Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Weekend Box Office

https://youtu.be/aFN22tFiCFA The rogue wins again, but it's a big enough week for everyone.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

La La Land Successfully Updates A Genre

La La Land is a rare bird, a genre musical film— refreshing and uplifting, sincere and happy and melancholy, a much-needed anodyne for the darkness and cynicism of late cinema. It tells the story of the meeting of two young people, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) the musician and Mia (Emma Stone) the struggling actress. Both are working marginal jobs, waiting for their moment to break into the careers they dream of. When they meet (after a few hilarious missteps) love begins to bloom— and in true musical manner, their emotions soar in the form of song and dance. This is what is wonderful about musicals: in their universe emotions cannot be contained by prosaic reality. They require the characters spontaneously burst into song. Narrative reality breaks loose and people levitate into a magical space where people dance in the middle of traffic jams and fly into the stars of a planetarium.

But it’s not all just a cinematic heaven of singing and lyrical passages of fancy: the eternal rival of romance and career soon takes over.  Mia and Seb inspire each other to take risks, work hard and strive to make their personal dreams come true. The cost of pushing career first soon becomes the central conflict of La La Land, which leads to one of the most soaring and beautiful and melancholy and moving conclusions I have seen in a modern film.

The third character own this film— the namesake— is it’s wonderful, make-believe Los Angeles: Angel’s Flight, Mulholland Drive, Griffith Park, palm trees and stately SoCal architecture under an endless blue sky or deep blue night. It’s a fun, vibrant place full of artist, actors, strivers and dreamers. It’s been too easy in films of late to see LA as some of late-capitalist hellscape (see Training Day): It’s refreshing to remind all of us that LA is a place where people still go to try to make their dreams come true.

Director Damien Chazelle’s last film was Whiplash, a sort of crazy stalker film set in the world of jazz music about an earnest drummer and his insane instructor (J. K. Simmons, who has a lovely cameo in this film).  Jazz plays heavily and strangely in La La Land as well: Sebastian is a young man obsessed with the world of jazz: he has posters of jazz greats in his apartments, Hoagy Carmichael’s piano stool and longs to open a real jazz club in Los Angeles. There are plenty of kids these days who passionately love alls sorts of dead or marginal forms of music: it never becomes clear of Seb is sincere or just really good at affecting his love of the genre.

"A Lovely Night" on location.
The most remarkable number— a real masterpiece of a shot— is “A Lovely Night,” which occurs near the beginning of the film. After a party in the Hollywood Hills where they accident meet up, Seb is helping Mia look for her car. They break into song and dance at a scenic overlook, the wash of lights in the LA basin below. The scene, which goes from real-world to singing to dance to tap-dance (!) is shot at the real location and very specific time: PAST “Magic Hour,” just after sunset, when the warm glow of the sunset underscores a deepening dark blue sky. The set lighting is low as to illuminate the actors and still leave the sunset and sky bright. This scene not only highlights the considerable singing acting talents of of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, it shows off cutting-edge film technology: fine-grained, fast film stock (La La Land was mostly shot on 35mm film), fast anamorphic lenses and the latest light, agile camera packages. Were this a Golden Age musical, this shot would have happened on a soundstage. But instead, it is one long, six-minute shot at a very narrow, specific time of day. This makes it breathtaking on several levels.

Another nice PAST-magic hour shot.
La La Land is in many ways an updated classic movie, a pastiche of the conventions, narratives and styles of Hollywood musicals. It is not a breakthrough in and of itself: this isn’t pure storytelling and cinematic innovation like Mad Max: Fury Road was. It takes the best elements of a great genre, updates the sensibilities to contemporary morés and makes it all fresh and unexpected again. There’s a little Vincente Minelli here, some Gene Kelley there, a little Jaques Demy, Even a bit of Ross Hunter/ Doris Day and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Another girl in magical old Los Angeles, dreaming
of acting fame. Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr.
Given all these obvious movie-history references it was then very, very strange that while La La Land played, the place I kept going to for a visual and stylistic reference was… David Lynch. I COULD NOT STOP thinking: “This is a light-hearted musical version of Mulholland Dr. (2001).” It shares a lot of the same qualities as Lynch’s masterpiece: striking cinematography filled with shots of strong primary colors; an abiding love of Los Angeles locations, show business, actors and the mechanics of filmmaking; flights of surrealism; and intimate close-ups, bursting with emotion. These films are on entirely different missions— light, uplifting musical surrealism versus a surreal dive into the darkest parts of the id— but there is a common thread as well, in look and feel.

I may well be mistaken and La La Land may have been released in the
original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1. But that's not how I saw it
in Redwood City: they couldn't even manage to mask the screen right.
And, sorry to say, I have to disagree with both the opening title card and Dana Stevens’ review and report that La La Land is NOT in CinemaScope. That specific film format was proprietary for to 20th Century-Fox and Bausch and Lomb, who standardized the elements of anamorphic cinematography. CinemaScope lenses were not much used past 1960: these early models had distortion problems that caused actors’ faces to widen unnaturally: “CinemaScope Mumps,” they called it. Panavision fixed this problem by re-arranging lens elements to minimize distortion. This film is actually in Panavision: they used Series C lenses to shoot it. But this is a quibble: the widescreen compositions are so lovely and the mise-en-scene is so well developed and rich, it’s worth another viewing just to look for visual clues and symmetries.

If you love Hollywood genres old and new, this is a must-see.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Passengers is Spectacular, Immoral Sci-Fi

Caution: standard, “everyone has already given this away” •••spoilers••• ahead.

Having fallen in love with the Century Mountain View’s reclining cushy seats and large screens after seeing Rogue One there (the theater is a left-over from the domed auditorium days, refitted for pampered Silicon Valley kids) I decided to forgo useful endeavors and see Passengers in 3D.

The first impression is it is a very handsome film, as clean and smooth as a corporate vision of the future... Which this is. The film is set on the Avalon, a colonization ship making a 120-year interstellar voyage the scientifically factual way, without the assist of faster-than-light wishful thinking technology.

The Avalon is a wonder to behold, as interesting to comprehend as the handsome actors who clatter around in it. From the outside it resembles an immense Hobart industrial mixer blade. Inside, it is pure high-end hotel-resort: lovely cabins, swanky restaurants, all the amenities. The sheer amount of open-air space available detracts from the reality of the ship: If the Avalon is on a mission to create profit for it’s owners, they are wasting megatons of energy flying crystal chandeliers and huge swimming pools between stars. Sorry, it’s just a pure Sci-Fi quibble.

The Avalon, in all it's mixer-blade glory. You can see the
massive engine burning fuel from tanks that do not
seem to exist. Sorry, another pure Sci-Fi quibble.
The story begins when the Avalon encounters a field of asteroids deep in interstellar space. Some of them punch through the ship’s deflectors and do damage— which causes one hibernation pod to prematurely awaken its occupant, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) who soon realizes that he is completely alone on a ship that is still 90 years from its destination. Unable to re-enter stasis, he has a number of unpleasant decisions he can take to relive himself of the prospect of dying alone…

To proceed with this review , I have to write about a •••spoiler•••. But it’s not really a “spoiler,” for two reasons: 1. It occurs at the end of Act I and propels the main narrative in Act II, and 2. many, many other reviewers have also revealed it. Hell, the trailers have revealed it. But it’s important to talk about this because it’s the moral dilemma at the center of both the narrative and the critical framework in which Passengers resides.

In space, no one can hear you flirt. (I wish I had thought
of that line, but it was some other reviewer.)
Jim’s decision is to wake up another passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence)-- and NOT tell her that he deliberately doomed her to die of old age with him well before the end of the journey. The movie makes it very clear that he is emotionally conflicted with this decision— his decision to not tell her hangs a huge lantern on his guilt. What makes it worse is he decides to wake Aurora, out of 5,000 other hibernating passengers, due to what can only be called her dating profile. She recorded an “all about me” profile before she left and Jim watches it obsessively. Stalker-like. He even hangs out next to her hibernation pod so he can gaze at her frozen body. He has thawed her out believing that she could be his soul mate. Being that there is nobody else on the ship, she eventually comes around and indeed becomes his reductio ad absurdum perfect mate.

Nonetheless, the huge tension in Act II is waiting to see how she is going to find out— and how unbelievably pissed off she is going to be when she does. As audience to this act of kidnapping and deception, for most of Act II I was pissed off for her. What he did is the ultimate violation, a slow murder. Aurora had plans and dreams and places to be: Jim selfishly destroys her entire life because he does not want to be alone. The fact that Jim does this awful thing to a woman makes it worse— and, in fact, it highlights how deeply sexist it is. Imagine if the genders were reversed and Aurora woke up Jim ninety years early and lied about it. The aftermath of the revelation would be short and violent. (This premise pissed off the editors of women-centric website Jezebel so much they spoiled the entire movie, end to end, so nobody has to pay to see it.)

A barely touched aspect of the survivor’s dilemma is one of class. Jim is basically steerage, on a subsidized ticket to a new colony as an essential tradesman indentured to the corporation. Aurora is a travel writer from New York City from obvious wealth, on-board to “experience” interstellar travel and a new colony and write a book about it. So she is Julia Roberts from Eat Pray Love— if Javier Bardem kidnapped her to live with him on a desert island. Part of the fun of the middle of the film is watching Jim enjoy all the gold-level amenities of the ship, things he could never afford on his ticket (even his breakfast choices suck). I can’t help think that if he had thought things through a little better, he could have woken up a steerage passenger to be his soulmate. She would be far appreciative of living the high life on a big empty ship than Aurora, who sort of takes it all for granted as the normal accouterments of her posh life.

The astonishingly immoral center of the narrative takes what looks like a rousing sci-fi movie to disturbing new dimensions. And, strange as it may seem, it makes Passengers a great date film: the discussions after the film is over should really add a lot of new definitions to what a fair relationship is— and how far it can go.

Anyway, on to the movie. That asteroid-caused thing that broke Jim’s hibernation pod is still there and threatens to take down the Avalon, sink it like the Titanic. And this immorally created couple must do what is needed to make that big, utterly predictable Act III conclusion happen.

Passengers kicked around Hollywood for a decade; it was a “Black List” script, which meant it was a hot story everyone wanted to develop, but didn’t. Touches of this brilliance and originality show up here and there as the story unfolds. I recommend it— but know that after seeing it you may well go on an unexpected emotional journey of your own.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Weekend Box Office

The industry goes Rogue! Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for the numbers themselves.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Regular People Can Be Heroes Too

Rogue One: a Star Wars Story has been called the first “standalone story” set in the galaxy far, far away. This is only partially true: it tells the story of the theft of the Death Star Plans, essentially paragraph two of the opening title crawl from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) turned into a movie. Two other classic films got this “retroactive prequel” treatment: The Thing (1982) had a 2011 follow-up which told the story of the Norwegian Antarctic research station which discovered the alien spaceship and initially thawed out the shape-changing alien. Oz The Great and Powerful (2013) chronicled the events which brought a carnival magician to Oz and set him up as the ruler of the Emerald City.

This new film, directed by Visual Effects artist turned director Gareth Edwards, is a very satisfying action film and one of the finest additions to the Star Wars universe yet. Co-scripted by Tony Gilroy (writer of most of the Jason Bourne films) Rogue One is a gritty, serious, surprisingly dark caper film. It tells the story of group of ragged fugitives and hardened resistance fighters gathered by a desperate Rebel Alliance and given the task of somehow disrupting or stopping deployment of the Death Star, the Empire’s terrible new weapon. Along the course of this film we see this task change and evolve due to changing contingencies, and in the end this modest little spy story becomes a tremendous and consequential battle against the Empire as bold as any in the preceding films.

The Death Star never looked so evocative.
It is without a doubt the most beautiful-looking Star Wars movie yet made. The monumental visuals that we saw glimpses of in The Force Awakens— Rey climbing out of an immense wrecked Star Destroyer, Starkiller Base— are perfectly integrated into Rogue One. A Star Destroyer floats serenely yet menacingly over a walled city. The Death Star, creating an eclipse as it crosses in front of a sun. A pitched battle incongruously playing out on a warm tropical beach.

There is also a lot of fun stuff in Rogue One. It is set in the early days of the Empire and the film is rich with callbacks and easter eggs. Look hard enough and you will see crowd scenes filled with characters and creatures from other Star Wars movies. Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) has a part to play, as does Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) a surprisingly major character considering the actor has been dead for 22 years.

K-2SO, voice and motion capture by Alan Tudyk. This droid
is the 21st century update to C-3PO. Instead of a fussy,
mannered, somewhat feckless British butler, we have
a very capable robot with a habit of gracelessly
saying everything it thinks. K-2SO provides the
funniest and suprisingly touching dialog in Rogue One.
My favorite moment from the film— the scene which shows how unique this franchise installment truly is— happens early on in Rogue One. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), our main protagonist, has seen her mother killed and father apprehended by authorities literally dropping out of the sky, in the form of Imperial stormtroopers lead by Senator Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Having witnessed this, and being a life-long fugitive from the Empire, Jyn has led a criminal’s life. The scene I love takes place on Wobani, at an Imperial labor camp. Jyn is sitting in a transport, being taken to or from some job site, covered with dirt and in worn-out clothes, ankles shackled to the floor. We then see other prisoners, looking dirty and defeated, sitting around her. We then see an Imperial Stormtrooper guard sitting on a bench near the hatch— his white armor smeared with grime and dust, body language broadcasting as much depression and defeat as everyone else in the transport. This is the moment where I realized this was truly a street-level story. We are not going to see the machinations of royals and elites: we’re going to see how regular people live in this universe-- those working for the Empire, those fighting it, and those who are simply caught in it’s grip— and how some of them will themselves out of this obscurity and rise to heroism and greatness.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones): Fugitive becomes hero.
Science Fiction author David Brin has long criticized the Star Wars saga as an exercise in anti-democratic cinema: they concern themselves with the internal conflicts of a single dynastic family. Every other Star Wars franchise entry has centered on the Skywalker clan, a bloodline created by The Force itself which has had a strong hand shaping the history of an entire galaxy and all the creatures in it. Even last year’s The Force Awakens is primary about a new protagonist joining the search for Luke Skywalker with the help of Luke’s brother-in-law Han Solo. Much of the fan speculation about Rey is how she is related to the Skywalkers: is she a daughter? a cousin? Obi-Wan Kenobi’s granddaughter? Or— my favorite crazy theory— is she a clone of Luke Skywalker, taken from his hand lost in Bespin, probably found still clutching the same lightsaber that Rey takes up?

In any case, the main franchise storyline is about a family of highly superior, Force-empowered individuals, fighting for governmental power over an entire universe of essentially powerless citizens. Rogue One isn’t about these people at all. It’s about the people they oppress: the Rebel troops Princess Leia sent to their deaths, Luke Skywalker’s wingmen blown out of the sky, the innocents on the planets Darth Vader and his grandson Kylo Ren had a hand in destroying. Because it’s a story about ordinary people fighting for freedom from the oppression of the Empire, it is both a noble and inspiring hero’s saga, and a tale of the frailty and ambiguity of ordinary lives.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Weekend Box Office

If your office Christmas party wasn't mortifying enough, I have great news for you! Thanks to BoxofficeMojo.com, who I namecheck in the video for a change.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekend Box Office

This week's new film debuts at number 9! Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for the bad news

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Weekend Box office

Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you had! I'm thankful to BoxOfficeMojo.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Weekend Box Office

It's easy to find them, actually. Thanks to Box Office Mojo for the numbers

Monday, November 14, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Let's herald its arrival -- it's Arrival! Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for numbers.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Your box office report, now with a fun costume! Thanks to Box Office Mojo.com

Monday, October 24, 2016

Weekend Box Office

NEVER underestimate Madea. Thanks to Box Office Mojo for numbers

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Weekend Box Office

I know a few accountants, and Ben Affleck is no Accountant. Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com for data and facts and what have you

Monday, October 10, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Movie for grownups makes number 1... I know right? Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo for numbers.

Donald Trump and Hollywood Omertà

Many people have seen, or at least read about, the now-infamous “hot mic” tape of a candid conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush in September 2005. News outlets and the internet are currently saturated with analysis of the content of this tape, in which Trump admits that his money and power permits him to commit sexual assault. The astounding crudity of the verbal exchange was seen as revealing the true nature of Donald Trump’s personality and attitude towards women, and the revelation of this tape may well prove to be the tipping point of the 2016 presidential election.

But this article isn’t about the content of the tape: it’s about why it took so long for it to be released. This is the part of this incredible story that seems to be under-discussed— and it relates directly to Hollywood, which is why it’s being discussed here.

The official story is the producer of “Access Hollywood,” Steve Silverstein, remembered this interview about two weeks before the release and dug the footage out of archives. This story is almost certainly false. The reason why it’s not believable is actually embedded in how the tape was recorded.

This political bombshell (more of a nuclear warhead) was taken from a segment of “Access Hollywood” which documented a cameo Donald Trump was making on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” It was shot on the backlot of NBC Studios in Burbank. A camera crew was following Trump and “Access” host Billy Bush: both men were fitted with lavalier microphones and transmitter packs which broadcast RF signal to receivers attached to the camera. During the publicly-released segment a cameraman had stepped outside the bus to set up a shot showing Bush and Trump arriving at the studio to be greeted by soap star Arianne Zucker. Thinking they were off-camera, the two men engaged in a crude, degrading conversation about women. Aside from the on-camera personalities there were seven people involved in this taping: two cameramen, the segment producer, a production assistant, Trump’s bodyguard and PR person, and the bus driver.

After this segment was shot, the footage was likely seen and handled by even more people: on-line and offline editors, more show producers, audio technicians and maybe even an archivist.

Charlie Chaplin, during one of his
many, many court appearances.
So about a dozen people— very likely more— heard and saw this footage in 2005. Yet NONE of these people recalled this conversation, one of the most devastating revelations of character any political aspirant has ever uttered? Particularly as this 2005 taping came on the heels of complaints by the cast and crew of Trump’s show “The Apprentice” about his crude on-set behavior? That is an impressive case of collective amnesia.

Hollywood’s code of silence strikes again.

The film industry has been creating and controlling secrets since the days of Charlie Chaplin (and Lita MacMurray) and Fatty Arbuckle (and Virginia Rappe). The studios all had (and still have) well-funded departments which handled public relations and “fixers,” producer-level executives who specialized in keeping indiscretions out of the press. (Hail Caesar was a thinly fictionalized account about a famous studio fixer.)

The culture of secrecy goes very deep in both the film and TV industries. Entertainment is an unusual industry in that the general public is constantly and intently curious about it. Supermarkets do not devote shelf space at the checkout counters with magazines dishing the dirt on astrophysicists and farmers, after all. Scripts and storylines have to be kept secret: details of film shoots are kept from public view as much as possible as well. The need for confidentiality rivals the Pentagon’s.

It’s all for the greater glory of the Industry, of course. That, and jobs. A scandal that would bring down a star would shut down production. A leaked script would kill off box-office potential. Finally, there’s the prestige factor: being on the set gives even the lowest PA or grip access to some of that rare stuff, Hollywood Glamor— stacks of non-disclosure agreements are willingly signed to gain access to that inner circle.

Why did this revelation take so long to emerge into the light of public scrutiny? The culture of Hollywood, a full century of studio secrets kept, reputations protected, indiscretions hidden. And they are so good at it: Did you know that Tom Cruise is only 5’7”? It took a LOT of will to overcome that much inertia and tradition.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Tim Burton, back again, talkin' with his hands. Box Office Mojo still there, supplyin' figures.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Denzel saves Hollywood with the help of 6 charismatic weirdos!

Film Economics: A helpful illustration

Skot and I were trading quips on Facebook this morning (as oft we do) and this exchange, about the cost of The Magnificent Seven, occurred.

Skot Christopherson Could be. The town gets pretty wrecked in the course of the film, so it is likely this wasn't filmed on a standing set. It's also a runaway production, shot in New Mexico and Louisiana: Guess that isn't a bargain anymore.
LikeReply2 hrs
Daniel Krause It's probably still a bargain, just LESS of one.
LikeReply12 hrs

"Runaway production", you probably know, refers to a movie shot away from Los Angeles. In previous years it was a sound strategy because even though you had to fly a good deal of your staff across the country to, say, North Carolina, the cost of local labor and goods far was much much lower and you could save a bundle. In recent years, non-Hollywood towns have started asking more from productions, because they know they can still get it.

This last weekend I have an experience which illustrates this process surprisingly well.

I needed a new mattress to replace my aging queen size. I had heard a company called Caspar advertising a memory foam mattress and was enchanted by the idea, because I'm fed up with springs, plus you can ship a foam mattress in a box that's an eighth of the size because foam compresses. However, Caspar sells for around 800 bucks. I discarded the idea and put a new mattress aside for a while.

This week though, I started looking at options on Amazon and discovered a memory foam mattress for about $160, comparable to a new spring mattress. I ordered it up and it arrived, in its 5x1x1 foot box, on Friday afternoon. I unboxed it and laid it out on my carpet, letting it expand to its full size overnight, then swapped it out with my old mattress, which I leaned on the bedroom wall.

I swear this is about to go somewhere.

When you buy a mattress at a store, they will deliver it for you and take away your old mattress as a courtesy. Amazon doesn't want your old mattress. So I started looking online for some recycler who would haul it away for free, and learned to my horror that in fact, nobody does. Some will haul it for a fee. Goodwill and the Salvation army won't take them, and they certainly won't pick them up. If there is someone who will pick up a mattress for free in California, I wasn't able to find them. And it's illegal to just leave them by the trash.

I spent 45 minutes surfing around researching this, then I lay down on my new mattress and looked at the old one leaning on the wall and said "oh God, that thing is going to be there for the next four months because I know how I operate." I thought about it again for a few minutes, then gave up. I'll figure it out later, I thought. For now, I'll go downstairs and check the mail.

And as I approached my mailbox - there was a BRAND NEW MATTRESS SET leaning on the wall outside one of my neighbors apartment.

I waited until the delivery guys came out of the place and approached one of them. "I got a queen size upstairs I have to get rid of. You want it?" He said he'd take a look. I let him in, he eyeballed the mattress and nodded, and we carried it down the flight of stairs. Once outside he put down his end and said, "How much?"

"It's free," I explained.

"How much to take it?"

I guess he had realized that I was getting something for nothing. "How much do you want?" I asked. "Ten" he replied.

I thought about it for a split second before I gave him a ten in cash. He walked away with my mattress.

So who won this negotiation? I don't know how much a service charges to pick up a mattress (weird lack of detail on those websites) look at it this way - a mattress removal service dropped out of the sky and landed at my feet, without my having to book a time and wait around for it. I bought a miracle for $10 bucks. And that's peanuts. Or memory foam peanuts.

Point is, whatever that town charged Sony/Columbia, it was probably less their own backlot would have. And that, guerro, is a miracle.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Audiences avoid Bridget Jones' Baby, terrified of her new face. Thanks to boxofficemojo.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Tom Hanks, in a startling turn, plays a captain who has to make a difficult decision and it's based on a true story! Thanks to Box Office Mojo for numbers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Hope you had a happy labor day weekend, doing whatever you did, which clearly was not watching movies.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Slow week. Slow, hot and sweaty.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Brilliant Hack Work of "Stranger Things"

The one-sheet by Kyle Lambert.  I would
call this composition form "Drew Struzan
Baroque:" The color fields, grouping
and eye-lines are nearly identical to
any number of his 1980's posters.
Watched all 8 episodes of this Netflix series in short order: it’s slow and convention-bound in the first few episodes, but it soon stretches out into a satisfying-- if strangely derivative-- science fiction/horror series.

In 1983 Indiana, a young boy suddenly vanishes after a game of D and D with his friends. This sparks several searches and investigations by the missing boy’s friends, family and local authorities, which soon start turning up something unsettling, malevolent and supernatural lurking in the woods outside town. At the same time a strange girl appears, an escapee from a secret government site, embodied with telekinetic powers-- who may prove to be the key to finding the missing boy.

Millie Bobby Brown as "Eleven." Apparently
that buzz cut was not all that easy to achieve.
The direction in these eight episodes is remarkable. The visual style is striking, the art direction is thorough and the individual shots are extremely well-composed (in 1.85:1 Spherical Widescreen, the most popular aspect ratio in the 1980s). The central cast are young teenagers, and every one of them offers realistic, emotive performances— in particular Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the mysterious Eleven. Strong performances by children is an indication of a strong director— or, in the cases of some episodes, directors (the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers).

The Duffer Brothers with Winona Rider on the
set of "Stranger Things." Or is this an homage
to Dead Ringers (1988)?

As stated in the title "Stranger Things" is, nonetheless, “hack work of the highest order.*” A little Poltergeist and E.T. here, a little Evil Dead and Firestarter there, litter the sets with vintage movie posters, and it's a solid tribute to the era. If you were able to subtract these period elements, I doubt there would be enough to fill a single hour-long episode. The title sequence is a well-imitated optical-effect-looking shot, complete with negative specks and vintage fonts (Korinna and Avant Garde). As solid and satisfying as the main plot threads are, there are also weak subplots about bullies and ex-husbands and past loss. Still,  "Stranger Things" is very much worth a good binge-- If anything, it’s fun to watch the show and pick up the 80’s references as they come, flashing like bulbs on a string of Christmas lights.

A few notes:

Castroville in da house!
Acknowledgement of a classic era: “Stranger Things” is set in 1983-- and going past the period setting,it just strip-mines the cinema and popular culture of this era. This was a good choice, as it was a remarkably fecund time for original science fiction, horror and fantasy. Bladerunner, E.T., Mad Max 2, Excalibur, Dragonslayer, Heavy Metal, Conan the Barbarian, The Dead Zone, John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Shining, Poltergeist, The Evil Dead and especially Firestarter were all released around this show’s setting. “Stranger Things” is a pastiche of many of these works, perhaps underscored with a narrative form borrowed from Stephen King. So this isn’t an mere exercise in period visual authenticity: it is also a reworking of genres, kept inside the generic rules of the era. It’s less like, say, “The Americans” or “Fargo,” which are set in past eras, and more like The Artist (2011), which reproduced the narrative and social trappings of the silent era in a silent film.

Cinematic New Mexico: this was the name of a TV and movie trope where cell phones are useless. In the days before wireless become omnipresent horror stories were often set in rural areas, so the instant communication afforded by cell technology was eliminated, which increased the isolation of the characters and intensified the drama. ("New Mexico" was, for a time, a mythical movie region where cell phones didn't work.) 1983 was definitely the pre-cellphone era. This allows places like a regular rural house to be completely cut off and vulnerable to attack from inter-dimensional monsters. The filmmakers even hang a lantern on this by having a regular land-line phone fry into uselessness not once, but twice. This was obviously not the entire reason to set “Stranger Things” in the pre-cellphone past, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Local Angle: Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), a friend of the missing boy,  wears a “Castroville Artichoke Festival” t-shirt for several episodes. It’s totally unmotivated— He lives in Hawkins, Indiana: Castroville is in Central California, south of Santa Cruz. I do appreciate the shout-out.

* h/t to Jared N. Wright, who coined this one-line summary. Once he wrote it, I couldn’t get past it, so I just included it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Weekend Box Office

I got a new shirt, and it's more interesting than the numbers this week. Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for them, by the way

Weekend Box Office

I got a new shirt, and it's more interesting than the numbers this week. Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for them, by the way

Monday, August 15, 2016

Weekend Box Office

The 2nd most popular movie will make you want to take a shower. But it's summer, you should take a shower anyway. Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for numbers!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Weekend Box Office

This ain't rock 'n' roll - this is suicide! Thanks to the boxofficemojo.com people for numbers.

Suicide Squad: Why So Serious?

Maybe reviewers saw the subtitle "Worst. Heroes. Ever."
and took it at face value.
After a week of reading many delicious, angry, mean reviews for Suicide Squad, the latest entry into the DC Extended Universe, I did something somewhat contrary to my usual instincts after feasting so well on such a banquet of snark: I went out and saw it.

I left the screening wondering if the film’s many critical detractors and I saw the same movie. I thought it was pretty enjoyable.

Let me clarify.

We’re living deep in the Comic Book Movie Era. Superhero movies rule box offices worldwide. They are now nothing less than a fully formed cinematic genre, with major and minor characters, multi—year story arcs, and very solid and reliable generic characteristics. So, as an new entry into this well-defined genre, Suicide Squad fulfills most of its expectations: it’s filled with action and cross-franchise references and juvenile humor and even more juvenile depictions of adult relationships. It’s PG-13, so they are holding back quite a bit on the gore on this one, but the body count is also near the normal level for this genre.

I kept getting the feeling that critics were slagging on Suicide Squad as a bad film— compared to the totality of Hollywood movies. Maybe that’s true: it isn’t as good as Chariots of Fire or Michael Clayton or L’Avventura or Dodgeball: a True Underdog Story. But as a comic-book movie, it’s truly right in the middle of the pack. If you approach Suicide Squad as an entry in a superhero universe franchise— but if you are NOT a comic book fan or even that familiar with comic books— than the film works perfectly well. We are introduced to a group of new characters via backstory, given the signposts and guides to these new characters inside the universe, and the plot is set into motion. Sure, it was dumbed-down and expository scene’ed to death, but without exposition most audiences would be totally out to sea because this films stars some decidely minor DC characters.*

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in a rare publicity still
with another character.
I agree with most the of reviews that in Suicide Squad there are things that work and things that don’t work. In the minus column, much has been made in the reviews of what a misfire the villain was: The Enchantress (Cara Delevigne). She was, according to some, a cookie-cutter villain whose ultimate goals were poorly defined. Funny, but to me that sounds a lot like MOST comic-book movie villains of late: Thanos (Guardians of the Galaxy) or Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse) or General Zod (Man of Steel) or Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron) are not much more than an interchangeable bunch of power-seeking super beings.

The main story— a group of rag-tag villains is banded together to fight an evil superpower— is another misfire, poorly motivated from conception, really. The main characters are so unwilling to be heroic that at one point they all check out of the story and go get a drink in a bar. From a screenwriting perspective, this is hilariously telling. There is an uncanny and spooky effect in the writing process where characters who are stuck in bad plots will try to get out. They will talk to the writer: “This is stupid: I shouldn’t even be here!” There’s a scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron where Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) hangs a lantern on this effect: “The city is flying and we're fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.” But poorly motivated final battles are a hallmark of comic-book movies, so again: I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

What does work in Suicide Squad are the characters you see in every publicity still: Harley Quinn and The Joker. the sheer amount insane energy Margot Robbie and Jared Leto put into their interpretations is evident on-screen, and both are so vivid they make every other character fade into the background— even Deadshot (Will Smith). People have been looking forward to Harley Quinn’s big-screen debut with as much anticipation as Wonder Woman’s— and she does not disappoint. Funny, sexy, wisecracking and fearless— she’s a character who will go into battle with a super-powered villain armed with a baseball bat-- and think nothing of it. Very much looking forward to her inevitable solo movie.

The Joker, breaking the fourth wall to make you pee a little.
Bad teeth and no eyebrows are menacing enough.
Her relationship with The Joker is as weird and creepy as it is in the comics. He is an abuser who both loves Harley and has zero value for her life and well-being. Some have said Leto’s interpretation of The Joker is too creepy and off-putting. Well, not to sound like a fanboy, but: he’s supposed to be creepy. He’s a villain, a murderer. Even at his charismatic best he should still make you pee a little. I’d take Leto over Heath Ledger, who I thought was a bit too fussy and borderline silly. The Joker should make you uncomfortable. And what he has done to Harley Quinn should make you uncomfortable too.

Strangely, what this film reminded me of most was not another DC or even a Marvel movie: It looked and felt a lot like Mystery Men (1999) a high water mark of the heyday of the Dark Horse Cinematic Universe. It has the same colorful design, outlandish, hand-made-looking costumes and grungy detail. it also featured a rather large roster of fairly unknown comic-book characters, juvenile humor and a somewhat limp main story. Much better villain: tho: I’ll take Casanova Frankenstein over The Enchantress any day.

* Both Marvel and DC superhero movies bury easter eggs in the credits. True fans always advise to stick around for these. But the coda at the end of Suicide Squad— no spoiler— I swear is nothing but Viola Davis and Ben Affleck spewing dense comic-book implications at each other for three minutes. I didn’t understand any of it.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Box Office Report

Not the actual figures, but they'll be close! Thanks to Box Office Mojo for good rough estimates.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Weekend Box Office

It's all up there in black and white. Thanks BoxOfficeMojo.com for all the information.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Who ya gonna call? PETS!

Thx boxofficemojo.com

Monday, July 11, 2016

Weekend Box Office

They chew on things, mostly. Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com without whom none of it would be possible.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Happy ID4 Day! Memo to self -- softer lighting. Further memo, thanks to the reliable boxofficemojo.com.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Meh, the fish did better. Thanks to boxofficemojo.com!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Dory? You forgot where you left her again?

Thanks to boxofficemojo.com.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Two sequels and a Video Game - it's business as usual! Thanks to Box Office Mojo nonetheless.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Turtles prevail, but it's not that hard this weekend. Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for solid information.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Memorial Day Weekend, once as disappointing as Labor Day Weekend, is slipping back to that status.

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com. And iPrint Technologies for the free shirt.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Weekend Box Office

We look at a new low (two if you count Angry Birds)! Thanks to Box Office Mojo. We salute you brother!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Weekend Box Office

256 shades of grey! And thanks to BoxOfficeMojo, though frankly they probably don't even care at this point.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Captain America throws his might shield, hits a bank. It's your Box Office Report!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thunderbirds Are No Less Go Than They Ever Were

It is easier to admit this as an adult than it would be in my TV-watchin' prime, but I'm irresistably drawn to the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson ouvre. The Andersons were behind Space: 1999 and Captain Scarlett and a host of other entertainments but they arguably reached their apex with Thunderbirds, the sci-fi extravaganza starring a host of puppets. Actually the puppets were extras; the stars were five rocket-powered vehicles numbered Thunderbirds One Through Five.

Not the vehicles, but it will do for now
There they are, the Tracy Brothers: Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Allen. They're a family that runs International Rescue, a team of do-gooders who patrol the world (and space) in 2065, helping victims of disasters and stopping things from exploding until everyone is clear and then BANG! off it goes.

Thunderbirds only ran for two seasons, at which point Sir Lou Grade determined that he'd never get American network money to keep it going.

The charms of the show might seem elusive to some. For one thing, the main characters are wooden puppets which means that whether they are fighting to plug a volcano or bantering after a successful mission their expressions never change. And it's not exactly easy telling one of them from another. And the scripts are aimed squarely at kids, so subtlety and moral ambiguity are in short supply. Considering the first part of this paragraph, I'll say mercifully short supply.

However, Thunderbirds is a perfect example of art being improved by it's limitations. The miniatures are beautifully detailed and if they're a little unconvincing, so what? At least it's not more puppets! And while the puppets can't handle drama, the sweeping orchestral score by the late Barry Gray took care of that in spades. It all winds up being good fun once you get past the dodgy American accents and creepy feeling that one of the brothers looks a little too much like Cary Grant.

Wait, these aren't vehicles either!
ITV, partnered with Amazon Prime, has revived the series as Thunderbirds Are Go! using CGI characters and live-action model sets. I've seen about half the episodes and I love 'em. The sets allow for just enough restriction to keep the show from losing its sense of fun. And now the expressions CAN change, though it's still almost impossible to tell the Tracy brothers apart.

What you're left with is this fun, wild implausibility. Who is paying for all this technology? And rocket fuel? And why, a century after it was fashionable, do the Tracys live in split-level mid-century Frank Lloyd Wright style ranch house with flagstone walls and conversation pit? In every episode they introduce at least one new vehicle or gadget or something that is so highly specialized that you would never, in the trial of a thousand lifetimes, expect to need it. And yet there it is, perfected and polished and working like a dream.

What I'm getting at is this is good, stupid fun and the episodes are only 22 minutes long so go ahead. You could do worse.

That's better.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Weekend Box Office

A hat! A palpable hat!

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for the numbers

Monday, April 25, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Today's report is marred by sudden violence! Also, thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for the figures

Monday, April 18, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Why, even now, don't they call it the Jungle Movie?

The usual thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com for my numbers, my precious numbers.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Boss! And thanks to Boxofficemojo, without whom I am nothing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Do Batman and Superman hang on?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Destroy all critics! And enjoy your time at BoxOfficeMojo.com, my source.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Try to imagine the top of my head, as though you could see it. Thanks to Box Office Mojo .com!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Warning: More Posts About Cable Coming

I just got off the phone with someone in the Retention Department at Time Warner. They wanted to know why I canceled my cable service. As you read, I came to the conclusion that even $10 bucks a month was more than I thought TV was worth to me. So I told the nice Retention lady that I had no complaint with the service but I just didn't have any use for it.

After 45 minutes we agreed that I'm going to try again tomorrow, only with 200+ channels, and double the internet speed (200 Mbps) all for only $10 a month more. Basically the same $10 they got out of me when I tried it last week. Oh and I'll also be able to call Norway at local rates.

I will, of course, keep you updated on my experiences, because writing about television is way more interesting that watching it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Congratulations to anthropomorphism! And thanks to Box Office Mojo.com

All This And High School Volleyball Too

So, after five days wasted not watching my newly installed cable (or as I like to look at it, around $2.50) I finally had time to get her on the road, open her up, and take a spin. I switched to HDMI3, turned on the little black box and started channel surfing.

First impression: Look, it's Channel 2! OHMYGOD why is it so blocky? Let's try Channel 4. Same thing. I'm used to the raw HD feeds and cable is too, because that's what it uses as its first step before it compresses the signal to send it to you, the viewer. You might not notice if you get all your TV through cable, but it's really obvious when you compare. I kept changing all the way through the channels and eventually I found that there is another set of the same local channels starting the the 1200s, which looks better. Maybe down sampled from 1080p to 720p?  Who knows? The 1200s are in a slightly different order than they would be on the "dial" and for that matter, a different order than at the lower numbered versions. Why? WHY? Why.

Of course this is kind of a moot point because as far as I'm concerned, most high-def TV doesn't interest me. My viewing habits have developed into a kind of mid-century broadcast museum, and given the choice between an episode of Gotham and an Adam West BATMAN marathon I'll hit the marathon every time. And more likely I'll screw 'me both and look for public domain monster movies at Archive.org. Thus my next explorations involved finding this fun little subcarriers, all the stations that fill their programming days with 60's-70's sitcoms and adventure shows, like MeTV and COZI and The Works. The TWC package that I subscribed to, though, doesn't carry most of those.

On the plus side, there are a few things it offers that I can't get normally. 20 local radio stations, for example. Local sports is another. Hyper-local. Okay, it's actually high school girl's Volleyball. Probably interesting to people with high school girls - actually just THOSE high school girls.

I kinda also got fed up with having to deal with another remote. And that's why I looked into the box I already have, my Roku, to see if TWC has an app. It does! There's also one for the iPad. Unfortunately, the Roku app isn't licensed to play the radio stations, and there's no way to punch in a channel number, so you have to scroll through EVERYTHING to get to the channel you want.

As for the iPad app, it's better than the Roku in the sense that you can just jab your finger at a programming grid and there's your show. This seemed promising but I discovered that once you're out of the house, only two channels will display and they're both Home shopping channels. If my apartment wasn't a studio where you can see the TV from bed and the kitchen, I might have more uses for the iPad app.

But it IS a studio, Blanche. It is.

I'm a little long cutting to the chase here but you see what's coming - I determined that basic cable offered less channels and more complexity, all for only $14 more a month if you're smart and $24 if you're not. So this week I unhooked the whole magillah and returned it to TWC, and I'm happy to report that they accepted it and canceled my service with very little trouble.

Obviously the lowest tier of cable service is worthless but even once you start climbing and getting the 200 or 300 channel packages with the DVR it's a LOT more money than it's worth. If you pro-rate how much you're paying to watch each show, you'll surely opt for something else, or take up reading instead.

The internet has disrupted a lot of business models and Cable Television is certainly one of those. First broadcasting was eroded by cable, and now the internet is chewing away at them both. I don't know if it was ever EASY to make money in the TV business, but look for it to get a lot harder in the future. And look for both of these traditional models to shrink to quaint ghosts of their former selves.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Joan Crawford With Tom Bosley's Eyes

See previous entry for my negotiating adventure. Remember, you'll only get what you want in a deal if you're willing to walk away, and you're willing to take a REAL LONG TIME doing it.

So the next day I swung by the local TWC store to pick up my digital converter. Of course I was planning to install it myself. In fact, that was one of the chief reasons I signed up. I love getting new gadgets and installing them. If I'd only invest in a Lego set, my life might be a whole lost less complicated. It was pretty much what I expected - a box about the size of a Roku box (much like the one I already have!), a power supply, several cables and a little instruction booklet.

It was pleasantly complicated. I unhooked my modem, put the cable feed into a splitter, then ran one cable to the box and the other to the modem again, then ran an HDMI cable into the remaining HDMI port on my TV, which is pretty close to my computer. God only knows how I would have managed otherwise. Then, since I was squeezing this into my lunch hour, I ran back to work.

This is a fun detail about this whole story - I was crazy to attempt this last week. It was what they call Tech Week for The Importance of Being Earnest, which meant that I only had an hour a night between the end of work and the start of rehearsals. So when I got back I remotely activated the cable box online, blind, hoping there weren't error messages. After work I got home and while I was microwaving dinner I turned on the TV, and the box, and changed channels a few times. It worked! I had cable!

And then I got the hell outta there and didn't look at it again until Saturday, the first free time I had.

It's this crazy schedule that prompted me to come up with the stupid title up there. If you don't get it, look up the Night Gallery TV movie, the segment directed by Steven Spielberg. Not his best work but WAY better than you'd have done under the circumstances.

So, finally, basic cable. Is it worth it? Eh, I'll tell you next time.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Splicing the Cord

You know something, I ain't had cable in 8 years. I'm not consuming nearly enough TV to justify the price of a typical cable package. I loathe reality shows (even though I've been on a few of them!) and I'm happy to wait to stream a good dramatic series on Netflix a year after the buzz. I'm one of the original cord-cutters.

However, since I rely on Time Warner for my internet and telephone service, sometimes I look at my user profile and think something's missing. So with that feeling in mind, last week I made the impulsive leap and signed up for the most basic of basic cable.

For a little background, I live in Los Angeles and have a mighty decent TV. Thanks to digital multiplexing I get a ton of off the air channels, most of them in languages I don't understand or for religious organizations that I am skeptical of. However I know that Time Warner makes apps that will allow you to watch TV on your iPad with an account, and most of the networks have similar arrangements that allow you to watch as long as you have an active cable provider account.

So a week ago Monday I opened up a text box at work with TWC to explore their options. They offer a rock-bottom "local channel" package for just $10 (PROMOTIONAL ONLY FOR THE FIRST YEAR) and I figure let's look into that. The text box has the advantage that you can walk away from the conversation and not miss anything. This was useful because ultimately I was with them for about 1 1/2 hours.

My first concern was what they call the Digital Converter box. I took that name to mean that it takes HD and letterboxes it for your square granny TV but after a two transfers to different sales people and half-hour of texts it became clear it handled HD just fine.  I decided to go for it. Sign me up! I wrote. The text came back all right, your service will be $24.95 a month.

Wait, the deal is $10 a month I said. It's in big blue headline letters on your site.

Well, there's a monthly $3.75 licensing fee for the channels, they replied, and the box rental is $11.00 a month.

Oh, thanks anyway, I wrote.

Hold on, they said, and transferred me to someone else. I received a few invoices (or whatever I do for a living) and a new salesperson, with the unlikely name of "Betty" came on. And we started from scratch. I went along with it because it was kinda entertaining. I ultimately demurred and I was transferred again. And again. And again. And I kept writing no, I know it's not much but I just can't justify paying it; especially since I'd be paying more per month than the whole box had cost them, and finally they transferred me to "Jim". Jim said we'll give you the box for free if you'll pay for the service and licensing fee.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Oscar, oscar, oscar! Thanks, Box Office Mojo.

Sorry that this doesn't make more sense.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Coming live from Tech Week. Thanks for Box Office Mojo and their figures.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Bet on Zoolander 2 going south? You won the Deadpool! Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo for the info.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Hail Ceasar! Don't hail Uber though, those guys are evil. Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo for the figures!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Panda Express! And Boxofficemojo.com!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Weekend Box Office

The storms that swallowed all the business, and more! Thanks to Box Office Mojo for the reduced figures.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Ride along with us, won't you? And thanks to boxofficemojo.com for the raw material.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Weekend Box Office

It's the deep, dead of winter and there is little good news; but thanks to Box Office Mojo it's accurate!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Friday, January 1, 2016

QT's Roadshow Gimmick: or, The Heuristic Eight

This still is the actual proportion of Ultra Panavision 70mm.
Went to a late screening of The Hateful Eight at the Century San Francisco Center, where a friend (Chris) has successfully seen the thing. Very nice place with leather seats where you can buy a beer. At 11:00 on the dot the projected cranked up and the overture screen appeared on that wide, wide screen.

The rest of this is going to a Hegelian dialectical analysis of The Hateful Eight in Roadshow format. It's important to quantify the entire experience this way because when you get right down to it, the synthesis of technology and subject here is super goddamned peculiar.

THESIS: The Ultra Panavision 70mm Roadshow Release.
The extra wide format Tarantino used here -- 65mm source with an extra anamorphic squeeze bringing the frame to a stunning 2.76:1 aspect ratio-- is quite rare and was used exclusively for prestige Hollywood productions. Ben Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Fall of the Roman Empire were previous films lensed in this format.

The technical presentation at the Century San Francisco Center was simply excellent. The image suffered a little bit from the screen masking, which was open at the bottom, showing a soft edge. I believe the auditorium was equipped for either 'scope (2.35:1) or spherical/HD (1.8:1) and simply could not mask the screen down to the right aspect ratio.

70mm film. This is a faded clip from
Hello Dolly! (1970) which was shot in 65mm.
For the sheer visual experience, it's worth the effort seeing the film this way (and you can until January 11th, when they will dismount all the 70mm projection gear). I have been fortunate to have seen several films in Ultra Panavision before (Ben Hur and It's a Mad x4 World, in the Cinerama Dome no less) and the sheer visual aspect of the film-- incredible 70mm detail, rich color and natural tone of photochemical film makes for a memorable experience. (it would have been even better to have seen a screening on a deeply curved Cinerama screen but those are no longer available in the Bay Area.)

No less pleasurable is the entire Roadshow experience: an overture, intermission and a quality program handed to every patron. More films should do this. When I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in Cinerama Roadshow when I was a little kid there were programs, but you had to buy them.

ANTITHESIS: The Hateful Eight
The movie itself was vile. Set in the Old West, it's a tale about a collection of mostly unpleasant Western movie types holed up in a mountain trading post during a blizzard. Having a full complement of characters, Quentin advances his story by having his characters give little speeches and then kill each other. His idea of a "plot twist" is killing off a character and letting the story dynamics fall into a reductio ad absurdum pattern until the next killing. If anything (and H/T to Chris for pointing this out) it's a lot like John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) complete with Kurt Russell.

They're hateful and there are eight of them.
Walton Goggins (#6 here) turned in a great,
unusual stand-out performance.
There are no overarching themes aside from vengeance and pointless violence and super-casual 19th century racism. Like Django Unchained, one could look at this film as a addressing slavery and institutional racism, but it's clear that ol' QT is only vaguely aware of this: he merely loves having his characters say "nigger" over and over and over until the shock value hardens into dull acceptance.

Some critics have argued that Quentin Tarantino is expertly deconstructing archetypes of classic cinema in his movies. That may well be, but I do not think I have ever seen a Hollywood or spaghetti western quite as nihilistic and meaningless as The Hateful Eight. If anything it gave some glimpses into QT's thought processes-- and man, it's ugly in there. Maybe he's trying to meld the classic low-budget Western with the Austrian horror genre (i.e. Funny Games) in terms of sheer lack of human empathy, but I doubt it. It's all just those ugly thoughts. In fact he's so in love with his own tough-guy, everyone-is-a-killer narrative that he reads the left-hand narration out loud right after the intermission-- apparently because he believes we're a bunch of goldfish who forgot everything in the first half of the movie.

The Hateful Eight also claustrophobic. Most of the movie is set in one room. Wide film notwithstanding, this film has the lowest and simplest production values of any Quentin Tarantino film-- and this includes Reservoir Dogs, another one-set film but with a lot of interesting scenes set in other interesting places.

SYNTHESIS: Tarantino's Roadshow Gimmick
Roadshow implies prestige: Every other film released in Ultra Panavision 70mm had incredibly large budgets, stellar casts and sweeping vistas and locations. Even the ones shot in spherical 65mm, from Oklahoma! (1955) to Samsara (2011) have a certain cachet, a promise of an enhanced experience. Add to that the roadshow format, with an overture, intermission and a program-- all elements of legitimate theater transplanted into cinema to impart a sense of occasion and importance--  it adds up to the anticipation of a special, full-sensory, even transcendent cinematic experience.

We don't get any of that here.

The Hateful Eight is an anti-prestige movie. It's a grindhouse Western full of grungy, glib characters who spend the majority of the film in a rustic shack pointing revolvers at each other. There are some gorgeous sweeping vistas in the beginning of the film, when the first four of the eight meet up in a stagecoach, set in the snowy wilds of Wyoming. But aside from some clever use of cross-frame staging and mise-en-scene, the super-wide frame and rich film look is wasted. It's the least spectacular large-format movie I've ever seen.

The synthetic effect is, as I said, super goddamned peculiar. It's like putting on evening wear and paying a premium to watch a bunch of YouTube cat videos. I overheard a few conversations during the intermission: Most other audience members were trying to define what the big deal was about 70mm and why the screen was so squished. This represents a misuse of the format. Tarantino should have made Inglorious Basterds in Ultra Panavision 65: it had sweep, spectacle, a huge cast and amazing settings. Hell, he should have made Kill Bill into a single, 200-minute-long-with-intermission roadshow production. In terms of matching content to format The Hateful Eight deserved to be filmed in 16mm and blown up to plain HD.

If you want to see a bit of cinematic history, a real live roadshow 70mm release with the full bells and whistles, The Hateful Eight technically qualifies, I suppose. If you're all hype to see Jennifer Jason Leigh (who was great, BTW) get punched in the face, covered with her own and various people's blood, and called a bitch about a million times, see the Digital Cinema version: it's shorter and cheaper.