Movies and Data: A Love Story

I am a natural lover of data. I use that love to keep me motivated on my goals. I keep track of my expenses, my miles ran, and in 2019 I started keeping tracking of the movies I watched. I started with an excel file but now I use IMDb to keep track. It was easy to download the data and then do the below analysis.

2019 was the year I started taking my movie watching habit seriously. I saw some of my favorite movies of all time (Into the Spider-Verse, Y tu mamá también, The Farewell), caught up with some classics I had missed (The Conversation, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver) and sat through some duds (Avengers: Endgame, The Commuter, Always Be My Maybe).

Overall it was a great year and I am pumped to surpass these numbers in 2020. Do you keep track of your movies? Are you a data geek like me? Do you have a better system than me? Let me know and happy new year!

If you want to see the whole list, here is the link: Kevin’s 2019 Movies

LET'S GO SHOPPING!2

Star Wars: The Good, the Bad and the Kevin

Happy New Year everyone! My apologies for not producing more content recently. I don’t want to call it a New Years Resolution, but let’s see if I can’t crank out some more stuff for you guys this month, alright? Let’s begin by ranking the movies in a franchise that I’m sure all fans would agree with and that will cause no divided opinions whatsoever: Star Wars!

I recently rewatched every tale from a galaxy far, far away in order to prepare for The Rise of Skywalker. Most of it was fun, parts of it were excruciating and it was an important reminder that sometimes when it comes to the things you love, you have to take the good with the bad. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do a post where I rank each film, talk about what I both liked and didn’t like for each one and then have Kevin chime in with some of his thoughts. I’m still sorting out how I feel about the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, so we won’t get into that here. Maybe a future Let’s Talk About post, eh Kevin?

Without further adieu, here are my rankings. Should probably mention we’ll be getting into spoilers, but some of these movies are near or over 20 years old. What are you waiting for?

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Movies to Stream this Weekend

Hello and happy holidays! My gift to you is a list of a few films you might want to stream over this long weekend/holiday break. We are lucky enough to have endless entertainment at our fingertips but it can be overwhelming so here are a few of my recent watches that I want to recommend:

Netflix:

Marriage Story: Yes the memes are trying to shift the latest film by Noah Baumbach from a beautiful, yet unsettling, view of a collapsing divorce into an over-dramatic and self-serious snoozefest but I still think this film is worth your attention.

From the opening moments of professed love to the closing moments of sacrifice this film is enthralling through and through. Especially for those of us who have ever struggled keeping their sanity in a relationship, aka all of us. Come for the headliners of Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver but stay for the destruction and celebration of love.

American Factory: This might be a stark departure from the previous movie but it’s a must watch. American Factory is a documentary about a Chinese glass company coming to America to create jobs and solve our country’s issues. Okay they’re actually in it for the money but either way this company finds a home in Dayton, Ohio and almost single handily employs a small city of blue-collar workers.

Of course, it’s not that simple, the company brings it’s own Chinese workers to help get the company off the ground. This creates cultural tensions and doesn’t always end well. The beauty of this documentary is it covers an array of issues including workers rights to unionize, cultural expectations of hard work, and the hardships of the working class but it never demonizes either side of any issue. It’s just a brutal and honest depiction of these, and many more, issues.

Amazon Prime:

Brittany Runs a Marathon: Now as a three time marathon runner I am letting my biases get the best of me. Regardless, this movie is inspiring and heart wrenching and worth your time. Just be warned, it will definitely inspire you to get off the couch more often.

A true story of a funny, underemployed 20-something that decides to take one simple step to improve her life, start running. And she really does start with a single, simple, step as she huffs and puffs her way down one city block before eventually taking on her first 5k. From here on out the familiar beats of any “makeover” movie start to hit but the final act is full of surprise, cringe, and beauty that will make you question our society’s obsession with self-improvement. Overall an impressive debut for director Paul Downs Colaizzo who wrote the movie based on a former roommate of his.

A Simple Favor: A deliriously fun and engrossing watch from start to finish. The movie follows a meek mom vlogger Stephanie as she becomes unlikely friends with Emily, a career-obsessed mom who doesn’t take any bullshit. Emily, played intensely well by Blake Lively, suddenly disappears and Stephanie, played pitch perfect by Anna Kendrick, tries to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of her new friend.

This movie covers a lot of ground and delves into unexpected territory. A Gone Girl-esque thriller matched with director Paul Feig’s remarkable comedy. A thrilling and fun time all around.

YouTube:

Life in a DayA free movie on YouTube that is powerful, stunning, and completely unique. People around the world were asked to document a certain day of their life, July 24th, 2010 and it was then crafted into a beautiful film that reaches every corner of the Earth.

As real as anything you will ever watch, this movie has a bit of everything: comedy, love, heartbreak, and is impossible to turn away from. For voyeurs, travelers, or film enthusiasts this is a much watch. This film illuminates the wonder, horror, and beauty of the world we share.

 

Frozen II: Rinse, Repeat, Refreeze

“That’s just your fear. Fear is what can’t be trusted.” -Elsa, Frozen II

*Spoiler-ish review*

It was about halfway through my rant about the importance of explicit representation to my wife that I realized I was ripping apart a Disney animated movie made for children. But let’s back up.

“Cowards!” I believe was my first word uttered walking out of a date night screening of Frozen II. 

“I liked it and I had fun” was my wife’s response.

“Of course it was fun! And gorgeous! And funny! And charming! But…” I couldn’t hide my disappointment and I also couldn’t verbalize it.

Frozen II picks up a few years after the events of the original, ground-breaking (ice-shattering?) Frozen. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven live in the Arendelle castle singing songs about how great life is and how they never want things to change.

But Elsa can’t quite shake a restless feeling. After all, what is life without change? She is being called, somewhat literally but also figuratively, to a new adventure. She is grateful for what she has, her family, and her kingdom but there is something out there that she needs to discover.

And when she is finally forced to take action the movie follows our lovable group as they set off on a new adventure. Elsa is following a mysterious voice, Anna is following Elsa so she doesn’t get into trouble, Kristoff is following Anna so…he can propose marriage at the worst possible time, and Sven and Olaf are just happy to be there.

Yes, in this sequel, much like the original, the center of the story revolves around Elsa running into the wild to discover something about herself while her sister and a dude with confusing intentions follows behind. It’s a rinse and repeat of the prior arc except this time the movie feels foreboding.

The sing-song call that Elsa follows blindly is haunting, there are hints of a terrible truth about the sister’s ancestors and it bubbles around the surface, hell even the talking snowman is having an on-again, off-again existential crisis about his friends growing old.

The creators of this movie really seemed to be diving into something darker or deeper and un-Disney like for an animated movie. At some point I considered the possibility of a traumatic death, or a big reveal about a character’s sexual preference, or a statement on the long-term impacts of colonialism, or questioning of our society’s obsession with marriage. This journey felt different and more important and like they were gearing up to say something meaningful.

By the end, however, the big reveal was no reveal. Or at least no new reveal. Elsa learns to embrace her powers and that she can rely on her sister. It was a carbon copy ending of the original but without the epic rendition of “Let It Go”. It was a poor man’s retelling of Frozen but less entertaining that Olaf’s literal retelling of Frozen that occurs in the middle.

Which brings me to my cowards remark. Is it fair of me to demand the creators to take a huge risk with their beloved characters? Was I looking too hard at minor details as clues of an epic ending that did not exist? Do I have the right to be upset that they took an easy, unoriginal route in a movie that positively celebrates strong, independent women? Isn’t that aspect alone enough to satisfy my socially conscious mindset? What, exactly, did I want to happen? How did I want it to end?

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that the true beauty of the original Frozen was how different it was compared to a typical Disney princess movie. The original’s “twist” ending of the day being saved because of a sister’s love and not a man’s secured it’s spot as an all-time great film. That ending sounds trivial at this point in 2019 but in 2013 it was groundbreaking and important. And maybe that’s why I expected something bigger in this animated princess movie, because the original taught me it’s not only possible to push boundaries but it is important and necessary, no matter the genre.

So how did I want it to end? Without fear, I suppose, because even Elsa knows that fear is what can’t be trusted.

Hotel Transylvania: Bought It Before I Watched It

Sometimes you have to let go of a predisposition and give something a chance. This isn’t exclusive to film by any means, but given our tendency to hold certain actors or directors in a purely negative light, I’d say it’s a pretty common thing for those of us who love movies. One of my predispositions is to actively avoid most Adam Sandler films since the early 2000’s.

This is easier said than done. Sandler has remained very much in the spotlight over the past two decades, despite starring in numerous releases that were critically panned and universally rejected. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Grown Ups, Jack & Jill, Grown Ups 2 and Pixels are just a few of his misfires. That didn’t stop Netflix from handing him a multi-million dollar deal in 2014 to make exclusive content for the streaming juggernaut, which was extended in 2017. Either there’s still a market for his outdated comedy or Sandler has blackmail on every top executive in Hollywood. Maybe both.

And while there is plenty of evidence that his best days are behind him and that our time and money are best spent elsewhere, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the Hotel Transylvania franchise. I love animation and thought the premise was fun: some of the world’s most infamous movie monsters shack up together at Dracula’s manor turned hotel, mainly because they need to avoid humans to survive. It’s also not unprecedented for certain actors to be better suited for voice acting over live-action, so I figured what the hell? I paid the five dollars to buy Hotel Transylvania on blu-ray, fully prepared to be disappointed but hopeful that Sandler might still have a couple of tricks up his sleeve.

To my genuine surprise, I actually liked the movie. Now it’s certainly not without its faults. Sandler’s trademark toilet humor still rears its ugly head, despite the fact that it should’ve been left back in the 90’s. He also brings his usual cohorts along for the ride, and while I enjoy actors like Steve Buscemi and David Spade as much as the next guy, it’s hard for anything that Sandler does to feel fresh when he works with the same people over and over. I guess that Seth Rogen and James Franco are equally guilty of this type of nepotism, so I suppose I can’t trash Sandler too much for that. Thankfully, he restrains himself just enough here to allow this fundamentally entertaining story to shine through.

It’s also boosted by the presence of Genndy Tartakovsky. Having the Samurai Jack creator at the helm of your animated project is always a good thing, and of course he is his usual reliable self. Throw in some young(er) talent like Andy Samberg and Selena Gomez, and you have all the ingredients for a perfectly watchable family-friendly movie. That’s more or less what you get here, but audiences ate it up in droves. There have already been two sequels and there are plans for a fourth installment in the franchise. Is there any actor better than Sandler at securing his next payday? I’ll give him that much.

Suffice to say, I didn’t experience anything revolutionary with Hotel Transylvania. I also laughed a fair amount and didn’t feel like clawing my eyes out at any point. That’s a win for any movie not trying to take itself too seriously, especially a Sandler one. There’s also a brilliant joke at Twilight’s expense, which alone was worth spending the five dollars.

It’s the small things in life that you treasure.

Are ‘Don’t Breathe’ and ‘Panic Room’ the Same Movie?

Jesse: So Kevin, I have one question for you before we start… why would anyone want to break in to Jodie Foster or Stephen Lang’s house?

Kevin: Depends on who you’re asking. If you’re asking Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, it’s to “save” an underage girl from her pimp. But if you’re asking Jared Leto in Panic Room, it’s for the dollar dollar bills. Or I guess I should say the old paper stocks that are worth millions of dollar dollar bills.

I will say as I rewatched Panic Room, for this specific blog idea of yours, I had fun toying with the idea that Panic Room is a secret sequel to Taxi Driver and it picks up with Jodie Foster’s character as a mother trying to protect her daughter. It almost works actually! Both movies are set in New York, both movies have men acting selfishly, and both have lots of blood. And it actually makes you appreciate Foster’s desire to keep her daughter safe even more, she’s trying to build her a better life than she had but men keep bursting in to screw everything up. If only De Niro came in for a cameo, he could have dropped her off in a taxi! I feel like this should be canon, can this be canon Jesse?

I apologize, this is quickly going from, ‘are Don’t Breathe and Panic Room the same movie’ to ‘is Panic Room a sequel to Taxi Driver?’ Don’t even get me started about my theory that Don’t Breathe could have been the second sequel in this trilogy had it been set in the 80’s/90’s!

Jesse: You just opened Pandora’s box about unrelated movies that are actually part of the same franchise. That might have to be a new series of ours. Stay tuned…

But for the sake of this concept, here are three elements of Panic Room and Don’t Breathe that I believe make them virtually indistinguishable from each other:

  1. Three robbers attempt to break into home in pursuit of those dolla dolla bills
  2. They believe the job will be effortless, but the owner proves to be more than a match for the intruders
  3. The thieves spend as much time in peril as the owner

Now while the two films differ in other ways, to me these three are fairly ironclad. You with me Kevin or do you think I’m way off the mark here?

Kevin: As someone who just signed a lease for a New York apartment, I actually think Panic Room serves as an allegory for the tough New York real estate market. Or really it’s about the existential crisis one has when they get a mortgage and settle down in an unsettling house. Really we could compare this film to, like, Amityville Horror.

Fine, I’m just being a brat. The films do have those generic things in common. But I’m fairly certain we could apply that filter to a number of films. Case in point, Home Alone:

  1. Two robbers instead of three. Fine, a minor difference.
  2. The robbers think the house is abandoned but find a wee young lad who they believe is no threat.
  3. The thieves spend more time in peril than the kid.

This reminds me of when you tried to create structured rules for what makes a Christmas movie and, somehow, Die Hard did not count. So should I expect a ‘What Makes a Break-In Movie’ this year?

Jesse: Only if we don’t already answer that question here. Home Alone is definitely a Christmas movie, by the way. Being a brat is kind of fun.

So I think what you’re trying to tell me is that I’m not looking deeply enough for similarities and am just lazily skimming the bare surface to try and prove my point. Or something like that. Maybe we should look at what they don’t have in common?

Kevin: Hmm okay let me skim through my notes…

Panic Room had floating title cards that looked like it came out of an early 2000’s superhero movie. It had the largest CGI budget for dust and feathers probably in the history of film (seriously the detail on the dust was unsettling). And it might be the only film in existence that drags AFTER Jared Leto dies.

Okay and Don’t Breathe opened with an old dude dragging the lifeless, bloody body of a girl down the street, a little different than a 2000’s superhero movie. No CGI of any dust particles that I can recall. And it got better after the character, who Jared Leto would have played, died. That dude sucked, he literally peed on the floor.

In all seriousness I think the biggest differences between the films is the genre. I see Panic Room as a strict thriller that plays with the themes of change and protecting our children while Don’t Breathe is much closer to horror with it’s tropes of an unkillable killer and young heroic survivor and speaks to themes closer related to poverty and breaking out of the life path you are given.

Plus Don’t Breathe did that thing where they set themselves up for a sequel explicitly, which I think reeks of desperation. Can you imagine if Panic Room ended on a shot of a seemingly innocuous bookshelf that swings open to reveal a new panic room and then panned out to a frightened Jodie Foster who proclaims, “not this shit again” while Kristen Stewart cocked a shotgun? Then we would be talking about how these two movies really are the same.

What do you think? Did I miss-genre the two movies?

Jesse: Yeah, that probably wouldn’t have played as well at the end of Panic Room. I also think you’re on to something with the CGI effects, which have aged poorly in my opinion.

But no, you didn’t miss-genre them. If anything you right-genred them and emphatically answered, “No!” to the question, “Are they the same movie?” It may also be the least amount of time it took you to prove me wrong. Simply put, these films can’t be the same if they aren’t in the same genre and if they hit on different themes. To your point, Panic Room gets virtually all of its tension and suspense from the situation itself. Don’t Breathe throws in a lot of jump scares and seems determined to build up Stephen Lang as the next unstoppable horror movie monster. It’s a different approach to similar premises, although I would argue that Panic Room remains the better crafted and tightly paced film.

Did I throw in the towel too quickly here, Kevin? Or do you have further evidence to back up your points?

Kevin: I will admit I knew I would win this round, however I did expect you to put up a greater fight. I feel like I’m Jared Leto in Panic Room and the guy who reminded me of Jared Leto in Don’t Breathe. I’m aggressively trying to fight you on this and you’re like Forest Whitaker in Panic Room, “alright this was a bad idea, can we just leave?” In either scenario I end up dead but at least I was right!

I have to admit, even though your thesis was proven wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching Panic Room (not so much with Don’t Breathe). I wrote about two pages of notes with quips and observations. Let me leave you with my favorite and then you can wrap this up as you wish (hopefully you wrap it up but leave for the possibility of a sequel because I enjoy winning arguments). Anyway, here is the best joke that I couldn’t work into this article:

Kristen Stewart learned Morse Code from Titanic? Too bad she didn’t learn to jump off a sinking ship!

Yes, that was a jab at Twilight, and yes it was seven years too late.

Jesse: The joke’s on you, because I never saw Twilight, so that went completely over my head. Also, if you really are Jared Leto in this scenario, don’t do a flip when you get shot in the head and killed. It’ll just make you look silly.

The Conversation: The Importance of Listening

What follows is a lengthy summary of an 86-year-old man’s life for the review of a 45-year-old movie.

Recently, this blog lost a dedicated reader. This reader wasn’t our typical audience, he was an older man who likely lived a more interesting life than most of the characters in the movies we write about. However, he preferred to keep these stories to himself. Most likely due to a mix of his humility with a dash of fear of facing old demons.

This man caught onto the blog way back when Jesse and I had no clear idea what we wanted to write about (truth be told, we are still working through that). He stuck with us as we wrote about people dying in the zombie apocalypse, as we explored becoming a daily site for our local sports teams, and even the one or two video game posts that we have since buried. And as far as I could tell, he never missed a post.

I remember feeling embarrassed when I found out about this reader. Would he enjoy my writing? Would he understand what the hell I’m talking about? Would he bring it up at Thanksgiving?

Yes, like I said, this was no ordinary reader. This man was my grandfather, my ‘papa’ if you will. He was your typical curmudgeon of an old man. You couldn’t hold it against him because he was a marine and he fought for our country in the Korean War. He was also a cop, starting off small time and eventually working his way up to work on some harrowing sexual abuse cases as he worked on what you Law & Order fans might call the Special Victims Unit.

Eventually Red, as he was called his whole life due to his shocking color of hair, found a love of technology as he worked his way into wiretapping. He worked undercover, befriending perceived bad guys like he was a regular Leonardo DiCaprio (I like to imagine him having to say, “I’m not the fuckin’ rat, okay?” at some point in his life) while tapping their phones, houses, offices, etc. Oh the stories he couldn’t tell me out of fear of repercussions, those stories and secrets are now lost to time.

You can understand my concern when I discovered him to be a reader. How I live my life, in comfort, and my bitching of fictional stories on a screen never felt important enough to share with a man who, in my perception, lived a life full of unimaginable and real hardships.

And yet, this hard-ass of a man never made me feel that way. He had a huge heart for his family and a great sense of humor. Due to the former I think he felt it his duty to encourage me to follow my dreams and to write. Due to the latter I believe he found actual connection to my writing because he saw his smartass ways in my words. Hell, he would even tell me, “That Jesse kid ain’t bad either”. And that’s probably the highest compliment he is capable of giving to non-kin.

I received nothing but positive feedback from this man that I respected and feared. And yet I never found the courage to sit down with him and interview him thoroughly. It was out of both of our comfort zones to have these real, intentional talks, even when we knew he was on death’s doormat. Everything I have written about him above was gathered slowly, over the course of 29 years as I would peel away at his stories.

Of course I was never good at telling him about my life either. One thing I never confessed to him was the impact he had on my love of movies. My papa loved keeping up with technology so he would always buy whatever was the hot, new thing. He would buy it as soon as possible, knowing the value was sure to go down, just to show that he could afford it and that he was hip enough to know what was going on.

This desire to burn money led to him purchasing a brand new DVD player at the beginning of the format’s craze. In addition he built a collection of DVDs that Blockbuster would have been jealous of. In fact, he lovingly called his office Blockbuster and would MAKE me borrow a handful of movies whenever I came over.

This is where I watched the classics. Spartacus, History of the World: Part I, Blazing Saddles, King Kong, Twelve Angry Men, Spaceballs. (Okay so lots of Mel Brooks, where do you think he and I developed our sense of humor?)

Much like his life, we never spoke about the movies. In fact he hardly even ever watched them with me. But that didn’t matter, he helped introduce me to what would turn into a passionate hobby and along the way he always encouraged me to write, to follow my dreams.

Recently I was digging through an old scrapbook that his mother, my great-grandmother, put together. The scrapbook followed Red’s career through newspaper articles. She would cut out any mention of him, his second wife (also a cop), or anything to do with his area of expertise. It was here I stumbled upon a film review of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 thriller The Conversation. The story follows a surveillance expert named Harry Caul, played by Gene Hackman, who is focused on his craft and yet passive about the people’s lives he invades.

Being that my papa’s name was Henry, often called Harry (he had many nicknames) who later in life ran his own surveillance company outside of the police force, I immediately stopped skimming and read the review. Out of nowhere I then berated my poor sister, “DID THEY MAKE A MOVIE OUT OF HIS LIFE?”

Alas, Francis Ford Coppola did NOT write his masterpiece about my granddad. IMDb explicitly states that Harry Caul was inspired by a surveillance technology expert named Martin Kaiser. I suspect the clipping in the scrapbook was just an example of a mother trying to connect with her son by saving a review about a film he might like.

I will never know if my papa ever saw the movie that eerily echoes his life. Nevertheless, after a month of mourning I finally sat down to watch the film myself hoping to further understand a man that kept his secrets close.

The Conversation, cited as both Coppola’s and Hackman’s favorite film they were involved in, is a deep dive into the ethics of the world of surveillance right as technology was allowing the lines between privacy and publicity to be blurred. It’s a haunting reminder of the dangers of allowing technology, and even other people, into our lives. A fear that today, in 2019, is omnipresent as we surround ourselves with AI connected devices that run everything from our calendar to our homes.

It follows a determined man named Harry Caul, cited as the best surveillance man in the country. Caul keeps to himself in every aspect of his life. He shuts out his neighbors, his lovers, and even his most trusted employee. He is singularly focused on technology and getting the best quality of his recordings. He cares neither for the people he is spying nor their conversations saying, “All I want is a nice, fat recording.”

His desire to separate himself from his subjects stems from an incident in his past. Specifically, his role in a job that ended with a murder of three people. As a devout Catholic his guilt is amplified and his way of dealing with the guilt is by focusing on his work.

As he focuses more and more on getting an accurate and clear recording for his current job, the guilt overwhelms him as he realizes this is another recording that could end with murder. He ends up confronting the person who hired him, as much as the meek mild Harry Caul can confront someone. The end of the film follows Harry as he attempts to save the people he has helped put in danger.

The film is a masterpiece and holds up as such. The themes of the dangers and paranoia of surveillance are as prevalent as ever. And Hackman as a passive, helpless man who is just doing his job is haunting and unforgettable. Plus Harrison Ford is there and he brought cookies.

Most importantly, to myself, the film gave me a theoretical view into my papa’s life. It reminded me of stories he told me in the past that I had long forgotten. Particularly a lighter, albeit unethical, scene that saw a bunch of surveillance experts out on the town, drinking and having a good time offering to pick locks to impress a girl and using their surveillance power to look up the name and address of a reckless driver on the road just to freak him out. That scene gave me possible insight into the youth of a man I have only ever known to be an old man.

It helped me understand why he was so secretive about what he did. Whether it was shame or fear or just a desire to not bring up old demons, the man had a lot going on that I would never be able to understand.

It also confirmed what my sister and I would always joke about. Growing up we always accused him of tapping our phones much like the accusation of Harry’s lover Ann, “sometimes I even think you’re listening to me on the telephone”, she says laughing, “It just feels like you’re there”. Of course my papa always denied this but he seemingly always knew what was going on in our lives. Maybe he was just paying attention to his young grandchildren, using our parents to catch up on our lives to impress/spook us. Or maybe he was listening to every inane conversation, unable to break old habits.

I miss him dearly every day but his impact still lives on. Every time I sit down to watch a movie or write a post, I will remember his encouragement and, most importantly, his willingness to read and to listen.