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The NSFC votes: Llewyn Davis, a loser no more

The National Society of Film Critics (of which I am a member) might be the last group to vote, but it is usually the most interesting. Composed of some 60 critics nationwide, suspected of arcane rituals and snobby taste (all true!), they invariably buck the trend of every group that precedes them , but usually too late to make a difference.

This year was no exception. Wrapping up about three hours ago with unfinished, irresolvible discussions about where should the line between cinematography and animation (ie: Gravity) and whether the group should amend the categories of “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” to some gender free nomenclature, the society nonetheless managed to breeze through the voting with relative speed. No category went beyond two ballots, and a couple even were settled with one. Sounds like a lockstep conspiracy of film snobs to me.

And the big winner? The Coen Brothers’s Inside Llewyn Davis, which won for best picture, director, actor, and cinematography. Had they considered best animal actor, and I’m kicking myself now for not suggesting the idea, no doubt it would have gotten that, too, for the haunting performance of the big ginger cat who played Ulysses. And wouldn’t you know it, our group is the only one that picked that film for a winner.

This pleased me considerably, since I had placed Llewyn at number two on my top ten list (after Her, but it was a toss up). And as the voting continued, I had the eerie feeling that the group was unconsciously following my will, with many results identical to my own choices. In the non-fiction category, for example, my three choices (you are allowed to vote for three, with the first choice getting three points, the second two, and the third one) the final tally mirrored my own, though in the opposite order: The Act of Killing, At Berkeley, and Leviathan. Other results that heeded my secret bidding: James Franco for Best Supporting Actor for Spring Breakers, Cate Blanchett for Best Actress for Blue Jasmine. And Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle? Maybe not my first choice, but I can live with it.

But then my solipsistic pipe dream was punctured when Before Midnight beat out Llewyn for best screenplay. And Blue is the Warmest Color for Best Foreign Film? I will say no more about it. Here is the final rundown cut and pasted from the NSFC website:

Here is a list of the winners and runners-up, with vote counts from the final round


*1. Inside Llewyn Davis – 23

2. American Hustle – 17

3. 12 Years a Slave – 16


*1. Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) – 25

2. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) – 18

3. Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) – 15


*1. Blue Is the Warmest Color – 27

2. A Touch of Sin – 21

3. The Great Beauty – 15


*1. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) – 20

*1. At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman) – 20 [tie]

3. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel) – 18


*1. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke) – 29

2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen) – 26

3. American Hustle (Eric Singer and David O. Russell) – 18


*1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel) -28

2.Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki) – 26

3. Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael) – 19


*1. Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) – 28

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) – 19

3. Robert Redford (All Is Lost) – 12


*1. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – 57

2. Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color) – 36

3. Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) – 26


1. James Franco (Spring Breakers) – 24

2. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) – 20

3. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) – 14


*1. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) – 54

2. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – 38

3. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) – 18

3. Léa Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Color) [tie]–

18 EXPERIMENTAL FILM Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel),

Boston Society of Film Critics 2013

We are now in the Carver Ballroom in the Revere Hotel. There is a Christmas tree in the corner, and a conference table with some twenty odd film critics gathered around it eating muffins and drinking coffee.
The atmosphere is electric! This is so exciting!
Our first crisis: will we need more chairs?
To be continued…
A bunch of business stuff. When will we meet next year. I say, let’s enjoy this year while we can and let next year take care of itself. As they say in “Dead Poets’ Society,” “Carpe Diem!”
I keep this to myself.
This a very long conference table. I can’t hear what people on the other end are saying.
Damn. I forgot to bring my dues.
Recording someone’s proxy votes, I put down “12 Years Asleep.” Got to pull it together!
This business stuff can take a while…
From the President: “We’re not at the vote yet.”
Now we are, kind of.
commendation for Midnight Film Series at the Coolidge Corner passes unanimously! Congratulations, guys!
Five minute break and the real voting begins!
Countless repetition of the names of the movies voted for: this is what we live for.
I am starting to realize that I am the only person who saw “I Used to Be Darker.”
Inside Llewyn Davis
Wolf of Wall Street

BEST EDITING (In Honor of Karen Schmeer)
Round one: no winner
Round two: A WINNER!
Wolf of Wall Street

round one: no winner
round two: a winner!
Emmanuel Lubezki for GRAVITY
runner-up: The Grandmaster

NEXT: NEW FILMMAKER (In Honor of David Brudnoy)
round one: no winner
round two: A WINNER:
Ryan Kugler, “Fruitvale Station
runner up Joshua Oppenheimer, Act of Killing

As reward for a rapid progress: PIZZA! Made specially for BSFC by the chef at the REvere Hotel
Thanks Revere Hotel!

BACK to work.
Next is Best Animation.
Inkoo Kang of the Village Voice is reading a statement questioning the morality of Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” because it glorifies the inventor of a weapon used to commit atrocities, and whitewashes history and vindicates war criminals. (My apologies to Inkoo for this rough paraphrasing of an eloquent statement.)

I am tempted to defer voting. But the argument reminds me of the criticism of “Zero Dark Thirty.” I mumbled something to this effect, saying that depiction is not advocacy (as Bigelow said) and that Miyazaki is putting the burden of moral determination on the viewer.
Four members are abstaining.
I am not.

no winner
The Wind Rises

NEXT: Documentary
This might take a while since there are a million great docs this year.
Though Ty Burr suggests we vote for “Salinger” for worst documentary.

Round One
no winner
Round Two:
no winner
Round Three:[no proxies]
Act of Killing

NEXT: Screenplay
Round One:
no winner
Round Two:
no winner
Round Three: [no proxies]
No winner
Round Four
No Winner
Round Five
We have a dilemma because “Wolf of Wall Street” is one of the high vote-getters, in a virtual tie with “Enough Said,” but neither are winners, and because of a late press screening date for Wolf not everyone has seen it and some of those who haven’t seen it are abstaining.
A show of hands voting between those two films results in A WINNER
Nicole Holofcener for “Enough Said.”
Runner Up: “Wolf of Wall Street”

First Round:
no winner
Second Round:
no winner

[Some testy exchanges among those who disagree about Meryl Streep’s performance in “Osage.” Some say Best Actress, some want to give her our annual Anne Bancroft Award for Overacting.]

Third Round:
A winner!
Runner Up:
12 Years a Slave


First Round:
no winner
Second Round:
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

round one
round two
[Question raised: Is James Gandolfini in “Enough Said” a supporting role? No answer.]
no winner
[Apparently Gandolfini is being considered by most for supporting actor]
round three
no winner
round four will be a run-off between the top three
And so he is: James Gandolfini wins
Barkhad Abdi for Captain Philips
Jared Leto Dallas Buyers

and, in the blink of an eye, on the first ballot, it goes to Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

round one
no decision
round two
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf of Wall Street

round one
no winner
round two
no winner
round three
no winner
round four
a run-off between Scorsese, McQueen, and Coens
WINNER: Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave”
runner-up Scorsese
[More grumbling about the late screening of “Wolf of Wall Street..”]

round one
round two
“12 Years a Slave”
“Wolf of Wall Street”
[more grumbling re: late “Wolf” screening]

[some wag commented that “Wolf of Wall Street” will probably finish second in this category, too]
round one
no winner
round two
no winner
round three
Blue is the Warmest Color

That’s all!
And just over five hours!
Until next time….

Expended families


gogo you_re-next---_neighbors_

The movies have always relied on screwed-up families for stories, but I can’t remember seeing as many on that subject as I have recently. They make “The Family,” adroitly discussed below by Henry, look well adjusted. And not just mainstream, genre, or Hollywoodish movies, like “You’re Next, “Prisoners,” “A Single Shot,” and “Baggage Claim.” but also Indie films like “Mother of George” and “We Are What We Are.” So is the nuclear family undergoing a crisis these days? Probably, but when isn’t it?  But I think the prevalence of such movies reflects a crisis experienced by society at large, of which the family is the smallest unit, a microcosm of what’s going wrong in general.

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These kinds of extrapolations always get me in trouble with people who deny such close connections between real life and the world on the screen. After all, these films are developed sometimes years in advance of their release. Are the filmmakers psychic, then, and can predict what the hot issues will in the future? And then, of course, there’s the usual– “it’s only a movie.”

But how does one account for the fact that both “Prisoners” and “A Single Shot” open and close with nearly identical scenes? Both begin with the protagonist hunkered down in a wintry forest with a rifle, setting up a shot on a deer.

gogo large_a_single_shot_1

Both end with the protagonist trapped in a deep pit, literally or figuratively, of his own making. I think what transpires between these two scenes can be read as a commentary on the audience’s subconscious anxieties about domestic security in general, about what threatens it, what should be done to protect it, and what the moral ramifications of such measures might be.

In both films the father either initiates or exacerbates the threat to his family by his macho behavior In “A Single Shot,” the protagonist John Moon (Sam Rockwell), a marginal recluse type with survivalist tendencies, finds himself in a moral dilemma after the title discharge, and his poor judgment, driven by greed and a desperate need to restore his broken family, directs him to action that not only compromises him morally but also makes the situation worse.

In “Prisoners,” on the other hand, the pater familias Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) lives in a more upscale middle class neighborhood. But he also has the makings of a militiaman, what with his basement stockpile of goods and ammo in preparation for some apocalyptic social breakdown. Unlike Moon, he does not actually initiate the crisis – the kidnapping of his and a neighbor’s daughter  – but he certainly doesn’t improve the situation by resorting to extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation of the chief suspect

gogo prisoners-movie-thumb2

(i.e., he chains him to a radiator and beats the shit out of him to get him to talk).

“A Single Shot,” seems to suggest the notion that, like Moon, America is responsible for its own troubles, having instigated terrorist assaults through their own indiscretions in foreign policy. And in “Prisoners,” the subtext suggests that though the US does not bear any responsibility for the woes inflicted on them by outside evil-doers, it can be faulted for its poorly thought out, heavy-handed response, which seems only to have made matters  worse.

Whether these subtexts were intended, or even exist, seems moot at this point. They did not resonate with audiences. “Prisoners” has grossed to date about $49 million, but since it cost $46 million to make and who knows how many millions to promote and market, it hasn’t been a winner. As for “A Single Shot,” it made around $16, 000 bucks, which might cover catering costs.

Perhaps the two movies got stiffed by audiences because they both engage in the never popular practice of male-bashing and discrediting the patriarchal roots of American society. In which case “Prisoners” gets a raw deal, because [and this involves really major spoilers] the ultimate culprit proves to be that archetypical bad guy, the wicked matriarch. Yes, behind every bad or mixed-up man is an evil woman.

gogo melissa-leo-prisoners-movie-still

“Prisoners” doesn’t reveal the gender of the real culprit until near the end.  But a couple of the other films mentioned above don’t beat around the bush, but put the blame on a woman from the get-go.

In Andrew Dosunmu’s “Mother of George,”

gogo mother-of-george

set in a sumptuously rendered Nigerian community in Brooklyn, a woman fails to bear a child for the easy-going restaurant owner  who brought her over from Africa for that purpose. Though it’s clear that the husband is shooting blanks, his termagant mother badgers the wife, subjecting her to potions and charms and finally insisting that she commit an act that is duplicitous, but  effective. To the mother-in-law’s credit, however, she is nominally acting in the service of a male-dominated system.

In David E. Talbert’s “Baggage Claim,” another woman, a flight attendant named Montana (Paula Patton, whose appeal escapes me), 

is berated by mom for  failing her gender responsibility of getting married, settling down, and having kids. She takes drastic measures to get with the program, but the situation is made more urgent when her younger sister gets engaged. So Montana sets off to revisit her various exes across the country (though not, and perhaps this was intended ironically, in Montana) to see if maybe she overlooked something the first time around, and come up with her own beau when the wedding takes place in 30 days.  Kind of like Bill Murray in “Broken Flowers,”  except offensive and stupid.

What a surprise when  Montana realizes that you don’t need a man to define who you are, unless you mean Mr. Right, who turns out to be right under her nose!  As for mom, sure she was a tyrant (and a bit of a castrating man-eater, as she has been married and divorced six times) determined to destroy  her daughters’ lives, but she had the best intentions at heart.  Plus, she’s family. So, hugs all around. Even Djimon Hounsou’s billionaire hotelier – who is inexplicably smitten with Montana and wants to underwrite her freedom and pretty much her every desire but will not marry her

gogo baggage-claim-djimon-hounsou-paula-patton

– has to admit that all turns out for the best.

And it turned out pretty well at the box office, as the film ended up grossing $16 million, or about twice what it cost to make. So maybe the state of the family is not so bad after all.


More Murderers Among Us

DSC_0271 copyDocumentary filmmakers must be ever vigilant lest their movies get kidnapped by their subjects. It’s not a question of whether the filmmaker and the subjects don’t have similar goals; they might or might not. But even the most naturally empathetic documentary director has to ward off the seductive charms of a subject who implicitly offers to exchange access in exchange for uniformity of perspective. Complicating the matter, some subjects don’t want what is conventionally regarded as sympathy. They might want the audience to fear them or even be repulsed by them. It’s the games people play.

Wild Man Blues, Barbara Kopple’s 1997 post-facto promo of a Woody Allen musical tour, is a case in point. Although Kopple had proven her ability to look at her subjects with two eyes – one admiring, one skeptical – in American Dream (1990), she got all dewy-eyed over Allen and sympatico with his apologists. The movie was a vessel for Allen’s narcissism.

With The Act of Killing, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer pulls a double-dare on his subjects, Indonesian gangsters and militia members who led death squads in the mid-1960s. He offers to turn the movie over to them, to make the movie they’d like to see made about themselves. He provides some historical background, includes present-day documentary footage, but mostly shows the retired mass murderers plotting, rehearsing, and staging their feature film.

As cut, The Act of Killing focuses on Anwar Congo who, before 1965, was a scalper and low-ranking gangster of vague description. Then the Indonesian government, led by President Sukarno, was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup led by General Suharto. The coup leaders used private militias and criminal gangs to carry out a massive number of massacres, ultimately leading to the death of well over a million civilians, including men, women, children, infants and the elderly. The aim of the coup was to eliminate communist influence within the government; the aim of the massacres was to kill all the communists, with the term broadly defined to include anyone with liberal leanings, union affiliation, or a teacher’s credential, and their families. An entire village could be wiped out just by an unproven allegation of communist “sympathies.” In the United States, the press coverage played down the massacres, instead praising the new rulers for keeping the Indonesian domino from falling.

A film noir reenactment scene from Drafthouse Film's documentary, The Act Of KillingAnwar Congo led a death squad and according to someone in the film meaning to praise him, personally killed a thousand people. Congo doesn’t propose a personal death count of his own, but he does demonstrate a strangulation technique he personally developed to speed up his kill rate.

There are other killers in the movie, including an old gangster buddy of Anwar’s and the head of a still-popular militia. The culture at large has done more than protect these people; it has lauded them. In one brain-blowing sequence, Anwar appears on a local TV talk show where the smiling young host talks about his murders as if they were the recipes of the week.

It’s Anwar’s movie that is at the heart of The Act of Killing. A stop and start affair thanks to Anwar’s indecision over both the appropriateness and liveliness of certain scenes, the movie is loaded with the kind of kitsch that seems endemic to the totalitarian mind. In fact, both Anwar’s movie and the “real” movie begin and end with a musical sequence that promises comedy to begin with and then ends with devastating irony.

But the largest pay-off comes when you pay close attention to the way Anwar structures his own movies. When he’s alone with the movie crew, revisiting some of the scenes of his many crimes, he appears disturbed, talking about ghosts and guilt and even vomiting in apparent self-revulsion. But when he’s directing himself in scenes which feature his supporters and old comrades he is not exactly boastful, but he does allow himself to bask, apparently modestly, in their praise for his barbarism.

This is where Oppenheimer’s brilliance makes its mark. Plenty of filmmakers have interviewed and/or followed murderous sociopaths, but I can’t think of any who have revealed sociopathy at work.

Preparing for a reenactment scene from Drafthouse Film's documentary, The Act Of KillingAt times, it’s easy – crushingly easy – to see. Anwar’s recreations of massacres involve the impressment of locals as cinematic victims, especially women and children. But the horror of brutalism is not past. Although they naturally don’t measure up to the original crimes, these reenactments still terrify those forced to impersonate the raped, mutilated, and dead. You can see women struggle to keep their mounting panic under control; worst of all, you can see children break out into nearly hysterical crying. When Anwar goes over to calm the children after the scenes are finished, what you are witnessing is not true compassion, but the exercise of power, they private gloating of a killer pleased to see his talent for terrifying is still intact.

Those scenes where Anwar shows apparent regrets are equally troubling. Anwar isn’t overtaken by genuine grief. He is doing what deadly sociopaths do all too well: He’s mirroring, discerning what his more human audience expects to see and delivering it to him. Like his mad brethren, he is copying what we’d consider “normal” affects. Paradoxically, when he’s at his most pathetic, he’s revealing his most deadly side.

So An Act of Killing isn’t a record of a killer who had outlived his time. It’s a warning that monsters still live among us.

Upwardly mobile

 gogo 10 Matt-Damon-Elysium-Movie-Wallpaper

Remember the 99%? Hollywood does, sort of. Two very different studio releases – “Elysium” (which opens today) and “Paranoia” (opens  August  16) – revisit the oh-so-2011 issue of economic and political inequality, and explore the possibility of returning power to the people..

But first of all, what is it with these big-name, presumably fully-coiffed actors playing it bald in their latest movies? Harrison Ford in “Paranoia”

 gogo ten bald ford

and Matt Damon in “Elysium”

 gogo 10 bald damon

both sport the skin-head look. Just wondering, but in addition to this superficial similarity (or is it so superficial?), the two films have a lot in common.

In the tradition of movie dystopias going back to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and even H.G. Wells’s novel “The Time Machine” (1895) – or, more recently, the ambitious but silly 2012 allegory “Upside Down” – the world in Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” has taken the upstairs/downstairs arrangement to extremes.

In the year 2154, the planet has gone to pot, poisoned by pollution, wracked by crime, poverty and disease, and monitored by a brutal police force of Robocop-like automata.

But if you’re one of the lucky few to be a citizen of the title space station, an orbiting Garden of Eden featuring unlimited luxury, eternal youth, with piped-in classical Muzak and unflattering, monotone pant suits,

gogo 10 elys pant suit

who cares? But the surface does provide the parasitic Elysium with the raw materials and labor that keeps the good life going, and there’s also the pesky problem of shuttle-borne illegals sneaking in through the tight security, so Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster with an inexplicable, affected, plummy accent) keeps herself busy maintaining draconian order.

Meanwhile, back on earth in a future LA

 gogo 10 mexico city elysium

that makes the city in “Blade Runner” look like Beverly Hills (actually, it’s a CGI-souped-up Mexico City; as is also evident in his “District 9,” if there’s one thing Blomkamp is good at, it’s futuristic grubbiness and squalor), lumpen laborer Max (a bald Matt Damon) is enjoying  the fruits of over a century of government deregulation and is working in a factory under subhuman conditions. In an ironic touch, he works at an assembly line building the same robotic police robots that had broken his arm in a preceding scene. But an accident irradiates hum lethally, and he’s told he has six days to live, is given some pills, and is sent home.

Now one of the big draws of Elysium is that citizens have access to a device that can heal everything (it looks like a tanning bed); the place combines Obamacare with the miracle cures of Lourdes. So in order to save his life, Max must somehow gain entry into Elysium and get into one of the healing machines. This involves working with the quasi-revolutionary human trafficker Spider (a hyped-up Wagner Morra) who has him fitted with a mechanical exo-skeleton that combines the power of Iron Man’s armor with the excruciatingly application suffered by Wolverine for his adamantium implants.

It turns out a bad guy has the same outfit, and the last hour of the movie consists of the kind of rock-em, sock-em action seen in about a dozen films this summer.

 gogo 10 Elysium-fight

So by the end I don’t think too many people will be pondering the future of class conflict, nor will the filmmakers after raking in an estimated $35 million opening weekend box office.

A more down-to-earth version of the same scenario, “Paranoia,” adapted by Robert Luketic from Joseph Finder’s 2004 novel, investigates solutions to economic disparity that are less drastic than crashing space shuttles into utopian real estate or blowing people to smithereens (another of Blomkamp’s talents – graphic displays of the effect explosives have on the human body).

At an Apple-like corporation, the loathsome mogul Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman at his malice-oozing best) cans a bunch of 20-something  employees after Adam Cassidy (Liam Helmsworth), their spokesperson, gets mouthy at a pitch session. Pissed off that his generation has been disenfranchise dfrom the American Dream by a bunch of old fogies , Adam does something indiscreet, gets caught, and is extorted by Wyatt into infiltrating his rival Jock Goddard’s (a bald Harrison Ford) company and stealing their secrets.

So instead of donning a pumped up  exoskeleton and taking a shuttle to the promised land, Adam puts on an Armani power suit and drives a Porsche, infiltrates the inner circle of power, gets a taste of it, and faces some tough moral – and political – choices while sampling fine wine and the charms of his thoroughbred co-worker, Emma Jennings (Amber Heard). 

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Among those films that “Paranoia” probably will be compared to (in addition to “Elysium,” though I think that I am, so far, alone in that). Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” (1987) offers some of the more interesting parallels. Indeed, when I recently interviewed Finder, the author of the book, he said that he had deliberately imitated elements of that film, but with key changes.

In particular, the father: in “Wall Street” the aspiring financial buccaneer played by Charlie Sheen has a broken-down working class dad (played by Martin Sheen) who is a font of wisdom and moral clarity. In Finder’s book, however, Adam’s broken down working class father is a total prick, an abusive monster dying of emphysema. You want to hand Adam a pillow and say, “Do it quickly.”

But in the movie, dad is again the font of wisdom, advising Adam about the right thing to do, and let’s say it doesn’t involve armed rebellion against the oppressive ruling class.

Which brings up another difference between the book and the movie, a change that may be attributed to the economic turmoil of the years since the book’s publication in 2004, in particular the financial meltdown and the abortive Occupy movement. Finder’s Adam is a cynical loner out to help himself. In the movie, though, he represents a generation of young people who want access to the same rewards of the system as their stingy elders. In other words, the system is fine, as long as we get included in it, too.

That’s my take, anyway. I’m still working on what the deal is with the bald guys.

–Peter Keough

First/last date movies


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Having seen both Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” and Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy”

gogo 4 date journey to italy carousel

recently got me to thinking: what is the worst date movie ever made? (I am in fact hosting a poll of readers in the “Boston Globe” on that very subject). And what exactly is a “date movie?” To answer the latter question I referred to the ever helpful “,” which describes a “date movie”  as “a film that would be enjoyed by someone on a date, like a romantic comedy.”

Well, the last romantic comedy couples on a date might have enjoyed was probably “Silver Linings Playbook,” and I can see why.

gogo 4 date SilverLinings-3

It features a kooky mismatched pair (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) who are both self-destructive and mentally ill and includes an abusive father, nymphomania, a hopeless, pathological, unrequited past love, a mob of obsessed, racist, and violent football fans, and a dance contest. How can a couple see that movie and not leave the theater walking hand in hand?

But as I look at the films in theaters today, I don’t see any that might  qualify as a date movie.

“This Is the End?” Though I find the spectacle of Michael Cera impaled on a lamp post appealing, I can see some being turned off by it, and also having uneasy feelings about Jonah Hill being humped by Satan.

“Star Trek into Darkness?” Any movie attended by people wearing fake pointed ears is not a date movie.

“Man of Steel?” The love interest between Lois and Superman might be of interest for about ten minutes, but I doubt if anyone’s ardor will be fanned by the final hour or so of what is the equivalent of “Hulk smash!”

“World War Z,” on the other hand, features Brad Pitt,

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one half of Hollywood’s most romantic couple (if they’re still together!)  But you just can’t make a zombie sexy. Rotting flesh, cannibalism, mass killings of lumbering mindless humanoids, endless head shots  – it’s like a video game. And it is.    

gogo date game WarZ

Henry will be reviewing the movie, and maybe he can give us a heads-up about how it rates, date-wise.

Anyway, summer might be the wrong time to look for a good romantic comedy. It’s not that nobody goes on dates in the summer, but Hollywood seems to believe that from May to September the only people who go to movies are males with an average age, chronologically or emotionally, of 12. And it won’t be long before “summer” will be with us 365 days a year.

So this is probably the wrong time to be searching for date movies, good or bad.

Except, as mentioned before, “Before Sunset” and “Journey to Italy.” I’m sure anyone who took someone out for a dinner and a movie and caught one those two is probably sorry they didn’t stay home and watch “Mad Men” or “True Blood” on TV.

“Before Sunset” and “Journey to Italy” are definitely examples of what I’ve been calling  “last date movies,” a term I’ve been congratulating myself on coming up with until  I found out Roger Ebert had long before beaten me to that idea in his review  of “Valentine’s Day” (which, oddly enough, also stars Bradley Cooper)

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Valentine’s Day is being marketed as a Date Movie,” he wrote. “I think it’s more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.”

I find the idea of attending a “first/last date movie” as a litmus test of your partner’s compatibility intriguing, but  risky. A better method might be taking a date to a movie you do like, and then gauge the reaction. I find that John Ford’s “The Searchers” is a deal maker or breaker. Consequently, I at one time found myself home alone a lot watching “The Searchers.” So you might want to start off with the easier stuff first, rather than hit the person straightaway with, say, “Shoah” or “Salo” or “The Three Amigos.”

But back to the topic of worst/best/first/last date movies. Perhaps the worst first date movie was a movie in a movie, “Taxi Driver,”  in which Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle takes the beautiful sophisticated woman played by Cybil Shepherd to a porn flick.

gogo 4 date taxi

Can you imagine how the film might have turned out had he taken it her to say, “A Star Is Born,” which was the third highest grossing  movie in 1976? Then “Taxi Driver” itself might have turned out to be a date movie. As it is, though, I think it might a bit of a risk. I think you might want to try “The Searchers” first.

There have been other movies that I have liked, but which in retrospect proved not to have the best to bring a date to. They include Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day,”  with an unfortunate oral sex scene, and Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting,” for too many reasons to list. Speaking of “Trouble Every Day,” “World War Z” and the date deadening effect of zombies notwithstanding, you shouldn’t write the undead off. Vampires are hot, as witness their proliferation on the both the big and little screen, the “Twilight” movies being the most obvious example.

But are the “Twilight” movies actually “date movies?”  Here is where the concept of “date movie” has been supplanted in the lexicon by “chick flick,” defined, again by my invaluable authorities at “” as “Sometimes offensive. A movie that appeals to a woman, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.” That pretty much describes “Valentine’s Day,” especially the offensive part.

Or, to define “chick flick” in light of the many hours I have spent watching beer commercials on TV:  a chick flick is an unpleasant chore a guy has to do occasionally in order to get the old lady off his case so that he get back to the important guy stuff of eating pizza, drinking Bud with his buds, playing video games, and going to movies like “Star Trek into Darkness.” And they say the age of romance is dead.

– Peter Keough


The sense of an ending

[Some spoilers possible]

It’s not even the middle of June and I’m already tired of watching cities explode. Two in two nights. Two nights ago with “This Is the End,” last night “Man of Steel.”

Someday I’ll have to see “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which will make three. And are there any exploding cities in “Iron Man 3?”  Even if there isn’t, there are plenty more where those came from. This summer a week will not go by without a variation on this theme: “World War Z,” “White House Down,” “ Pacific Rim,” “The World’s End,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.” Well, the last one just seems like the end of the world.

Didn’t we get this out of our system in 2012 after the bogus Mayan prophecy? And whatever happened to “too soon” when it comes to movies shamelessly exploiting 9/11 imagery? I am reminded of the Theodor Adorno quote cited in J. Hoberman’s fine new book “Film After Film” – “He who imagines disasters in some way desires them.” And who wouldn’t want to see Michael Cera hooked like live bait on the splintered end of a shattered lamp post as happens in one of the more amusing scenes in “This Is the End?” The film’s irony aside, it reeks of self-loathing. No Fox News windbag or Evangelical scold could paint a more damning picture of Hollywood. Drawing on the Book of Revelations, not to mention the exorcism scene in “The Exorcist,” it is a self-flagellating admission that Hollywood is the new Babylon, doomed to utter damnation and the inescapable nuisance of Danny McBride when the end finally does arrive.

gogo 2 the end

As for Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” Henry will be reviewing that film in detail in another posting, but I did want to share a couple of observations. First, didn’t we have those giant mechanical jellyfish destroying cities in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon?” Except in that case they looked more like giant mechanical shrimp.

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There are many other annoying borrowings from other movies, but what’s the point of complaining? That’s what most movies are these days, though some are more artful about it.

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Second, no doubt others have pointed this out, but isn’t this a kind of comic book, f/x-addled version of “The Passion of the Christ?” 

gogo 2the-passion-of-the-christ-2

Some similarities: Kal-El has a unique birth (though a reverse of the Biblical version – in a world where reproduction is all artificial, his is the only natural, i.e, non-virgin birth). He has been sent into this world by his father to redeem it. He conceals his true identity until the Messianic age of 33 when he offers himself up to the Satanic powers of General Zod as ransom for the human race. He refuses the diabolical temptation to use his omnipotence to take over world. In a punishing sequence reminiscent of the brutal stations of the cross in Mel Gibson’s movie, he gets beaten like a piñata by Zod and his minions for what seems like the whole movie. When the final Apocalyptic battle begins he takes on the cause of good against the powers of evil, though Zod and company seem less like Satan and his legions than they do the neocon Spartans in Snyder’s “300”). And to sum up, Kal-El/Superman is guided by a spectral dad  who is a combination of God the Father and God the Holy Ghost; he has a longsuffering mother; and he suppresses his hots for that modern day movie equivalent of a harlot, a female journalist.  (Okay, that last one is more like “The Last Temptation of Christ”).

Maybe fundamentalist groups should send busloads of believers to see both of these movies, or rent them (in expurgated versions, of course) and show them in their churches.

In truth, though, the only end that films like “Man of Steel” prefigure (not so much “This Is the End,” which I laughed at frequently and inanely – though I’m afraid, seemingly unambiguous ending notwithstanding, it will spawn several “Hangover” style sequels), is that of narrative filmmaking as we’ve come to know it. Such films point to a cinema experience reduced to endlessly repeated formula and 3-D destruction, and perhaps are a foreshadowing of  the “implosion” of Hollywood that Steven Spielberg has prophesized. And he should know – after all, he pretty much started it..

 — Peter Keough