Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Month of Movies - October Edition

Hello! <waves> My name is Jennie and I'm a cinephile. Hi Jennie!

I am a tried and true movie enthusiastic. It is one of my simple pleasures, like a good book, a cup of tea, a long hot shower. Films have always fascinated me and a good narrative can satisfy the soul and leave you nourished.

My taste in movies is about as varied as they come. To be honest, the only genres I discriminate against are horror, Westerns, and war movies. When I'm in the mood to be entertained, I look for thrillers, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, action, and comedy. I'm not afraid of a good period piece nor subtitles. I'll try any film that's experimental or independent in nature, even if I only end up appreciating the director's intent to do something different. I am a sap for older movies of any kind and I routinely pay attention to Oscar buzz.

That being said, movies can be an expensive habit. They're definitely an optional expense, filed away under "luxury," yet life is too short to feel deprived. I also have to consider that I earn income from this love when I teach film courses. I can genuinely say it's good professional development to watch movies! :) 

With that in mind, I try to balance my adoration of the silver screen with a few frugal rules:
  • We rarely go to the theater. That used to make me a little sad, but anymore, there's little I need to see immediately when it's released. It helps that even matinee prices for two people will run us $15!  If I'm considering a trip to the cinema, I always ask is it necessary to see this film on the big screen? Will I lose part of the viewing experience if I watch it at home on a display it wasn't originally sized for? Generally the answer is no, and accordingly, the only film we've seen in the theater this year is We're the Millers (which was hilarious and worth every penny!). However, Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie, is going to be released soon. This is definitely a movie I want to see in the theater, on a big screen, surrounded by other people.

  • We have the premium Netflix plan and I don't care. Yes, I pay $20 a month to get streaming and two-at-a-time DVDs, but we generally watch enough to make it worth it. I love that I can easily find older films, documentaries, foreign movies, and independent flicks that you can't find anywhere else. Plus, when I'm teaching, it's invaluable to make sure I have my movie for class in hand reliably!

  • Redbox is a devilish option. It looks so cheap, right, at $1.30 a movie, but you always have to do the math of how many DVDs you've grabbed and how many nights you'll keep them. I have way overpaid on Redbox before because I simply forgot to return them or I didn't feel like making the extra trip to the grocery store to take them back <forehead smack>. If I'm going to be tempted by The Box, I make sure to commit to one DVD at a time and for only one night.

  • Family Video is thankfully on the other side of town for us.  I literally have to go out of my way to rent there (and return), so it's easier to avoid. Doesn't mean that I don't splurge there once in a while. I do love the feeling of going into a store and physically perusing the selections, but I always make sure to factor in the hidden costs of gas and my time to go there.

October was a good month for movie watching. It helps that the temperatures are falling and our weekend schedules have slowed down.  Here's what we saw:

Disney Memories (Netflix)

Thank you Netflix for finally getting Disney to cave and make their movies available! Growing up in the 90s, I was a Disney junkie and was enthralled with their animation. I LOVE that there are films I can now watch that I haven't seen in years! 

<does the happy dance>

We often watch a kid's movie when A) one of us is feeling under the weather or B) after a stressful day. Atlantis (2001) was fun to watch because I hadn't seen it since it came out and Mike barely remembered it. The plot wasn't amazing, but the ensemble characters were funny and both of us were impressed with the animation. I wonder if the CGI was so advanced at the time that people didn't know how to appreciate it.

Treasure Planet (2002) neither one of us had seen, and let me tell you, I was blown away! How is this not a Disney favorite?!  Clever way to adapt Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, excellent voice acting, and a solid story. The split between traditional animation and CGI is so well done, this film does not look like it was made a decade ago.

Mulan (1998) was one I watched on my own. I remember even my high school self was enamored of the more feminist portrayal of a Disney heroine and my appreciation hasn't waned. Eddie Murphy as the dragon Mushu is still priceless.

The Emporer's New Groove (2000) is hands down one of my favorite Disney films and when Mike confessed he'd never seen it, well, I had to remedy that! Seriously, this movie has only gotten funnier over time. We were busting up as if we were at a comedy show. The story and characters are super quirkier. If you need to be put in a good mood, put this one on!

Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring (Redbox)

Remember what I said about experimental movies? Perhaps because I've seen so many films, it's easy for me to predict plots and even lines if a story has been done before. I'm not trying to be picky or snobbish, but it does take a little to impress me anymore, particularly when there's such a dearth of originality in the studio system at present.

Spring Breakers is a crazy film. First of all, I have no idea how they got a R rating. There are so many close ups of boobs, crotch shots, sex scenes, course language, and violence. If you can't take the objectification of the female body, swearing, and video game-esque crime sprees, avoid this. 

I, however, was mesmerized by the whole thing (despite even my discomfort with the level of nudity and I have a pretty high tolerance for graphic content. Hello male gaze!). It's not a story I've ever seen before and the style of cinematography ensures you can't look away.  

James Franco, who plays an islander thug, is utterly transformed in this role. His performance had me hooked, otherwise I might have turned this off. He's not an actor I normally care for (and maybe I'm jealous because he's so frickin' smart), but he certainly is a tour de force and it's none the clear than in this film.

In the same vein of young kids gone wild, I gave The Bling Ring a try. The premise sounded interesting: based on the true story of teens who robbed celebrities. What I forgot is that this is a Sofia Coppola film and I absolutely detest her work. I would love to support a female director, but her movies bore me to death. Lost in Translation I turned off and I had to sit through Marie Antoinette in the theater but it tried my patience sorely. 

The Bling Ring was no different. It's like you're a fly on the wall, but you're not party to anything actually interesting. I abandoned this within 20 minutes. That being said, Emma Watson was terrific as a Valley Girl.Too bad all of the characters were played so convincingly that their shallowness drove me away! Ah, the perils of good acting ...

Identity Thief (Redbox)

I've been wanting to see this film since it came out! I skipped it in the theaters and patiently waited as it was always rented out at Redbox for months on end. It was just the type of goofball comedy that I enjoy, with plenty of physical humor, hijinks theatrics, and over-the-top characters. Melissa McCartney is hilarious and I've enjoyed watching her ever since she stole the show in Bridesmaids (in fact, she was the only part of that film I liked).  Jason Bateman is also a great straight man in any comedy (loved Horrible Bosses!).

There's nothing intelligent about this film, it has its slow and dramatic moments like any other modern comedy, but it is fun and lighthearted. I also really liked the resolution, which I won't spoil for you, but only say that it took the high road another film would have skipped.

K-9 (VHS)

That's right, we not only have VHS tapes still, but a working player! Judge me if you want, but I bought a ton of great movies in early college out of the $5 Walmart bin and see no reason to spend more money to upgrade them. Once the VHS player kicks the bucket, that might be a different story, haha.

Anyways, it's insane this movie was made in 1989 -- makes me feel old! I watched it often with my dad growing up, but Mike hadn't seen it. It's still a cute story and we had some good laughs, though the look is very dated. And when you're in the right mood, you can't go wrong with an animal movie.  Maybe we'll find Homeward Bound or Turner & Hooch next ;)

I Was a Male Bride (Netflix)

Taking a step into the past (1949 to be specific), we watched this great Howard Hawks film one Saturday morning. Older movies, even ones in a fiction setting, are still a look into our past. This movie is definitely a romantic comedy, but we still were chuckling.  

Cary Grant is also one of my favorite actors. I will watch anything with him in it. Even his trademark accent is played for laughs in this film -- he's supposed to be a French officer and there's zero attempt to sound Parisian!

The General (The Englert Theater)

Oh boy, let me tell you what a treat this was! I went way over our entertainment budget for this, but sometimes you've got to splurge. It also helped it was around our (dating) anniversary and we needed a special night out. I will admit we spent $45 on tickets, but while it makes me cringe slightly, I keep reminding myself this is what we save money for, so we can make memories without worrying about the budget. 

The Englert Theater is a real theater house in Iowa City, some 25 miles south of us. They have an amazing roster of acts that come through, but I've honestly only been there to see movies! What they offer is a unique experience you can't replicate anywhere else -- a movie showing accompanied by a live performance of its score!

A few years back, I had the supreme pleasure of watching The Wizard of Oz accompanied by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. I was enraptured by the whole thing as live music elevates the whole viewing experience beyond anything you could imagine (it was also a sold-out crowd, which was really cool too).  

It also can't be stressed enough that you need to see some of these classic films on a properly-sized screen. I've only ever seen The Wizard of Oz on a home television set, but put it on a two-story screen and you understand why Technicolor was such an amazing advancement! Anyways, ever since then I've had my eye out for similar opportunities.

Last year, while Mike was deployed, I watched Alloy Orchestra perform its own score for Metropolis (1927), a German silent-era film that I'd never seen but is always referred to as being a seminal work. Wow oh wow, was it ever a great performance! Alloy is a three-man ensemble and they truly have a knack for capturing the mood of a film using a host of traditional instruments and unlikely objects. You need to check these guys out!

So when I saw that Alloy was coming back to play along with The General (1926), I knew I had to drag Mike along with me. I'd also never seen a Buster Keaton film before, and as a film teacher, I thought it was a good excuse to education myself :)

While not as impressive as the Metropolis performance, The General was still a great accompaniment (to be fair, completely different styles of movies and thus scores). Keaton is truly all he is heralded as - a comedic genius whose stunt work will make your jaw drop. I can't wait to explore more of his films!

Check out what we watched in November!