’s BATMAN Updates The Adam West Generation

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them on June 23rd, 2014 by Jim Delaney

Twenty five years and one week ago today my brother Ed returned home from Germany. He had been in the U.S. Army stationed outside of Frankfurt, West Germany, back when we still had to specify East or West Germany. Ed was a lifelong fan of comic books and science fiction, and had played a major role in my interest in the same. His honorable discharge could not have come at a better time, because twenty five years ago today, Ed & I stood in a 3 hour line for the most hotly anticipated film of 1989: Tim Burton’s BATMAN.

89MkTbIf you clicked this article seeking movie trivia or comic trivia readily available via IMDb and numerous other sites, you might be in the wrong place. I’m operating on the assumption that you have already seen this film, that you are aware of its significance as the highest grossing film of 1989. This is about a longstanding relationship between Ed & I and one of our favorite heroes. We grew up on Adam West as Batman on TV and Neal Adams‘ interpretation in the comics, and Olan Soule as the voice of Batman on Saturday mornings. Ed was welcomed home by Burton’s Batman as played by Michael Keaton. Ed visited me in Los Angeles following the opening weekend of BATMAN BEGINS to see The Tumbler Batmobile in front of the Chinese Theater before we ventured inside to see yet another revision of our childhood hero on the most massive screen available. A new incarnation of Batman is an event that never fails to unite Ed & me.

Tim Burton’s version opened way before online ticket sales existed, even before Moviefone had ventured outside of New York and Los Angeles. On the morning of June 22nd, 1989, I drove east from our home in Acton, MA and took the Red Line “T” train from Alewife Station to my summer classes at Emerson College in Boston. Prince‘s Batman cassette, released 72 hours earlier, played for probably its dozenth time on our Chevy S-10 Blazer’s radio during my morning commute and joined me in my Sony Walkman on the train. I got off the train at Harvard Square to pick up 2 tickets for a Thursday night midnight show at the Harvard Square Cinema in Cambridge, MA.89TmJn I couldn’t wait until later to let Ed know that we were all set, so I called home before I got back on the train bound for school. My Mom answered. She told Ed that I was successful, and I could hear him in the background laughing and generally being as thrilled as I was.

After classes I met Ed in Harvard Square. We made what would soon become traditional as a weekly pilgrimage to The Million Year Picnic for our pickup of that week’s new issues. By shortly after 9pm, we were about 20 people back in line outside the Loews Harvard Sq. The ’round the block movie line is a phenomena to which there is a vague equivalent these days, but no true equal; when STAR WARS 7 opens there will be lines, but everyone will already have their tickets in hand.89TbKb While Moviefone would eventually diminish the necessity to queue up like cattle, that modern convenience would have unintentionally deprived Ed & me of some unforgettable experiences. Ten years before this evening, my dad The Fats stood in line with Ed & me for the first STAR TREK film hours before the box office opened. Standing in the snow with fellow Trekkies who had awaited this day since Star Trek went off the air ten years earlier was a moment as memorable in our upbringing as most people’s recounting of birthdays, anniversaries, and other family events. The Batman line on Church Street that threatened to turn into a Bat Block Party and the movie that followed were similarly auspicious occasions.

89TbMk While Ed & I waited in that line, we had a lot of time for conversations that might have not taken place anywhere else. Ed was not only fresh out of the regimented and orderly Army and facing the prospect of enrolling in the intentionally unregimented and half-assed organized experience of a liberal arts school like Emerson College, he was also fresh from the Cold War and now living in the state over a thousand miles from where he left when he enlisted. When Ed had joined the Army, my family lived in Cleveland, OH. He came home to a neighborhood he didn’t recognize, and did his best to adjust to the significant differences in time for the Fall semester. An awful lot was going on in Ed’s world, and waiting in line for BATMAN gave him more time to process that than any other time in the previous week. Any time that he felt like pausing that processing, we had a legion of similarly minded nerds around us to remind him that not only was he home, he was amongst friends. We also had one hilarious usher who looked like Hyde on THAT 70’S SHOW who worked the line with snarky swagger. Hyde the usher admonished89TbJnthe crowd to “get the fuck out of the street! Get your ass on the sidewalk! I don’t care who you are, I don’t care who your friends are, if you’re not against the bricks you’re not in line, and you’re not seeing fuckin’ Batman tonight! No, there are no tickets, we’ve been sold out since this afternoon!”

For most people, family events mark the time: weddings, funerals, anniversaries, births, 89TbKbirthdays, and other assorted reunions. For Ed & me, most of our growing up took place far away from both The Fats’ & Mom’s extended families. Even when we were near them, I was younger than most of our cousins, and didn’t grow up with that close kinship that many families share. Different events marked Ed’s & my time: opening weekends of movies, comic conventions, Tuesday afternoons when comic shops had the new issues and record stores had the latest movie soundtracks, and of course anytime we got a new dog.

What does one do when they are in an unfamiliar situation? Huty1792633 One seeks commonality, one seeks something familiar, common ground on which to build a new home. Movies in general and BATMAN specifically were that common ground, as much for Ed as for me. I recall pointing out while we waited in line that the movie summer he had returned home to was similar to one before he left. Ed had graduated high school in suburban Cleveland in 1984, and he had taken me to every movie a kid would want to see that year. We saw GHOSTBUSTERS, INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, STAR TREK III: The Search For Spock, THE KARATE KID, POLICE ACADEMY, and the first of Jason Voorhees’ multiple deaths in FRIDAY THE 13TH IV: The Final Chapter.

In the summer of 1989 we would see 1984 rematches with GHOSTBUSTERS 2, INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE, STAR TREK V: The Final Frontier, KARATE KID III, POLICE ACADEMY 6: City Under Siege (ok, we didn’t pay for that, we waited for HBO) and FRIDAY THE 13TH Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (we saw that in Boston’s grindhouse classic venue: the Beacon Hill Cinema, wherein we could hear the Green Line T trains entering Government Center literally feet behind the underground screen).89MkBk None of these films would match the degree of anticipation with with Ed & I awaited BATMAN, which had been building in us since 1983. Ed had scored one of Warner Bros earlier attempts at a Batman feature script in our then local Norwalk, CT comic shop. We didn’t know what we were in for tonight, but we were thankful that it was not that earlier script. It was a moderately amusing continuation of the vibe from late 1960’s campy Adam West show. This script featured Batman & Robin versus The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler. Someone clearly wasn’t thinking about building a franchise! That story culminated in a heroes vs. villains brawl in a museum exhibition that included a gigantic walk-in typewriter as an action set-piece.

I don’t know about you, but I can still vividly recall the first time I witnessed the opening sequence of Tim Burton’s newer, darker version of the hero who had come in the 1980’s to be known as The Dark Knight.89TbMiK I remember the sweep down into the canyons of what would eventually be realized as the bat symbol, the swells of applause at the names of Burton, Nicholson, Keaton, and the half-assed nerdy catcalling when Kim Basinger‘s name emerged on screen and the thunder of Danny Elfman‘s score. I recall the 5:1 ratio of applause to Booos when Prince’s name appeared, and that I actually rose from my seat to make sure my rampant approval was noted by whomever was taking minutes of this meeting of BatFansUnited. The credits sequence alone was transformative. Ed & I were exactly in the world in which we wanted to be.

Sure, many diehard comics fan has their problems with this film,89KbRw chief among which was the tying up of Bruce Wayne’s parental vengeance by shifting who had been responsible for the murder of his parents. Secondarily, the fact that Basinger’s character is nearly as close to Silver St. Cloud as she is Vicki Vale caused a little consternation from old school fans. Y’know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass, and I don’t think Ed did either. My brother was home, and while my folks & I sometimes come up short in what he needed to make the shift from the Army to liberal arts school, Batman did his job. All he had to do was show up and be Batman, and Michael Keaton nailed that to a T, way more than many folks who only knew him as Beetlejuice thought possible.

Burton was said to have cast Michael Keaton because he thought Keaton would make the best Bruce Wayne. This unusual way of approaching the nucleus of the story still sets Burton’s Batfilms apart from all others. 89MkJnFans have debated and argued for years and will for years to come, who is the coolest Batman; just as we do with the coolest James Bond. You very rarely hear a debate about who played Bruce Wayne best. This aspect almost creates a photo negative companion to Richard Donner‘s SUPERMAN. Donner took a pretty normal approach to Metropolis and most of the supporting characters, envisioning a location as recognizable as New York via Sidney Lumet, and then inserted two fantastical elements: Superman & Lex Luthor. Burton’s Bruce Wayne is comparatively normal in an over the top fantastical rust and wrought iron hellscape of a city. If situations in Gotham City require an extraordinary response, then the low key millionaire transforms himself to meet the challenge. It takes a director as well-versed in classic horror films to so lucidly draw out the Jekyll & Hyde aspect of Bruce Wayne & Batman. It also takes a director as enamored with the macabre to maintain that the Mr. Hyde of his story is the hero!

Today is the 25th Anniversary of one incarnation of BATMAN, the version that American culture demanded in response to the decade that had preceded it. The past decade has given us another version, and the next decade will give us yet another. Every one of these incarnations has its merits. The best of them, whether it’s BATMAN or STAR TREK or SHERLOCK HOLMES or 007 or any other recurring and enduring character, will stand the test of time with us. Thanks heroes, for keeping fandom alive. Thanks fandom, for keeping heroes alive. Thanks Batman & Tim Burton for marking a significant era in my brother’s and my life, and for contributing to the enduring legacy of The Batman! 89Coffee

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Mother’s Day: 3 Cinematic Moms Who Changed My Life & My Mother Who Shared Them With Me

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them on May 11th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

My mom did not support my early compulsion for movie-going to the degree that my dad did, but her support was nonetheless crucial. During a very formative era for both of us, Mom used to drop me off at the movies on Sunday afternoons while she went to the library to study for her law degree. There was a brief shining period where I got to see a lot of cool movies that no one else in my family wanted to see with me, purely because I was able to hop a ride into town with Mom. Among the early 80’s gems I saw solo were VICTOR / VICTORIA, TEMPTEST, BARBAROSA, MY FAVORITE YEAR, THE KING OF COMEDY and A CHRISTMAS STORY all because Mom & I were simpatico on our need to get the hell out of the house. We also saw some great movies together under similar circumstances, including a rerelease of LADY & THE TRAMP (we had those in the pre-home video days!), THE DARK CRYSTAL, INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, and JFK.

Mom and I saw another Sunday afternoon classic together that turned out to be a watershed moment in my understanding of motherhood and how film expresses motherhood: Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of Alice Walker‘s novel THE COLOR PURPLE. Whoopi Goldberg made her major studio debut as Celie Johnson, who grows from adolescence to motherhood to arbiter of her own destiny, all in the deep south in the years before and during the Great Depression. Even as a kid I was aware of this film’s detractors, most of whom took it to task for blunting the edges of Walker’s novel. What these folks failed to recognize is that a Hollywood version is a perfect gateway experience for a teenaged boy who might not have otherwise read the novel. Mom and I had seen more movies than I can easily recall, but never one that made both of us cry like THE COLOR PURPLE. This was such a new experience for both of us that we both kept impossibly still trying to keep each other from knowing that the movie had made us … weak? Meanwhile we heard the sniffling and whimpering and outright sobs of dozens around us. color_purple

There was one simple thing about Miss Celie’s odyssey, that I’d never seen in any movie, that made THE COLOR PURPLE unforgettable. We follow Celie from her early teens, abandoned into a young marriage by her own family, abused by her husband, ignored by those to whom she reaches out for help. The amazing thing is that Celie does not repeat any of her past upon her children. Growing up in the 80’s, I had friends whose parents raised them with echoes of the wholesome 1950’s or the free-spirited 60’s. I imagine the same is true today, with teens being raised by parents who grew up in the Gordon Gecko/Tony Montana Generation-X 80’s or the nothing-matters-and-what-if-it-did 90’s. In all if the kids I grew up with, and kids today, you can spot echos of their parents’ past that has manifested itself in their kids. Celie does not repeat the sins visited upon her in her past, she goes the complete opposite direction, providing the compassion and discipline that were missing from her own upbringing.

Celie Johnson rejects the “I raise you this way because it’s how I was raised” school of parental thought. She becomes the mother, sister, woman, friend who had been absent in her own life. I had never seen any movie character transcend his or her past to this degree. In doing so Celie fomented a conversation that continues to this day between my Mom & me, about how she and I were raised, and which aspects of our childhood were detrimental to our own happiness and well being. Sure this conversation between Mom & me may have come about organically some day, but thanks to the push from THE COLOR PURPLE, this reflectiveness came at a perfect time for both of us. For the record, I feel like Mom did pretty damn good, though she’d probably prefer I say “pretty damned well.”

Mom and I saw another, far more fantastic surrogate movie mother a few years later: Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in ALIENS. This was not the type on movie my mother would normally see. I saw ALIEN with my brother Ed and my dad in 1979; my first viewing of ALIENS was with Ed on opening weekend. That same night, my family watched Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert colorfully disagree over the film on their show Sneak Previews, with my folks becoming intrigued by Roger Ebert’s favorable impression. The following weekend we saw it as a family. Mom & Dad thoroughly dug it, and Ed & I found all new things to like about it.

Before James Cameron gave us ALIENS and Spielberg brought THE COLOR PURPLE to the screen, the 80’s gave us a few stand-out moms in other genre films, most notably two from Spielberg. In the Spielberg directed sci-fi themed family classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Dee Wallace stars as a single mom, which made her quite unusual amongst movie moms and more similar to many of the moms who brought their kids to see E.T. Wallace’s Mary was no superhuman heroine, just a doting and diligent mom in an era when single mothers were often portrayed on film as pariahs. My Mom not only took me to E.T, she also took me a second time with a few friends who’d come over to play after school. One of those friends was from a single-mom home. He had never seen a single mom portrayed in this even handed manner by a movie, which led to as introspective a conversation about Moms as a group of 6th grade boys could manage during our ride home.

In the supernatural horror film POLTERGEIST, produced by Spielberg, JoBeth Williams created in her character Diane Freeling what would soon become an 80’s cliche: the post-hippy mom facing middle-age in suburbia. Diane was only that for the first half of the film; in the second half she may as well worn a cape. In the nerdy notorious summer of ’82, we had never seen a mom do anything as brave and cool as following a rope into a spectral dimension, with the hope of rescuing her supernaturally abducted daughter.

aliens-crashHad it not been for ALIENS, nerds might still regard Diane Freeling as the most bad@$$ mom in speculative fiction. Ellen Ripley becomes a surrogate mom to Newt, a young girl who had managed to survive an alien invasion of a terraforming station on the planet LV-426. Ripley had been brought to LV-426 with a detachment of Marines to help rescue terraforming colonists, but by the time the Marines arrive, young Newt is the sole survivor. Under these circumstances, a maternal element of Ripley never hinted at in the first ALIEN film emerges, making her such a dynamic hero that she became the highest ranking woman in AFI‘s list of 100 Heroes & Villains.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Ripley & Newt’s adventure is that their chief nemesis is a mother in her own right: a giant alien queen as ferociously protective of her eggs as Ripley is of Newt. Calling Ellen Ripley an ideal mom is a bit like calling the Cortez family from SPY KIDS and ideal family; no mom or dad or kids are ever going to face these situations, so it’s a little unfair to compare ones own family to these type of cinematic heroes. And yet, Ripley’s most heroic moment is how she protects Newt in that all-hope-is-lost moment that must come in all great adventures. Every parent will at some point need to explain death and all sorts of other terrible things to their children, and in those moments, moms & dads could do well to recall the resourcefulness and perseverance of Ellen Ripley.

A final movie mom who resonated deeply with me was Sarah Carraclough, played by Samantha Morton, in Charles Sturridge‘s deeply underrated 2005 adaptation of LASSIE. Most Americans know Lassie from a long running 1950’s & 60’s TV show wherein the noble collie belongs to a boy on an American farm. Few Americans under retirement age are aware that Lassie began as a 1940 novel by Eric Knight, which was set in Scotland, and previously filmed in 1943 under the title LASSIE COME HOME. The original cast featured a very young Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor, and the monster‘s bride herself Elsa Lanchester plays the same mother that Morton plays in this recent version. Lanchester’s credit in the 1943 film was credited merely Mrs. Carraclough, while her son Joe (McDowall) and husband Sam are graced with names. Sturridge’s LASSIE is notable for many reasons, including Morton’s mother receiving the name Sarah. Sarah and her family live in Yorkshire and make just enough of a living to scrape by. Another notable aspect of this film is that it remains set in the pre-WW2 era of the novel rather than being updated.

Sarah Carraclough may not be the mom Joe wants, but she is the mom he needs. Faced with the starvation during the oncoming winter, Sarah and Sam make the unhappy decision of accepting the offer of a wealthy Duke (the inimitable Peter O’Toole), who wants to buy Lassie as a gift for his granddaughter. Lassie of course rejects this arrangement and makes relentless efforts to return home to Joe. Sarah becomes the mom Joe wants when he is able to show her that Lassie is not only his best friend, but also part of their family. When Joe makes it clear that he loves Lassie as he would a sibling, Sarah revises her priorities, and does all that she can to help him. A parent cannot always be expected to differentiate between what their child really really wants this hour, week, or season … versus what they need. Children have needs that are so great that they become a part of their identity. A child who will not back down from a sport no matter how many times it knocks them on their ass is a child who doesn’t simply want to play, they need to be a part of that team. Joe Carraclough’s team is his family, of which Lassie is an inseparable member.jef3fhux2z7tuh2f

Sarah comes to understand that Lassie is as much part of Joe’s identity as his folks are, that he is as much Lassie’s friend as he is their son, and cannot fully be one without the other. We’ve seen Samantha Morton play a similar mom, coincidentally named Sarah, in Jim Sheridan‘s IN AMERICA. She was also this devoted and protective a wife as Debbie Curtis, the wife of Joy Division front man Ian Curtis in CONTROL. Morton can so seamlessly inhabit her characters that she makes a reversal like Sarah Carraclough’s expanded understanding of her son’s needs seem like the speed of life unfolding before your eyes.

I watched Sturridge’s LASSIE last Thanksgiving with my Mom and my brother Ed after dinner. My great affinity for dogs, be they biggest & most beautiful or scrawniest and mangiest, comes from my Mom. We always had a dog when I was growing up, and in recent years she’s had 2 or 3 dogs at all times. Neither Mom nor Ed would want this photo floating around the internet: watching LASSIE on the most family oriented of American holidays with my family while Ed’s pomeranian Rachel and Mom’s papillon Millie begged for pumpkin pie, and Mom’s American Eskimo Daisy reacted to every dog sound coming from the TV was the closest my family has come in years to a Norman Rockwell holiday image.

My Mom is not a huge movie fan but there are a handful of movies that resonate with her. She has shared a few with me, and I have shared as many with her as I can get her to watch.

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IS MOVIE-GOING DEAD? Notes from #TheBigMovieSneak

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them on March 2nd, 2014 by Jim Delaney


This is the time of year when movie bloggers have finished chiming in on our Top 10 films of the previous year, and we’re knee deep in Awards season prognostication, or pronouncing our own personal award categories. I’ve done that before and I’m sure I’ll do it again next year, but right now something else is weighing on me: in short — Is movie-going dead? Is all that was good about sitting in a darkened cinema with a crowd of strangers simply vanishing?

Here’s what put this all-in stack of chips on my shoulder: I’ve been sneaking into movies for years. Not sneaking through the door without paying, but sneaking into a second movie when the first one leaves me hungry. I fancied myself so adept at theater hopping that I must have perfected the ninja secrets of invisibility. The truth from my years of working in movie theaters is this: on my first day my new coworkers taught me that unless a theater-hopper is being disruptive, minimum wage isn’t enough to risk potentially picking a fight. I have carefully heeded that advice ever since. I plan when one movie stops and the next starts, so that I could see the entire show without disrupting the paying audience, and because any proper nerd wants to see the whole movie! Recently I have pondered whether a significant portion of paying audiences have become complacent with a theatrical experience compromised by fellow patrons who are incapable of (or unwilling to) differentiate between our cinema and their living room.TwLeadIn

Last November I set out to break my personal sneak record by seeing 6 movies in 1 day. I tweeted weeks in advance that I would be attempting this, and tagged several theater chains, daring them to catch me. In hindsight that was probably a stupid idea — God forbid anything terrible should happen in one of the tagged chain’s venues, my Tweet might have been investigated as a threat! I also decided to live-tweet throughout the day, a choice that I was conflicted about, given my hatred of cellphones in movie theaters. I sat in the back row of each screen I visited to minimize my light-casting distraction to others. This had two unexpected benefits: first, several screens had electrical outlets on the back wall where I was able to charge my phone. The second benefit stems from my habit of usually sitting in the front few rows; by sitting in back, I was better able to see how moviegoers conduct themselves.

That back row perspective put an exclamation point on my recently pondered questions. For example … Has the effort it takes to read a movie’s reviews, become aware of its pedigree, and the skill to parse its marketing to arrive at a reasonable expectation of quality been lost? Have informed viewers become outnumbered by patrons who buy a ticket to ONLY GOD FORGIVES because they thought Ryan Gosling was so sweet in THE NOTEBOOK, or Kristin Scott Thomas was so tragic in THE ENGLISH PATIENT? You’ve seen these folks, they’re the ones who walk out and demand their money back after 45 minutes of good ol’ Refn-esque sleaze and soft-spoken rage leaves them feeling liked victims of false advertizing. Never mind how little attention they paid to advertizing, reviews, and other readily available information.

The first two TwBadGpa films I saw provided perfect examples of this. Jackass Presents: BAD GRANDPA featured Johnnie Knoxville using impressive Oscar-nominated make-up to disguise himself as a cranky geezer on a roadtrip with his pre-teen grandson. Knoxville had done the dirty old man schtick before in skits for the JACKASS films, but this was the first time we see him carrying a whole story with unsuspecting real-world victims of his vulgar pranks. Sure enough about 20 minutes into the film, an elderly man sitting a few rows ahead of me got up and mumbled “This is fuckin’ sick” as he walked out. It is very likely he was unfamiliar with the Jackass show on MTV, and instead expected raunchy but comparatively safe entertainment,Bad-Grandpa like BAD SANTA or BAD TEACHER. Never mind that there have been three Jackass films in the past decade. The information was out there, if he cared too look, as it was for the audience with whom I saw the first movie I sneaked into.

THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB tells the true story of Ron Woodruff, a straight man who contracted AIDS in the early 1980’s and became a sort of drug runner. Woodruff transported AZT across the border from Mexico when the American Food & Drug Administration was slow to approve the medication he needed, and he did so in distribution level quantities, to subsidize his own treatment.TwDallas Matthew McConaughey delivers a career highlight performance as Woodruff, but some younger women in the audience seemed to have bought a ticket for the likable and charming McConaughey of romantic comedies. They didn’t want to see an emaciated redneck McConaughey forging a reluctant friendship with a transgender man played by Jared Leto. I can’t make this up: shortly after Woodruff began losing weight and looking gaunt, I heard these girls wondering if McConaughey’s muscular definition in MAGIC MIKE was CGI. matthew_mcconaugheyOthers in the theater asked them to be quiet numerous times, especially when they responded with homophobic slurs and giggles to Leto’s poignant character. One girl wanted to walk out within the first act; thankfully she got her way eventually, and took her friends with her.

Another chip in my stack: Have we as an audience also lost the awareness to find a theater where we are comfortable? Has it been replaced by people who hate seeing a movie in a theater full of children,TwLeadin3 and yet choose a Saturday matinee in a shopping mall theater, right between Toys-R-Us and Chuck E. Cheese? Have audiences lost the openness to live in the moment long enough to give ourselves over to the movie for 112 minutes? Are we so enthralled with the 4 inch screen in our pocket that we couldn’t conceive ignoring it for the duration of a movie? Yes, I’m aware of my hypocrisy on this particular day; more on that imminently.

The next film on my agenda was Gavin Hood‘s adaptation of Orson Scott Card‘s cold-war era sci-fi classic ENDER’S GAME. This is the story of an adolescent young man named Ender Wiggin, played by Asa Butterfield, whose unique intellectual skills are dismissed and ignored by all around him. Harrison Ford plays Colonel Graff, a military recruiter who recognizes Ender’s thought process as perfectly suited to organizing battle strategies. We follow Ender through a science fiction version of FULL METAL JACKET, first surviving his training for war, and then then discovering that he is prepared to take action that the first-act version of himself would never have imagined possible.Enders-Game-10 ENDER’S GAME is a stunning looking movie that both embraces and up-ends cliches of the sci-fi and war movie genres … and yet that was not interesting enough for the guy across the aisle from me. Here I am making an effort to sit in back so the light of my tweeting phone doesn’t annoy anyone … and this guy literally takes a friggin’ iPad out of his backpack and plays a videogame anytime an action sequence ends!! Was I distracted? Hell yes! Did I say anything to him? …Thought about it, chose not to. I’m 3 movies in, I already got my $7 worth, this was experiment time. I wanted to see how long he’d actually do it. And he didn’t stop; anytime a dialogue sequence with exposition and character and nuance and story and whatnot distracted from the fiery explosions and thundering booms, out came BackpackBoy’s Game. TwEnder

The distraction of his iPad accentuated how distracted I was by my own Tweeting. Y’see my phone isn’t quite 100% — it has these annoying glitches with the U-I-O region of the keyboard. I don’t know what the problem is, but it hampered in my ability to Tweet without occasionally turning off and restarting my phone. So I’m distracted from ENDER’S GAME by BackpackBoy’s Game, and by my wanting to Tweet, and by my phone’s inability to Tweet, and next thing you know I’ve lost more screen time than I would have missed if I’d left the theater for a soda refill. I enjoyed ENDER’S GAME, though I knew that I was reaching a threshold with not only allowing myself to be distracted from movies, but with willfully contributing to my own distraction.

I recognize that I am pointing out a few bad apples and describing the whole barrel as rotten, as I’m aware that lacking audience civility exists anywhere there are audiences, but that should not excuse these same apples from souring the sauce. I’ve seen and heard it in a London stage production of Conor McPherson’s THE WEIR, where multiple patrons implored two oblivious people to stop debating which flavor went with which wrapper in their crinkly candy bag, and a Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s THE RIDE DOWN MOUNT MORGAN where three elderly women swooned relentlessly over Patrick Stewart’s legs in a hospital gown. I’ve heard it in symphony halls, jazz clubs, poetry slams, and gallery performances. In my estimation it has gotten worse in direct proportion to the rise of cellphones.

The next film I went to was Steve McQueen‘s 12 YEARS A SLAVE, adapted from Solomon Northup’s memoir by John Ridley. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as New York composer and musician Solomon Northup, who was abducted twenty years before the Civil War, and whose memoir of Louisiana slavery helped fuel the northern abolitionist movement. As I Tweeted during the movie, I’ve been a big fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor, ever since his flawless lead performance anchored the equally flawless DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. I was extra sensitive to anyone not giving 12 YEARS A SLAVE due focus, this being the most serious movie in my lineup; it became the most distracting experience of the day.

It’s almost difficult to decide where to begin — but let’s go with the red herring. DF_03069.tifAs the trailers were on, a group of roughly a dozen teenaged students came in together, with a woman who I’d guess was their teacher. My immediate reaction was that these kids would talk through most of the movie, but I was only semi-right; their singular nemesis spoke more than all of them combined. And here’s where this becomes really unexpected. Remember our elderly “fuckin’ sick” gent who walked out of BAD GRANDPA? He must have been rivaling me for hopping because he showed up about 15 minutes after 12 YEARS began. Lateness, by the way, is an egregious violation of my personal code of hopper etiquette! An equally egregious violation was his frequent mumbling and “Shoosh”-ing of these kids more loudly than any noise they made. He may have well used a shotgun to silence a housefly. I was aware of their conversation, but in fairness they were whispering, and what I could hear from them were reasonable questions that related to the movie. Sure I’d prefer those questions wait until after the movie, but at least they were engaged. Bad Grandpa was paying more attention to the students than to the movie; after about 45 minutes of Solomon’s ordeal, the old fella gave up shooshing and walked out. I’d be willing to bet this guy saw 20 to 45 minutes of every movie in this theater!

Tw12yrsFrom my usual front row vantage point, this would have been the only interruption to 12 YEARS OF SLAVE, and I’d be ready to discuss my next film. But shortly after Bad Grandpa showed up, a couple came upstairs and sat a few seats away from me in the back row. They watched about 15 minutes of the film before she decided there was something else she’d rather see. Thankfully these two were not as joined at the hip as the gaggle of homophobic girls in THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. They fairly quickly agreed that she was going to another movie, and that they would meet afterwards in yet another movie. Between this couple and Bad Grandpa, I’m beginning to realize that there is nothing special about me wandering from screen to screen. It seems more people do it here than in any theater where I’ve ever worked. But wait, there’s more… right after Bad Grandpa and half of the back row couple left … a woman showed up and sat directly in front of me, I guess because none of the other 200+ available seats were just right?

That in itself was fine … until she unwrapped a full-on picnic that smelled like Chinatown via McDonalds. Yes, movie theaters hijack patrons for far more than concessions actually cost to produce. I’m well versed in the mark-up in popcorn & soda after working for three different chains, in three different markets, one of which I rose to a management level. I’m all for sneaking in a little something, but grazing from multiple smelly and noisy packages creates a multi-sensory obstacle from which no one could remain focused on any film. This perfect storm of distractions reenforced my affection for the front row. Anytime my back row neighbor or I shifted in our seats, buffet lady would shoot us a glaring stink-eye; how dare we disturb her feast?!

But I had not yet learned my lesson, because I went directly to the back row for J.C. Chandor‘s ALL IS LOST. I am a lifelong fan of Robert Redford. AlLost The first movie I ever saw more than once was THE STING; Redford taught me that, when you see a film the second time, it’s still the same story! Johnny Hooker in THE STING did not remember from my previous viewing that Lieutenant Snyder was waiting around that corner for him. Through Robert Redford I learned to dive deep into repeat viewings of movies and search for elements that I may have overlooked on first viewing. During the first half of ALL IS LOST, a story of a lone yachtsman adrift in a storm, I was not as emotionally moved as I hoped. Around the mid-point though, it revealed itself as more of an existential metaphor than a character driven story, and then I began to thoroughly dig it.

Still another chip: Has the communal experience of sharing a movie with a room full of like-minded (and even not-so-like-minded) strangers, and letting that movie resonate deeply enough that you ponder it for the rest of the weekend, TwAllLost and devise some original thought of your own to drop on your coworkers come Monday morning — is that all gone? Toward the end of ALL IS LOST I fell in love with going to the movies again. If I allowed this day to do its worst, I could walk away bitter with the theatrical experience, and finally join Netflix. Instead it actually became amusing to listen to this audience vociferously scratch their head and wonder when some tired voice-over or overwrought flashback device would provide us the context to weep for Redford. Some movies rely on how much of your own mind and soul you bring to the experience; some audiences deserve to be bewildered if they arrive ill-prepared. A few at a time they walked out, and toward the end all I heard was the rusty creaking of another person’s seat, which married very well with the sound design of Redford’s slowly disintegrating vessel. Yes there were distractions in ALL IS LOST, though not as loud as in the earlier films; eventually my communal experience here whittled down to just me and the person with the creaking chair and a couple who took turns falling asleep and loudly snoring. The snoring couple, by the way, had also been in my earlier screening of THE DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB. I might have become so saturated with distraction that they barely registered.

I seriously weighed whether or not I had a sixth movie in me, given that my train might stop running before I get out of a late show … but THE COUNSELOR was right there, right when I needed it to be! And here’s where the tables turn: there were virtually no audience distractions in Cormac McCarthy‘s tale of wealthy and connected backstabbing drug dealers and partying hangers-on. There was just Javier Bardem doing his level best to keep a muddy story interesting,TwCounselor plus Cameron Diaz with the most auto-erotic moment since Cronenberg‘s CRASH, but they were not enough to counteract Ridley Scott‘s stylish looking, derivatively written, and ultimately dull film. I almost longed for a true master of audience participation to toss out some one liners to make THE COUNSELOR more interesting.

Still from The Counsellor, the new film from director Ridley ScottMy first real experience with audience participation on the level of stand-up comedy was when my Dad took my brother & me to see CONAN THE BARBARIAN at the long-gone Rivoli Theater in Times Square. I’m not opposed to all audience interruption; if you’ve got something hilarious to contribute, then please by all means let it rip, and loudly enough to share with the entire class. But no one in any of today’s agenda had anything hilarious or interesting to say, nothing on the level of the two weed-infused gents behind me in 1982.

This leads me to my final conundrum: have movies become so accessible on so many platforms that we now regard the theatrical experience as disposably as a daytime talkshow or a SuperBowl commercial? Some students in one of the top 10 film schools in the country regard attending free movie screenings as a burden. [Full disclosure: Emerson College is both my alma mater, class of ’91, and my current employer] If even those who want to be tomorrow’s filmmakers can’t be bothered with ol’ fashioned movie-going, what does that say for tomorrow’s audience?

Given that movie-going audiences are often as bland as the marketing plan driven tent-pole event movies they turn into hits, the future of the theater-going experience may be as homogenized as Hollywood and the increasingly formulaic “independent” film scene. Sadly this situation endures while one of the most ambitious and impressive American movies of 2014 barely limps from the red into the black. When I first began working with my podcast compadre Craig Jamison, he granted me carte blanche to write a guest article for his film site The GullCottage / Sandlot. I opted to examine 4 movies that were simultaneously available in theaters in via Video OnDemand after seeing all 4 both in local theaters and at home. I thoroughly expected to prefer the theatrical option, and was somewhat surprised by the results.

Happily, pockets of hope do exist, balcony though you may have to go to the fringe of the theatrical spectrum to find them. Recently I attended the 39th Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, the oldest running genre festival in the US, which concludes each year with a 24 hour marathon over Presidents’ Day weekend. The festival itself is always a pleasure, as are the dozen or so other fests I’ve attended around the country. But the ‘Thon is a horse of a different color. This is the ultimate communal experience: 500 or more nerds filling up the orchestra and balcony of the Somerville Theater for a dozen science fiction films, some classics and others yet to be discovered. I’ve seen this show a few times now, and it is always a bargain at twice the price; only about half of those who arrive at noon on Sunday make it all the way to noon on Presidents’ Day. Those who do make it are united by shared thrills and jolts and laughs and beer on tap and bottomless coffee and New England winter outside and audience participation that borders on call-and-response symbiosis with the screen. Yeah, downstairs gets to smelling a little like coffee farts, Dunkin Donuts, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but you can escape the con-funk in the chilly balcony.

It is likely that I am part of the problem. My early question about theater location may simply be something I need to accept when I go to a mainstream cinema. Aside from the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon and the Somerville Theater, I can think of several film festivals and revival and independent theaters that consistently give me hope for movie-going kind. can Any theater that still promotes a film as being presented in 35mm (or even 70mm!), and any audience who actually responds to that as a positive thing, that’s where I find my happy place. For folks who live in an area where these options are in short supply, it makes perfect sense that they would embrace home video over a movie theater; movie nerds go where other movie nerds go, where we can all respect the film and each other. Sometimes that’s in an all-night balcony, some days its on your couch with a DVR loaded with your own personal festival.

Between my initial pondering for the GullCottage/Sandlot and these recent experiences, I think it’s safe to say that I prefer the big screen theatrical experience, albeit from my semi-solitary front rows. Movie-going may not be dead, but like Our Man in ALL IS LOST, it thrives best under very particular circumstances. Now that I’ve actually tested whether or not I like dividing my attention between a movie screen and my phone, I have no intention of repeating that … unless I try to break my record and go for 7!

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Father’s Day: 3 Cinematic Dads Who Changed My Life & My Father Who Introduced Me To Them

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them on June 16th, 2013 by Jim Delaney

One of the great gifts given to me by my dad, Robert Vernon Delaney aka The Fats, was a love of all kinds of movies. When I was between the ages of 4 and 14, The Fats probably took my brother Ed & I to the movies every other Saturday afternoon, or every Saturday if it wasn’t baseball season. He often took us to movies that my classmates’ folks would never take them too, either because the subject matter was too risque or violent, or else they just assumed kids would be bored by something without fart jokes or laser fights. He used movies to show us how life works, or fails to work; conversations during the ride home and at the dinner table laid the foundation for my need to lose myself in a movie and find my way back out of it.

Through Fats’ and my love of movies, I have encountered three cinematic dads who have resonated with me above all others. First and foremost of those is Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, in Robert Mulligan‘s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, adapted from Harper Lee‘s novel by Horton Foote. This may seem an easy choice for one of the great movie dads, but I’ve had this awestruck feeling for the widower Atticus since long before he topped AFI’s list of Heroes & Villains. The most obvious reason that Atticus is an exemplary father is they way he treats his 10 year old son Jem and his 6 year old daughter Scout. He never speaks to them as children who would not understand the ways of adults; he speaks to them as young people who can understand anything he cares to explain to them, and Atticus is a master of explanation. Atticus-Finch In one of the signature scenes of the film, Atticus makes a gift of a rifle to young Jem, and repeats to him the same instruction that his own father had given him: that it was acceptable to kill blue jays but never a mockingbird. He offers to Jem the sense that “Mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncrib, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.” Atticus uses a simple instruction to expand his childrens’ appreciation of simple pleasures, but does so in way that leaves them time to figure that out for themselves.

Atticus Finch is more than a great dad within his own home. He is a pillar of his community, in a sense that puts him a position to be that master of explanation to his entire town, a shepherd to a sometimes resistant flock. For a story set in the dawning days of the 20th century, Atticus leads by example, in a manner that is sadly still ahead of his time now. He is a country lawyer who defends a black man against a charge of raping a white woman. I could tell you more about that, but if you have already seen the film you know how that turns out; if you have not seen it I would never deprive you of the lessons in basic human decency that I learned from Atticus Finch one humid summer night that the Fats allowed me to sit up way past my bedtime to watch TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with him.

A movie dad whom I found on my own, in a place that I wasn’t even looking for him, was a man named Jason “Furious” Styles. Furious, played by Laurence Fishburn, lives, works and raises his son in South Central Los Angeles in BOYZ N THE HOOD. This film was the feature debut of writer & director John Singleton, who took from his own family the inspiration to make Furious determined to see his own son Trey go to college. My affection for Furious emerged early in the film, when he is driving Trey through their neighborhood, and “Ooh Child” by The Five Stairsteps comes on the radio. furiousIn this brief moment Furious sings and shares with his son a song that he had loved since Trey was a toddler. Trey does what most kids would do: he reacts as if his old man is sentimental, embarrassing, and patently uncool. This scene shows us Furious educating Trey in the difference between temporary cool, the things that Trey thinks are stylish and important this week, versus time-tested cool that will always be impressive long after fads fade.

As with Atticus Finch, we also see Furious Styles emerge as a pillar of his community, although in a less official capacity. In one of the most powerful scenes in the film Furious, who works as a real estate agent, stands at a crossroad and shows Trey and his friends what comprises their neighborhood. He observes mostly gun stores, convenience stores, and liquor stores, and ground zero for a misguided war on drugs. At the conclusion of Furious’ thoughts, one of Trey’s friends remarks how Trey’s dad “can preach.” Furious is not an important man in his community because of an office he holds or a job he does; he is important because he is a man who raises his son, when all around him he sees other men not taking that responsibility. Furious even manages to instill his values into Trey when it seems he has failed. Both an early and a late incident in the film concern guns; though I have not actually seen BOYS N THE HOOD in several years, I can still hear Furious’s advice to Trey as if I’d just seen the film yesterday. If you believe Trey Styles’ mother and Furious’ ex wife, he is not a perfect man, but his dedication to his son and his resistance in the face of the decline of his neighborhood make him a powerful force to be reckoned with. This is also my personal favorite performance by Laurence Fishburn, who is one of that rare breed of actors who elevate every project they take on, making good films special and the excellent films unforgettable.

The final movie dad who has left an indelible impression on me is Seibei Iguchi, played by Hiroyuki Sanada in THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI. Seibei is fascinating in that he is downright flawless in his job, but he has very little opportunity to show that, given that the film takes in the late 19th century place toward the end of the Samurai era. Seibei is nicknamed Twilight Samurai by his coworkers, his Samurai clan; what they do not realize as well as Seibei does is that their centuries-old way of life is drawing to a close. Twilight SamuraiThe story opens with Seibei attending the funeral of his wife, and then returning home to care for his two young daughters and his increasingly senile mother. He does not have the aloof pride of most movie Samurai; he regards his job as little more than a way to make ends meet, and really only comes alive for his family at the end of each working day.

Seibei is not a pillar of his community. No one around him looks up to him. At the end of the day, Seibei is that unsung father who does the best he can, and more, with little acknowledgment from anyone but those closest to him. This is at the core of being a great dad, a great parent, a great mentor; you exemplify excellence when no one else is watching. Even when Seibei is put to the test, both as a family man and as a Samurai, these tests are met with no witnesses. I saw TWILIGHT SAMURAI one week after my father passed away. I knew the my dad provided me a more comfortable life than most of my peers because he worked hard, and he worked smart; I never properly thanked him or acknowledged that I understood this. It is perhaps due to this realization that the unassuming grace of Seibei Iguchi resonated so deeply. Nonetheless, this character has stayed with me, and shown me the true measure of a man.

Hollywood has given us many good dads, and more than a few good moms as well, but the great ones are few and far between. International cinema may be a different story, but I am still learning my way around that arena. If you have a favorite Movie Dad or Movie Mom, please feel free to comment below; I love it when fellow movie aficionados hip me to something new. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Atticus, Furious, and Seibei if you have met any of them. Happy Father’s Day.

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10 or so FAVORITES OF 2012

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them on January 31st, 2013 by Jim Delaney

Would you prefer to have another year with a few outstanding films adrift in a sea of mediocrity, or a year where a rising tide of passion and skill lifted many filmmakers to high watermarks in their careers? Only one film truly blew me away this year; some may find that reason to complain, but I am reminded of Crash Davis’ advice to Nuke LaLoosh in BULL DURHAM: “Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.” 2012 was not a great year for movies, but it was a very good year.


10. Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises

We’ve had 50 years of James Bond films, and numerous incarnations of Batman, but both of these films are unique in their series in that they each complete a trilogy. SKYFALL and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES arrived with heavy expectations, and were greeted with commercial and mostly critical success; both also had every lose thread tugged at by detractors during the inevitable backlash. Despite the flaws, or sometimes in complete rejection of them, I enjoyed both finales. The thing about Bond and Batman is that fans from multiple generations can claim to have grown up with them. But who may lay claim to their interpretation of each hero being the one true version? I’ve heard it said that SKYFALL diminishes 007 by giving him too much back story; aficionados Ian Fleming’s novels know that Bond comes with enough history to be explored by no less than Kingsley Amis. As technology and gadgets became more of a staple of Bond’s arsenal, the films lost sight of his three close-quarter combat skills from the novels: pistol shot, boxer, and knife thrower. I’m probably making too much of this moment, but one of my biggest smiles in the movies this year came when Daniel Craig vanquishes one key opponent with a thrown knife, a skill that I’m pretty sure we have not seen since Roger Moore in OCTOPUSSY. The Bond films starring Daniel Craig have served a purpose similar to D.C. Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths: they smoothly reconcile all those stray threads and different generational interpretations of Bond in one handshake. All that has past is prologue; Bond now belongs to the ages, as much as King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is one of those films that could have been shorter, but I’m glad I wasn’t the guy who had to make the decision what to cut, because so much of it resonates exactly because of its operatic grandiosity. Even moreso than in Christopher Nolan‘s first two Bat films, I loved the elevation of Gotham City to a battleground as epic in scale as Middle Earth, and as American as a litany of road movies. I saw Yvonne Craig (Batgirl in the 1960’s BATMAN TV series) at a comicbook convention shortly after Tim Burton’s BATMAN opened in 1989. She remarked that she had trouble buying Burton’s Gotham as a place in America. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York, and I know my way around London, Pittsburgh, and Newark. I loved that chases through Gotham in 2012 would begin in one city, turn a corner into another, and collide in yet another. Gotham in Nolan’s hands became like an expertly mixed DJ mash-up: a cohesive location comprising other cities. Nolan’s singularly desperate image, right before all hell breaks lose, of two stained and frayed American flags hanging over the Gotham Stock Exchange may be the most powerful political image I’ve seen all year. Batman and company hail from a divided America where both sides are beaten and battered and neither is the better for it. The full immersion into this world is what makes THE DARK KNIGHT RISES a fitting conclusion to Nolan’s Bat trilogy, and also makes this trilogy the 2nd most ambitious achievement in comicbook adaptation we have yet seen.

9. Excision

excision-1I dropped the ball earlier this year. In the past few years, I have written summations of two of my favorite local film festivals, but this year I allowed myself to be distracted. For me the biggest surprise of the 2012 Boston Underground Film Festival was Richard Bates Jr‘s EXCISION. This film is the sort of unsettling, deviant, macabre trip that makes me look forward to BUFF. AnnaLynne McCord plays a geeky high school outcast who fantasizes herself a mad doctor, and who endeavors to use her fantasy life to rescue her little sister from Cystic Fibrosis. The film pulls off a potentially ridiculous story largely because it is grounded by a strong cast, including camp veterans John Waters, Traci Lords, and Malcolm McDowell, all playing their roles completely straight. Keeping hipster irony in check, they manage to tease layers of sorrow and fear that would have been smothered had they gone more tongue in cheek. I spoke briefly with Traci Lords (you get to meet a lot of cool people at comic shows!); she is very proud of this film, and feels it is her best work yet. I have to agree. Her collaborations with Waters and Kevin Smith revealed her to be an under-rated comic actress; here she shows equal dramatic range. This film never made me jump from my seat, but it got under my skin more than any other horror film in recent memory.


8. Killing Them Softly and Django Unchained

Late 2012 gave me two very cool flashbacks to films of the 1970’s, though technically they recalled genres that I did not become familiar with until the ’80’s. Andrew Dominik‘s KILLING THEM SOFTLY reminds me of badass 70’s crime movies like THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE; both films were adapted from novels by Boston crime writer George V. Higgins. KILLING THEM SOFTLY also recalls Cassavetes films like THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE and GLORIA. The characters of this film often have the same flaws that doomed Eddie Coyle’s crew, while Dominik invokes Cassavetes’ exploration of downtime amongst the underworld to further flesh out his characters. You are told a little, but shown everything you will need to know, about how and why each of these men kills and dies. My inclusion of this film amongst my favorites of the year is something of an investment; much as I enjoyed it when I first saw it, I expect it will grow on me over the next decade.

My awareness of the films Quentin Tarantino channeled in DJANGO UNCHAINED began with the another great film born from westerns and blaxploitation films, BLAZING SADDLES. This is Tarantino’s second opus wherein audiences and critics mistake it for a revision of revisionist history. As with the fantastic historical inaccuracies of Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, his DJANGO succeeds when you consider it a revision of cinema history. It’s as if he’s toying with our acceptance of cinema legend rather than genuine history, and taunting us to accept an even more slanted expression, one with no pretense of telling you “how it really was” through a veil of the studio development process. Tarantino unapologeticly and proudly makes fiction with a capital F. Mel Brooks challenged generations of American myth building with BLAZING SADDLES by shattering the fourth wall with Marx Bros style slapstick. Tarantino has taken some heat for presenting a film that seems less comedic and more dramatic than BLAZING SADDLES, though I could argue that it is only the violence quotient that makes anyone regard this film any more seriously than Mel’s.

7. Lincoln
Steven Spielberg‘s examination of the final season of the life of Abraham Lincoln is not without its flaws. Some have gone as far as to hate it for the fact that it blows a perfect ending by continuing for another 3 or 4 scenes. To them I must respond “don’t let perfect be the enemy of pretty damn close!” This is not a movie for people who want to hear Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speeches read by Daniel Day-Lewis. This is a behind closed doors story of a common man, where in his closed doors happen to be the office of the President, and the bedroom of a husband and father trying to hold his family together following the recent loss of a son. This is not a biopic full of all the major moments we’ve all heard about since elementary school. This is a political nailbiter for anyone who sees the drama in Sunday morning news shows, for people who understand the difference between common language and the letter of the law, for policy wonks who thrill to a well reasoned and well stated argument. And yes, it is thrilling the hear Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader, and Hal Holbrook whisper and thunder in these divergent halls of power.

6. Life of Pi
Your average movie fan acknowledges AVATAR as the first masterpiece of the most recent wave of 3-D films. Cinefiles gave hesitant respect to 3-D as a legitimate tool for serious filmmakers after it was used by Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Wim Wenders. For my money, Ang Lee‘s THE LIFE OF PI is the most significant advance in special effects since the motion capture work in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and it is the first modern movie that absolutely had to be in 3-D. This is such an internalized story that it had to feel like you could reach out and touch it, and such a challenging tightrope of perspective that it needed to be this explosively vivid to make us believe, doubt, and believe again in all the possible interpretations. We go to the movies to see something we have never seen before, something we’ve never imagined and didn’t even know we hungered to witness; in achieving this THE LIFE OF PI elevates 3-D to its own art form.

5. Les Miserables
I have never seen the stage musical of this story. I read the book in high school, but we had to read it too quickly for it to impact a slow reader like me. I loved this movie because it is a timeless example of what big studios with big budgets can do when they hire big talents to express big ideas and emotions. At first glance the immenseness of this production may seem to drown out any trace of subtlety. Closer inspection reveals it to be one incisive subtlety after another. Much has been written about the live singing on set with live accompaniment, and the unpolished immediacy that lent to the performances. Anne Hathaway‘s singing in her heartbreaking rendition of the staple “I Dreamed A Dream” is only half the reason this scene is one of the signature moments in musical history. Watch carefully: this was shot in one take. We never cut away from her face. If Hathway moved a few inches to her left or right, or made any of the grand gestures that this song might engender, she could slip out of the frame and the artifice would become obvious. In the medium of live theater musical this would have looked underplayed; in the film musical medium she is explosive. Expand this minute attention to physical detail and emotional authenticity to Tom Hooper‘s entire film, and you will understand why this story that had never mattered much to me before managed to blow me away this year.

4. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
At first glance you may think “there goes the nerd, naming the Comic Con doc as one of his favorites.” And that may be true, but Morgan Spurlock‘s film reminds me of a phenomenal and underrated graffiti doc called Next, plus some of the better hip-hop docs. Spurlock laughs more with people than at them. His are films made by a searching soul seeking to connect, which is why he examines each issue from multiple angles. Here he meets aspiring comicbook artists, costume cosplayers, collectors, vendors and fans. Any of these groups could be the subject of an entire movie, but like hip-hop docs that touch on DJing, MCing, dance, and graffiti, I think Spurlock explored the humanity of each group without going so far into the minutia as to lose those not within this culture. I literally heard an audience burst into action movie-level applause for one aspiring artist in the film when they receive a job offer from their dream employer. Don’t discount how special an experience it is for a nonfiction film to capture that moment.

3. Headhunters
We get a couple of these per decade, if we’re lucky. Like The Square and A Simple Plan, this is a tight as a drum thriller with delicious twists of fate punctuated by believable but shocking character moments. Like CABIN IN THE WOODS, the less you know, the better. I love how many buttons this movie pushes in its first act. Half way through the second act when you think you might know where it’s heading, you’ll be reminded of another wrinkle established at the opening. I’m already telling you too much! Just bring a strong stomach, and be ready to see a absorbing mystery, before it’s diluted by a Hollywood remake.


2. Burn and Detropia
I’ve already mentioned dropping the ball earlier this year on summarizing my experience with the Boston Underground Festival. I also failed to discuss the Independent Film Festival of Boston, where I saw these two fantastic films, both focused on Detroit. BURN was produced by Denis Leary, no stranger himself to stories about firefighters. The unprecedented stylistic choice this film makes is the use of the same cameras attached to the helmets of NFL players to follow Detroit firefighters straight into infernos we can only imagine from Backdraft. Going deeper still, the film illuminates the lives of firefighters from several ladder companies, as they face city politics and community needs over the course of one year.

DETROPIA makes Detroit into a microcosm for the country, possibly the whole world, for the financial downturn of 2008 and 2009. It briefly addresses challenges faced by police and BURN’s firefighters, as well as a local symphony facing the drying up of benefactor resources. As much as Spurlock’s Comic-Con film could have focused diligently on one aspect as BURN did, DETROPIA benefits from a similarly wide-cast net. For all the loss of the Detroit that was, equal time is given to the stalwarts who will not be moved, though they are the last house on their block not foreclosed upon. With hesitant enthusiasm, the IFFB audience embraced the artists and bohemians (and heralds if gentrification) who migrated from New York and other art hubs where rents have out-priced the artists who create the next wave of design and perception. As much as DETROPIA gives us hope for the Detroit of tomorrow, BURN puts us in touch with those in immediate need to build that future.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I can’t say much more about this than I already have written. This film has become like a prayer for hope. I can barely speak the title of this film without a lump emerging on my throat. 10,000 years from now, scientists in the future will find filmed evidence of HushPuppy who lived in the Bathtub, but you can see her now, before she’s gone.


Argo – This movie reminded me so much of Cold War-era thrillers like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and GORKY PARK that it made me feel nostalgic for something that I couldn’t have possibly know about, because it was classified!

Cabin In The Woods
– Way to turn that title on its head and inside out. I won’t say more, because if you’re among the few nerds who hasn’t seen this yet, I don’t want to deprive you of the pleasure!

End of Watch – beat cops wresting with a criminal conspiracy worthy of a James Ellroy novel are given unexpected intimacy by some creatively used first-person camera.

The Impossible – Nevermind the flawless performances and emotionally wrenching story; the sound design on the sequence where Naomi Watts is swept nearly drowning through a tsunami is why movies matter.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Because it reminds you what it was like to be 19, and raises your appreciation and hope for those experiencing that period right now.

The Raid: Redemption – I gotta go back to THE ROAD WARRIOR for the last time a film made on a modest budget without big studio support redefined how we film and edit action sequences.

Rust & Bone – Love comes at times we are not prepared for and in forms we do not anticipate. Not so often that movies reflect that, and never as well acted or excruciatingly written as this.

Silver Lining Playbook – David O. Russell has a knack for slipping in extra dimensions into any genre he plays with. “The Fighter” could have been just a boxing movie, instead of one of the better movies in the past generation about dysfunctional families and addiction. This could have been just another romantic comedy, instead of a smart movie about emotional and mentally damaged folks that skillfully avoids most cliches and RAIN MAN cuteness.

Whore’s Glory
– The final film in Michael Glawogger‘s trilogy on globalization focuses on the sort of underground economy examined in books like Eric Schlosser’s “Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market,” but too rarely in films. I love this movie for making people walk out of the screening I attended. This movie pulls no punches, and it shouldn’t; it will hurt you, and it should.

Zero Dark Thirty
– Truth? I expected a movie about the final weeks or months before the raid that assassinated Osama Bin Laden. I did not expect an espionage epic (such an overused word, “epic,” but thematically it fits here) about the decade-long search leading up to that mission. I do not mean to diminish this film by comparing it to a Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner cartoon, but that is what it is at it’s core. Rather than the immovable object, the unstoppable force so voraciously confronts such an ever-moving target that the film feels like you are trapped inside an atom smasher.