Drones. I watched this because the co-director is Amber Benson, for whom I have a long-lasting crush from her days on Buffy. As far as I know, it hasn’t played theaters yet … it’s been shown at some festivals, and I caught it On Demand via Comcast. It’s a wisp of a tale … I don’t like spoilers, but the premise is featured in all of the trailers, so I’ll just say it: it’s Office Space meets Close Encounters. I am not the world’s biggest Office Space fan, so your mileage may vary, but I found Drones to be congenial, if so low-key it almost disappears. The production team makes the most of the $500,000 or so they spent … the entire movie takes place on one set, for example. The acting is fine, there is little of the slapstick I find so boring in modern movies. It just lacks a certain something that would raise it to another level. (BTW, be warned that the Comcast On Demand version is in 4:3, while the movie is 2.35:1 … what Comcast has done is a travesty.)
Little Sinner. An “Our Gang” short from 1935. This made a very big impact on me as a kid, which led me to finally hunt it down after all these years. Spanky, Buckwheat and Porky play hooky from Sunday School to go fishing. A total eclipse takes place, at which time a mass baptism occurs in the lake where Spanky hoped to fish. When I was little, that baptism scared me as much as it scared Spanky. Apparently, this one was removed from the “Little Rascals” series of TV reruns in the early 70s, due to what Wikipedia calls its “racial content.” The churchgoers at the baptism are black, but I don’t think that was what I found scary … it was the whole “baptize them in the lake” part, with the subsequent shouts of “Hallelujah!” from the baptized, that got to me (that’s not how we did it in my church). In 1979, it was returned to the TV package, minus the eclipse and baptism. I found the original online.
Inception. A movie like this should seem even better after you’ve seen it. By that I mean, when a movie begs to be seen more than once, it is also begging to be analyzed incessantly, so the post-mortem becomes an integral part of our enjoyment of the movie. Now, I’m on record as generally disliking movies that require more than one viewing … it’s a concept that seems to encourage a level of fuzziness that can be too easily explained away as “well, you just need to see it again and it will make sense to you.” What’s odd about Inception is that I liked it more right after it was over, than I did once I gave it some thought. I looked over some of the reviews, and I was more convinced by the negative comments than by the positive ones, even though I came to those reviews with positive thoughts of my own. I will say that I loved the beginning of the scene with the train on the street … it came out of nowhere, just like it should have given the dreamscape. I wish Marion Cotillard had been given more to do. And I am quite impressed by the anal construction of the various dream depths … I believe Nolan really did know what he was doing. On the other hand, this movie didn’t just feel like a Philip K. Dick novel … that happens all the time … this one felt like a specific Dick novel, Eye in the Sky, one of his early works where eight people find themselves traveling in and out of the worlds inside each other’s minds. That book made far less sense than Inception, but that’s my point: a movie so involved with dreams should not make sense. Inception makes too much sense.
Point Break. In the past, I’ve thought of this as one of Kathryn Bigelow’s lesser films, but now I’m not sure what I was thinking. Well, OK, it’s kinda stupid, and the surfer/psycho philosophy of Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi isn’t particular convincing, although Swayze himself is fine. What Bigelow succeeds at is getting the viewer inside the concept of “pure adrenaline.” It’s not just that the action set pieces are good … they’re great, actually … it’s that they are innovative, and always connect us to the adrenal rush. The wonderful surfing scenes are probably the most standard action segments in the movie. The foot-chase between Bodhi-as-Reagan and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah is remarkable, as exciting as any car chase, ten years before parkour started showing up in movies. And the sky-diving sequences are mind-boggling. On the one hand, I was a bit saddened to learn from the disc’s extras how they shot a lot of those scenes … no, they weren’t really diving. On the other hand, it wasn’t all fake, either, most notably when Swayze says “Adios, amigo!” and rolls out of the plane as the camera follows his drop and no edits are to be found. Those extras even had a nice bit that helped explain how Keanu can be such an effective presence on the screen when his acting chops seem to be absent. John McGinley says that most actors look for a way to grab the camera and make it pay attention, but Keanu just sits back and lets the camera find him. And it works because Reeves and the camera are in sync.