Interview with Kelly Aubey of FilmBar

I originally wanted to do a post on some of my favorite places to see a movie in the Valley, but in reality that’s a pretty shortlist (and it was hard to get Harkins Corporate to call me back).

But all is not lost, because that left plenty of time to put together a video about the establishment that would’ve topped that list anyway; FilmBar! Owner and founder Kelly Aubey was kind enough to sit down and talk to me about his bar/microcinema hybrid. Check it out below. Sorry about that constant buzz. Must’ve been a refrigerator humming or something.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Vlog #2

Second vlog, covering Skyfall, ParaNorman and Wreck-It Ralph. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Lincoln

As I emerge from my turkey-induced stupor, I figured I might as well write a review. I managed to get around to seeing Steven Spielberg’s latest this weekend, Lincoln. Scripted by Tony Kushner, the film chronicles the political machinations that passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. It also attempts to humanize our nation’s 16th President by highlighting Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) subversion of the democratic process and adding unneeded familial drama with wife Mary Todd (played by Sally Field) and son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

This film is undoubtedly an interesting look at period in American history and political process, but it fails to make any of that entertaining. Clocking in at around two and a half hours, Lincoln is terrifically boring. It felt more like a lecture than a form of entertainment. Reading about how Lincoln could influence opinions with his speeches is interesting, it’s less so to watch multiple times.

In short, this film boils down to two things: grand, sweeping, overly verbose speeches from abolitionists and opponents alike and significant looks shared by stern old men. While there are some great 19th century zingers and wordsmithing, they are few and far between and are frequently delivered by cartoonish villains or bombastic heroes of liberty and equality. Democratic representative Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) stands out as an example of an outlandish villain played with zero nuance.

While the supporting cast lacked any nuance, it goes without saying Daniel Day-Lewis brings his A-game as always and truly inhabits Lincoln. He seems like a relic of the past. As I previously mentioned, there are steps taken to humanize the Great Emancipator, it gets lost in the deification of the man. I’m not saying that President Lincoln is undeserving of reverence, but any attempt to make him seem flawed fails to make an impact due to the pedestal this film places him on. It’s clearly spelled out in the film that Lincoln engaged in some pretty shady practices to pass the 13th Amendment, but the film is so solidly in Lincoln’s corner, that humanization is negligible. Maybe it’s because we know that Lincoln had the moral high ground makes his transgressions forgivable, but it nevertheless undermines the aim of pointing out these flaws.

Visually, this film is equally as boring as its content. There’s so many static shots of people conversing, when scenes of a battlefield and burning city showed up towards the end, I was ecstatic to have something other than someone’s face to look at. I was reminded of 2010’s The King’s Speech, which was a visually striking and gorgeous film, in spite of it truly being all about talking. Not once was I bored with the presentation of that film, as I was with Lincoln.

As of posting this, Lincoln holds a respectable 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is truly baffling to me.

So that’s my (rather unpopular) take on Lincoln. If you’re a history buff or tremendously interested in the political scheming involved in passing legislation, you might enjoy this film. Just don’t expect it to be entertaining. Expect it to be a chore.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Theater etiquette

Picture this: You’ve settled into your big comfy chair in the theater, enveloped in darkness and you’re happily getting swept up in a movie. Suddenly, that beautiful cocoon of darkness is shattered by the light from someone’s iPhone a few rows in front of you.

Now I’m perfectly aware that for some people, this is something of a minor inconvenience that can be easily ignored. However, it’s even easier to avoid.

Just ignore your phone if it buzzes! It’s that simple! What if you can’t restrain yourself from checking your social media?(OMG I GOT A RETWEET) I have a solution for that too — just turn your phone off!

I can hear the dissenting opinions now. “But Pete, what if my house is on fire, or my grandmother just died and I need to answer my phone?”

First, I’m very sorry about the property damage and I hope you’re insured. Same goes for grandma. But if you feel that familiar vibration in your pocket and intuit that it’s a message of incredible urgency, by all means, check your phone. Outside the theater.

Some, like Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League, might argue that texting is rude to the film’s creators. While I agree, for me the bottom line is about respecting those around you. I paid my admission fee to sit here and enjoy a film, to drop out of reality for 90 minutes and soak up some cinema, not watch you check ESPN every 15 minutes.

Some theaters have friendly reminders urging patrons not to use their devices during the feature, but few enforce these loose guidelines. The Alamo Drafthouse, on the other hand, has a great policy of tossing out loud and inconsiderate customers. That’s a policy I can get behind. Here’s one of their more famous PSAs(contains NSFW language, beware):

But texting and phone usage is really only one of many problems that seem to plague crowded movie theaters today. Theater etiquette is something I don’t think a lot of people take seriously. For some reason, a lot of people tend to treat a movie theater like their living room. Talking at normal volume to their neighbor, throwing their feet up on the seat in front of them, or refusing to remove a screaming baby from a theater… these are all transgressions I’ve been witness to in the past few years.

But these are all personal gripes of mine. To find out what those within the industry thought, I reached out to Phoenix’s own great microcinema, FilmBar.

“We encourage folks from using cell phones at all during films,” said Kelly Aubey, owner of the theater, which screens cult classics, independent and foreign cinema. “I’ve never heard of a problem with this at FilmBar, though. I think those who enjoy Indie films are a little more respectful of etiquette than those looking for a 5 pound tub of popcorn and a mindless blockbuster with explosions and a formulaic plot.”

Aubey’s biggest pet peeve, comes not from electronic devices, but from people who walk into FilmBar’s theater from the lounge area during a screening.

“I’m increasingly less polite about that one,” said Aubey. “While I can appreciate their curiosity, in the end, it’s a theater. ‘Ever seen a movie theater? Yeah, it looks like that. Trust me.'”

I also interviewed Arizona State University film professor Christopher Bradley, to get his thoughts on theater etiquette as well:

To wrap this up, I believe disrupting a film in any capacity is incredibly rude. It’s inconsiderate to your fellow audience members and disrespectful to the filmmakers. So please, people. Stop it.

What about you? What are some of your personal pet peeves when it comes to the theater? How do you feel about texting in a movie? Let me know in the comments!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Slideshow!

Today I’m posting a slideshow I put together in Final Cut Pro for class. I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph a projectionist at work and I think it turned out okay.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Argo

History is fun! Argo is based on the true story of a covert extraction of six American diplomats trapped in Iran following the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Posing as a Hollywood big shot, CIA “exfiltration” specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) recruits the six Americans to act as his Canadian science fiction film crew scouting Iran for shooting locations. Starring and directed by Affleck, this taut thriller is a captivating history lesson, but ultimately left me a bit wanting.

First of all, it’s great to see Affleck bouncing back after his career took a downward turn following Daredevil, Gigli and Jersey Girl. While I’m happy to see him enjoying directorial success with this film, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, I can’t help but wonder if he should maybe remain behind the camera. That’s not to say he’s a bad actor by any stretch, but his high-profile stature definitely took me out of Argo at times. Instead of being wholly immersed in 1979, I found myself consciously evaluating his performance. Over the end credits, they show side-by-side comparisons of the actors and their real-life counterparts. All were pretty good likenesses, until they showed Affleck’s character Mendez. Like, really? You’re supposed to be that guy? My disbelief made me wonder why he inserted himself into the film in the first place. The ending action set piece felt a big contrived and I absolutely questioned its historical veracity, but I suppose the film would’ve ended with a whimper without it.

But, there’s a lot I liked about this film as well. The film opens with a brief history lesson of Iran told by film storyboards, which were a cute touch and a good way to ease the audience into the time period.

While the whole cast deliver solid, believable performances, there are not a lot of standout roles aside from Alan Arkin, who churns out a fantastic performance as producer Lester Siegel. John Goodman is also great as make-up artist John Chambers. Arkin brings some wonderful crass humor and is responsible for one of the film’s best jokes.

But above all, the sequence of the embassy being overrun and the futile defense is my biggest takeaway. It expertly sets the tone and is truly chilling, excellently edited and particularly effective especially in light of the recent consulate attack in Libya. While there is very little actual violence, there’s the constant threat of it throughout the film. There’s an intense but subdued malice seeded into the villains of the film, which feeds nicely into the overall atmosphere of paranoia and quiet panic.

That atmosphere permeates this film and its tight script definitely makes it a winner and many consider it in the running for Best Picture. So why was I let down? The hype. I’ve been reading about how great this film is for six months now and I was expecting to be blown away. Make no mistake, I was solidly entertained and consistently engaged, but at no point did Argo rock my world. Plain and simple, it’s good, capable cinema. But it’s not life changing.

Overall, I’d give Argo 8 out of 10 Canadian ambassadors, which Argo taught me – are the best ambassadors to know.

What did you think of Argo? I’d see it again just to watch that one Canadian soldier say “Oui, monsieur.” Let me know what you think in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Upcoming films I’m excited about

I think there’s always films that everyone can agree they’re looking forward to, and they usually have a “2” or a ‘3’ or god forbid, “Crystal Skull” in their titles. Blockbuster sequels market themselves in most cases. However, there’s always wonderful little films being slowly rolled out in the shadow of the big moneymakers. That’s not to say I won’t be seeing Iron Man 3, because I will, but I think it’s important to keep an eye out for the little gems, too.

Here’s a few films I’m excited for and why:

The Company You Keep

Who doesn’t love Robert Redford’s politically-charged dramas? The Company You Keep is based around the radical left wing group The Weather Underground. The group carried out a series of bombings protesting the Vietnam War and while some were brought to justice, others escaped. As you can see from the trailer, this is a dramatization of those events. I dig movies that involve lesser-known history, so I’m definitely on board.

I’m not a huge fan of Shia LeBeouf, but a lot of other familiar faces pop up here that are a draw for me: Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon. Written and directed by Redford, I’m sure it will be full of his signature idealism, but I’m looking forward to this one all the same.

While it already screen at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, The Company You Keep should be released in the U.S. in early 2013.

The To Do List

With college right around the corner, sexually inexperienced Brandy (Audrey Plaza) commits to completing a list before her freshman year.

I’m excited for this one for a couple reasons. 1., It looks like another raunchy female comedy in the vein of Bridesmaids or For A Good Time Call, which means that market is growing. 2. It features a lot of actors I wholly enjoy. For one, Plaza is reuniting with Mystery Team co-star Donald Glover on screen again, and I’ve been watching Glover’s ascension since the Derrick Comedy YouTube shorts. Also, I spotted the endearing Clark Gregg (R.I.P. Agent Coulson) and Alia Shawkat of Maeby Fünke fame. Throw Andy Samberg in there and you’ve got a ticket from me.

As stated in the trailer, The To Do List is slated for a Valentine’s Day release.

American Scream

Have you ever seen Troll 2? No? Really? Okay, turn off your computer and watch it. Back? Okay, now go watch Best Worst Movie. No? Okay, I’ll just tell you what it’s about. It’s a documentary on that mess of a film and the frankly insane fan base it has. Best Worst Movie is everything that’s great about documentary filmmaking – it evokes the passion and emotion of its subject without shying away from the blemishes of reality.

Directed by Michael Stephenson, American Scream will hopefully be in the same wheelhouse as Best Worst Movie’s bittersweet qualities. His sophomore effort focuses on three households in Massachusetts who go all out on Halloween decorations and try to bring their community the best haunted houses possible. More than anything, I’m curious to see if Stephenson’s first doc was a fluke with intensely interesting subject matter, or if he’s captured lightning in a bottle once more.

American Scream screened at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and it will run on Oct. 28, 2012 on the Chiller Network.

Elysium

Remember District 9? Yeah, this is the sci-fi follow-up to that masterpiece. Written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, who directed the live action Halo 3 shorts and the previously mentioned District 9, Elysium stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster as two characters at extreme odds. Collider.com reported the film’s synopsis as follows:

In the year 2159 two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), a hard line government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max (Matt Damon) is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

Apparently Blomkamp has a thing for using science fiction for social commentary, which I’m all for. You might remember how much I enjoyed Looper, so here’s hoping Elysium delivers as another modern sci-fi classic.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until August 2013 to see if Elysium will live up to my expectations.

What upcoming films are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vlog entry!

Gotta do a video blog entry, so I took the time to briefly review V/H/S, a horror movie worthy of October.

Looper

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Publicity.

In the sci-fi action thriller Looper, time travel will be large criminal syndicates’ most effective way of eliminating unwanted individuals. They send them back in time to the mid 21st century to be killed and disposed of by “loopers” like Joe (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Taking care of the future’s problems pays well, but when it comes time to “close your loop,” a looper has to kill their future self to complete their contract, free to live their lives in luxury until they’re sent back in time to their demise. As Joe wryly states, it doesn’t attract the most forward-thinking of people. When Joe’s future self(Bruce Willis) turns out to be more than he can handle, he becomes a hunted man at odds with his own future.

I don’t have much to say about this film other than it is fantastic, original filmmaking. It’s just all-around solid story telling with some interesting flourishes to really make it shine. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose previous films include Brick and The Brothers Bloom, Looper cements Johnson as one of the future formative voices in Hollywood.

If the thought of Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a young Bruce Willis gives you any reservations, trust me — I was in the same boat. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. Prosthetics give Gordon-Levitt the signature Willis nose and tapered eyes, but it’s the performance that really sells it. Gordon-Levitt uncannily imitates Willis’ annoyed demeanor and no-nonsense voice, constantly peering out of the corners of his eyes. In addition, Looper‘s supporting cast of Emily Blunt, Garret Dillahunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano gives the audience someone great to watch at every turn.

A prosthetic-laden Joseph Gordon-Levitt stares down his character’s future. Photo by Rian Johnson, courtesy of Sony Pictures Publicity.

As convincing as Gordon-Levitt is as a young Willis, the world of Looper is just as plausible and engaging. Johnson and company have constructed a believable near future, with enough of the old world to make it familiar. Every prop in the film feels real and solid. Nothing looks as if it was handed brand new to an actor the day of shooting. The world and its contents feel lived in and weathered, from the tape on Joe’s weapon handle to cars retro-fitted for new power sources.

However, like any story involving time travel, there’s some logical issues that I’ve heard some people take issue with. I personally didn’t have a problem with them — I thought Johnson succinctly dealt with the complications of time travel in one humorous and entertaining scene between Willis and Gordon-Levitt. Unlike a lot of other time travel films, Looper doesn’t make every time travel sequence a big special effects scene — it’s straightforward and to the point. Also, this movie has one of the most interesting uses of a “past affecting the future” mechanic I’ve ever seen.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) waits for a mark from the future to take care of. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Publicity.

But at its core, this film isn’t about time travel. Rather, time travel enables the narrative to literally pit an old man against his past and young man against what he’s destined to become. Looper uses time travel to explore themes of violence and its cyclical, perpetuating nature. I’d like to get into the broader themes of the film more, but I can’t without spoiling the movie — so I urge you to take time to see the film yourself and pitch your two cents my way. It’s well worth it.

Looper will undoubtedly end of being one of my favorite films of the year, and I’ve already placed it among my much-loved recent works of science fiction such as Duncan Jones’ Moon, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and last year’s phenomenal Attack the Block, by Joe Cornish.

For a score, I give Looper a solid 10 cosmetically-altered Joseph Gordon-Levitts out of 10 cosmetically-altered Joseph Gordon-Levitts.

Oh, and here’s a trailer, if you haven’t seen it yet:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Samsara

A still from the film.

I recently had the opportunity to see Samsara at Harkins Valley Art. If you haven’t heard of this film, I’m not surprised.

Taking its name from the Buddhist concept of the cycle of death and rebirth all life is tethered to, Samsara is a non-narrative film that strings together visuals from around the world. Director Ron Fricke shot the film over the course of four years in 25 countries, taking his audience everywhere from the devastation of a post-Katrina New Orleans to the lavish splendor of Versailles, France.

The film’s website calls Samsara a “guided meditation,” which I’d say is a pretty accurate description. Thought at times, this lofty journey around the globe feels too forceful at others.

The lack of narration allows the viewer to make connections between the presented images and consider their meaning and relevance to one another. There were some points in the film where I struggled to weed out the significance or the unifying theme of a succession of images. In those cases, I found myself transposing my own narrative on the film, following the progression attentively. But there were times I was abruptly steered in one direction.

For example, the shots of ammunition and gun manufacturing cutting straight to the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Israeli checkpoints in Palestine are a bit on the nose.

Just a taste of the spectacle the film offers.

However, if you’re willing to overlook that, Samsara’s engaging visuals more than make up for it. Shot in high definition 70mm, the film allows you to experience Petra, Jordan like Indiana Jones never could. Everything captured in this film, from the primordial force of a Hawaiian volcano to the sterile calm of an indoor ski resort has an incredible life to it. The camera gives even the motionless subjects life. When they aren’t moving, the camera is, giving the landscapes, statues and desolation a vibrance of their own. Remember that YouTube video of the Filipino prisoners dancing from a few years back? Samsara captures these men in sharp focus, displaying what a tiny Internet video can’t, glimpsing their pain, boredom and in some cases, bizarre enthusiasm.

That’s the power of this film, I think. It shows you the best and the worst of the world in such stunning, unflinching detail; you can’t help but be swept up and feel connected to it.

Overall, if I had to give it a rating — because that’s what you do, right? — I’d go with 6.5 Petes out of 10 Petes. Because, having 10 Petes would be pretty cool, if I don’t say so myself.

Check out the trailer below, and if you have a chance see the film before it leaves theaters.

Tagged , , , , , ,