VOD Log: Office Space

After seeing snippets here and there many times, and hearing about it in conversation on a number of occasions, I finally watched in its entirety Office Space.  Certainly it’s an iconic film, even borderline essential —  but that doesn’t mean it’s great.  The production values leave something to be desired, and purely as comedy it does not measure up to the best Apatow productions.  Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune characterized it as: “Drably shot, unimaginatively written and shallowly acted.”

Still, I recommend Office Space for its classic if rough-hewn content.  Despite its flaws, it musters up a few good laughs, and it’ll keep you in the know next time it comes up at the water cooler.  6/10

Availability: iTunes.  Comparison Notes: Any episode of The Office featuring Steve Carell (don’t bother with post-Steve Carell episodes) is ten times funnier than Office Space.  And, for a much better Mike Judge production, you may visit my post on Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.

VOD Log: 99 Homes

Cross House of Sand and Fog with Wall Street, filter through the lens of Blood and Wine, and you’d get something like 99 Homes.  Maybe a little anyway.  It is a compelling film throughout, if never quite explosive.  And it’s hard to put my finger on it, but it feels not altogether completely fleshed out, i.e. not as well-rounded as it could be.  Still, pretty darn good.  7/10

Availability: iTunes rental

French Highlights: La Cérémonie

La Cérémonie - poster

I lived in LA for three years, from 1995 through 1997, and caught what seems now an inordinate proportion of terrific films, among them a string of great French and Italian productions.  One of them was a compact little bulldog called La Cérémonie (1995), a later offering by French New Wave director Claude Chabrol.

In 2012, Roger Ebert rendered his highest rating, hailing it as a “Great Film”:

The French have a name for the events leading up to a death by guillotine. They call it “the ceremony.” Although Claude Chabrol’s “La Ceremonie” (1995) contains no guillotines, there is a relentless feeling to it, as if the characters are engaged in a performance that can have only one outcome. It comes as a surprise to all of them, and to us. But given these people in this situation, can we really say in hindsight that we’re surprised? …

The film implacably moves toward a horrifying conclusion.

Watch this one if you can find it.  Availability is limited to DVD rental from Netflix or purchase from Amazon, or VOD from British iTunes (purchase only £4.99!), but you’ll need an account for that store — which I am thinking of doing just for La Cérémonie — it’s worth it.

Holy See Log: Babette’s Feast

MIRTH is the operative word here.

Pope Francis continues to surprise and delight me.  What a breath of fresh air in the world!  His latest comments regarding Donald Trump brought me beyond mirth — they downright filled me with glee.  And last year when he was visiting the U.S., I was surprised to find out he’s a film buff; see “Pope Francis’ three favorite movies to be shown at Philadelphia theater.”  I had heard of Babette’s Feast some time ago; Fellini’s La Strada was already in my queue, and I’ve now added Rome, Open City.

Babette’s Feast draws multiple parallels to Big Night, and the comparisons bring about even deeper musings about life and our place in the world than either film does by itself.  Big Night is unquestionably the better film, but that could be said about most any other movie, as Big Night defines film.

There is one rather serious flaw in Babette’s Feast: people don’t live forever.  Time moves aggressively forward in the film, but the characters seem largely age-defying.  This flaw is hardly a deal-breaker, though.

Rita Kempley, The Washington Post:

This deceptively modest story, with its quiet colors and contemplative characters, actually teems with contrasts and subtle dynamics. The eternal burn of the artist vies with the cold fire of the puritan’s denial. Serious as it all sounds, Axel and his fine cast interpret Dinesen’s ironic original with great charm and gentle comedy.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

It is as if the portions of everyday sensuality they have refused all their lives are now to be totalled up and paid to them all at once in this remarkable feast, just when they must bid farewell to the world, with all its pleasures and vanities. Twenty-five years on, the story is still charming and beguiling.

Babette’s Feast — full of mirth and charm — almost defies a numerical rating, but when I have to get down to business I render an 8/10.

Availability: iTunes rental

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Local Hero, Breaking the Waves, Big Night

VOD Log: Two Step

Two Step - poster

Credit to my sister for bringing this low budget indie to my attention.  Two Step features a good, tense storyline driven by one mean hombre.  But a movie needs depth.  6/10

Availability: Netflix, iTunes

Two Step - text blockComparison Notes: (all recommended, and better examples of what Two Step was trying to achieve): I’ll See You in My Dreams, Last House on the Left, Eden Lake, Vacancy

Genre Essentials: Halloween

Halloween poster

Halloween (1978) is a genre essential, which is to say it’s not generally essential, i.e. a must-see for all who love movies, but if you’re into horror flicks or creepfests you really should get around to seeing it.  Better genre essentials in the ring include Paranormal Activity, Saw, The Blair Witch Project, The Shining, and The Ring.

Not that Halloween is bad.  The film features a terrific flow and a lush cinematic look, the earlier parts of the film rich in daylight sidewalk scenes — this is the part of the movie I loved.  But the plot has too many holes and continuity problems, and by comparison to more recent horror films, the payoff disappoints.  Sure people are being hacked and slashed frequently enough once the lights go down, but it’s just not that scary.

But it’s not boring   In its own modest way, it is creepy, compelling and dramatic.  But I wouldn’t classify it as a “Riveting Rental,” nor does it hit the fright factor like The Shining or The Ring — but then so few films do.  Besides being a good movie, it stands as the influential leader of the slasher sub-genre, and a horror classic — good reasons to give it a go.  Other items of note: the iconic soundtrack, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ first appearance in film.  For more, look at the extensive Wikipedia entry.  6/10

Availability: iTunes / Apple TV rental.

VOD Log: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials - poster

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estradadirected by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, is a story of redemption, which itself was redeemed by the end.  Which is to say most of it is not terribly robust.  A mild recommendation, with all the normal caveats in place.  6/10

Availability: iTunes rental

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A Note on Home Viewing

I think that this movie would have had a greater impact on me had I seen it in the theater, perhaps even enough for a higher rating, which brings up a point I wanted to make about seeing movies in the theater versus at home.  Certain critics out there have a rating system which goes something like “Very Good, see in the theater”; “Good, but not great — wait and see it at home”, and “Don’t bother.”  A nice, simple, direct rating scale.  But a film will  have more impact in the theater than at home.  Even under the most ideal circumstances, there will likely be an interruption or two while watching at home — something that doesn’t happen in the theater.  In this case, I admit there were several interruptions, which served to weaken the impression Three Burials made on me.  So if anything, it should be “Good, but not great — make sure to see in theater because if you don’t there’s no point in bothering later.”  The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada — and many, many other borderline films fall in this category.

Point being, to say “This movie is good, but not good enough to see in the theater” is contrary to logic in my experience.  I understand this is said as a recommendation for someone not to spend as much money to watch a film of lesser quality, but in light of the quantity and higher-than-ever quality of original TV programming and selections available via VOD, this type of recommendation doesn’t hold water.  A movie that isn’t worth seeing in the theater isn’t worth seeing period.