Monday, January 4, 2016

Black Mass

Last month, I saw Black Mass at the Castro Theater.

Black Mass starring Johnny Depp & Joel Edgerton; directed by Scott Cooper; (2015) - Official Website

A stylish 1970s period piece about Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), Black Mass reminded me of Donnie Brasco, American Hustle & American Gangster.  Based on the true story of Bulger's co-opting his FBI handler into his accomplice.

South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is surviving in the early 1970s until childhood acquaintance John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) returns to town.  Connolly is now an FBI agent and he proposes that Whitey become an FBI informant.  Whitey can feed Connolly information about the Patricia Crime Family, a rival criminal gang.  Connolly can bust the organized crime family while Whitey benefits from having his main rival gang busted up as well as from having FBI protection.

From the start, Connolly seems more eager to be Whitey's confidante and friend than his FBI handler.  Bulger is suspicious of the arrangement and loathes the prospect of being an informant even if he would benefit from it.  Ultimately, Whitey reluctantly accepts the arrangement but quickly turns Connolly's hero worship to his advantage.  When Whitey's son dies of Reye's Syndrome,  the already violence prone gangster loses much of his sense of self-control and Connolly willingly abets him at every turn.

While Connolly is covering up Bulger's criminal activities and harassing the Italian Mob, Bulger consolidates his power in Boston and gets involved in a money laundering scheme involving a professional jai alai league.  At times, it sounds too outlandish to be true but as far as my research shows, Black Mass gets the major facts correct.  Ultimately, Connolly's superiors become suspicious of his association with Bulger while Bulger's homicidal tendencies create plenty of enemies who are willing to turn state's evidence.

As usual, Depp disappears into the role with his balding pate and 1970s clothing.  However, Australian Joel Edgerton (The Square and Animal Kingdom) truly transforms himself physically and verbally by successfully affecting the Boston accent.  Benedict Cumberbatch has a nice turn as Whitey's younger brother & politician Billy Bulger.  Jesse Plemons is also memorable as a hardscrabble soldier in Whitey's Winter Hill Gang.

Black Mass is a solid film but now that it's been a month since seeing it, I have to admit that it wasn't particularly memorable or remarkable.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 By the Numbers

I saw 336 "films" on a theater screen in 2015. For these purposes, a film is not just a feature length film but also includes programs (typically from film festivals) which consist of multiple short films. If it was categorized as a single program in a festival guide, it counts as one film entry on my list. Conversely, I saw several programs which consisted of a short film and a feature length film. For my counting purposes, those are counted as a single film entry.

My annual film totals for the past few years are:

2010 - 385 films
2011 - 406 films
2012 - 436 films
2013 - 397 films
2014 - 388 films
2015 - 336 films

For the six years listed, 2015 had the largest year-on-year change of 52 films.  2015 was the first year since 2010 that I did not average one film per day.

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The top 10 venues in which I saw films in 2015 were:

1) Castro Theater (88 films) - primarily the result of Noir City (19 films) and the SF Silent Film Festival (21 films over two festivals).  The Castro Theater has been my #1 film-going destination for three years in a row and four of the past five years.

2) Roxie Theater (55 films) - 11 films from A Rare Noir is Good to Find programmed by Elliot Lavine and 21 films between IndieFest & DocFest.  I'm counting the Roxie and Little Roxie as the same for these purposes.  The Roxie Theater has been my #2 film-going destination three years in a row and four of the past five years.

3) Vogue & Balboa (42 films) - 37 films at the Vogue and 5 at the Balboa.  The Vogue count was mainly due to the Mostly British Film Festival (17 films), the San Francisco Film Society's (SFFS) Hong Kong Cinema (6 films), SFFS' French Cinema Now (4 films) and SFFS' New Italian Cinema (4 films).  The Vogue & Balboa are owned and operated by the same people.

4) Camera Cinemas (29 films) - 25 films at the Camera 12, 3 films at the Camera 3 and 1 film at the Camera 7 Pruneyard.  I watched 24 films at the Camera 12 as part of Cinequest.

5) Landmark Theaters (18 films) - 9 films at the Opera Plaza, 8 films at the Clay and 1 film at the Aquarius.  I saw four films at the Clay as part of the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival.

6) Four Star (15 films) - Mostly foreign films that weren't playing anywhere else or films late in their distribution run.

7) Kabuki Cinemas (14 films) - 9 films from SF International Film Festival (SFIFF) & 4 films at CAAMFest.

8) Crest Theater (11 films) - all films from the Sacramento French Film Festival.

9) California Theater in San Jose (10 films) - all films from Cinequest.

10) Stanford Theater and Viz (9 films each) - at the Viz I saw 8 films from the Japan Film Festival of San Francisco and 1 film at CAAMFest.  The Stanford was all rep house programs from their regular schedule.

The top 10 venues accounted for 89% of the films I saw this year.

Honorable Mentions:  YBCA (6 films) and the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley (5 films).

I visited the Camera 7 and Alamo Drafthouse for first time in 2015.

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On 208 days in 2015, I saw at least one film. The 2015 breakdown is:

On 157 days, I saw zero films.
On 118 days, I saw one film.
On 67 days, I saw two films.
On 11 days, I saw three films.
On 9 days, I saw four films.
On 3 days, I saw five films.

On both February 27 (Friday) and February 28 (Saturday), I saw five films at Cinequest.  On May 30 (Saturday), I saw five films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Breaking down the number of films by month:

January - 33 films
February - 46 films
March - 43 films
April - 28 films
May - 35 films
June - 35 films
July - 21 films
August - 29 films
September - 8 films
October - 19 films
November 27 films
December - 12 films

Comparing 2014 vs. 2015 to see when the large decrease occurred:

January (2015 minus 2014):  +1
February:  +5
March:  -11
April:  +2
May:  -10
June:  +10
July:  +1
August:  -1
September:  -13
October:  -7
November:  -11
December:  -17

I was three films behind my 2014 pace as of August 31, 2015.  In addition to being busy at work, September was the month when I decided my father's living situation could not continue and started taking actions to have him put in an assisted living facility.  My father passed away in October and during the last two months of the year, I traveled frequently to Las Vegas to settle his estate.

Breaking down the number of films by day of the week:

Sunday - 67 films
Monday - 41 films
Tuesday - 36 films
Wednesday - 41 films
Thursday - 32 films
Friday - 45 films
Saturday - 74 films

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The PFA closed on August 2, 2015.  I only saw one film at the PFA in 2015.  The PFA reopens at their new location on February 3 with Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.  The new location is 2155 Center Street in Berkeley.

After a long delay, the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission opened in December 2015.  Only one auditorium has been in use but starting tomorrow the other four auditoriums become operational.

2015 is the first year I missed all screenings of Another Hole in the Head.  It coincided with one of my trips to Las Vegas.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's January 2016

The Castro Theater's January calendar has been posted.  There is no puzzle this month.  The theater is closed January 4 and the program for January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day is still TBA).

The schedule is dominated by 10 days of Noir City, 6 days of Sketchfest and 4 days of Berlin and Beyond.  Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo makes up half of a double bill for the first three days of January.

Other highlights include Spectre (January 5), The Martian (January 11 & 12) and the seemingly bi-monthly screening of Blade Runner (January 13).

Among the non-festival films which I am considering seeing are:

Trouble in Mind (January 13), F for Fake (January 19) and a double bill on February 4 - Lady Sings the Blues and Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling.

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Castro Theater Calendar - January 2016

Monday, December 28, 2015

January & February 2016 Film Festivals

As 2015 winds down, the first part of 2016's film festival schedule becomes finalized.

From January 1 to 7, the Smith Rafael Film Center presents For Your Consideration - films from 15 countries which have been submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

The 20th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival will be held from January 14 to 17 at the Castro Theater and January 18 to 20 at the Goethe-Institut.  The schedule of films has not yet been posted.

Noir City will be held at the Castro Theater from January 22 to 31.  The schedule has been posted and includes quite a few films I have already seen including Rear Window, Humoresque, In a Lonely Place, Young Man With a Horn, Mickey One, Scarlet Street and The Red Shoes.

In it inaugural year, the Crest Theater in Sacramento is presenting the Noir Nights Film Festival on January 15 & 16.  The program consists of five noir classics - A Touch of Evil, Mildred Pierce, The Killing, Out of the Past and Leave Her to Heaven.  The program makes a point of stating that Mildred Pierce and Leave Her to Heave will be screened in 35 mm.  I didn't know the Crest had that capability.

The Mostly British Film Festival is screening from February 18 to 25 at the Vogue Theater.  The program has been posted and includes such classics as Night and the City, Rebecca, The French Lieutenant's Woman & The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival (SF IndieFest) is screening from February 11 to 25.  If past years are any indication, the primary venue will be the Roxie Theater.  IndieFest is expanding their merchandise line.  They are selling a series of T-shirts made to look like the San Francisco Giants uniforms.  The name on the back is chosen from 10 famous film directors and the number is the two digit year in which they made their first feature film.  Coppola 62 refers to Tonight for Sure which Francis Ford Coppola directed in 1962.  The 10 directors whose names grace the shirts are Coppola, George Kuchar, David Lynch, John Cassavetes, Jim Jarmusch, Warner Herzog, Ava DuVernay, Richard Linklater, Gus Van Sant & Quentin Tarantino.  Shirts can be purchased on the SF IndieFest website.

The film schedule for IndieFest has not been announced yet.

On February 3, the PFA reopens for regular film programming.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I ventured back to the Alamo Drafthouse on Christmas Eve to see Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  I saw the 2D version.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega & Harrison Ford; with Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac & Mark Hamill; directed by J.J. Abrams; (2015) - Official Website

Before I write about the film, I should mention I have mixed feeling about the food.  Having the chips & queso at the Drafthouse recently was more significant than I could have imagined.  The flavor of the queso brought back memories of my youth...in hindsight it was almost subconscious.  I found myself craving the queso in the days after having it.  I ordered the chips & queso during the Star Wars screening.  It tasted better than it had the previous week.  I'm not sure if they modified the recipe or if my craving was the reason behind the improved taste but the queso was more flavorful.  My only complaint is that there are too many small chips or crumbs served with the queso.  You need larger chips so you can scoop out the queso without it touching your fingers.  I also ordered a sausage & fennel pizza which exceeded my expectations.

The auditorium was near sellout.  Service was slow which is to be expected.  It seemed as though the people around me got their food much sooner than me and the pizza was closer to lukewarm than piping hot which indicates it might have sat on the kitchen counter for awhile.  I had to ask three times to get ice water.  Also with a full house and more food/drink orders, the servers were more conspicuous.  On more than one occasion, they distracted me with their movement.

It's unfair to judge a restaurant on their service and food during its opening weeks so I'll extend that courtesy to the Alamo Drafthouse and reserve final judgment until a future visit.

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I guess I should state my Star Wars bona fides upfront.  I prefer, without hesitation, Star Trek to Star Wars.  I was less than month shy of 9 years old when Star Wars came out.  I remember the long lines and the hype.  My parents bought me a Star Wars T-shirt and I remember having playground conversations about the film.  Long before Star Wars came out, reruns of Star Trek were being played on television.  My parents didn't buy a VCR until 1982 or 1983 - five or six years after Star Wars came out.  The original fanboys cut their teeth on repeated viewings of Star Wars on VHS tapes which was largely unavailable to me.  In fact, I don't recall being friends with any hardcore Star Wars (or Star Trek) fans.  All through that period and extending to present day, I watched Star Trek (Saturday nights at 9 PM MeTV) and Star Trek The Next Generation (no set schedule but shown frequently on BBC America) episodes when they come on TV.  I rarely see Star Wars on television.

I guess that serves as an apologia for what I'm about to say - I wasn't that impressed with The Force Awakens.  The plot borrow liberally (or pays homage) to the original 1977 film.  Of the new cast, there are three main characters - Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Fin (John Boyega).  Kylo Ren (the most prominent villain) is by far the most interesting character and without giving away too much of the plot, he is the anti-Luke Skywalker.  Rey is a scavenger on a desert planet; her backstory is deliberately kept vague but she has an abiding sense of justice and is Force-sensitive as they say.  Fin is a stormtrooper-cum-rebel who starts the film as war weary and even frightened but becomes quite fierce by the end.

Of the original cast, only Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has significant screen time.  Princess Leia now known as General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) only has a few scenes and Luke (Mark Hamill) only shows up in the final scene with no dialogue.  Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is attached to Han's side throughout although I read that Mayhew had to have a stunt double for much of the film because of his bad knees.  C3PO has a few scenes while R2D2 is inactive until the close to the end.

Beyond a few too many similarities between the plotw of the 1977 and 2015 films, what were my issues?  I found Rey & Fin to be overly contrived.  Even Kylo Ren borrowed heavily from Darth Vader.  Their characters seemed to fit a blueprint than being realistic & organic characters.  The film seemed to need the characters to behave in certain ways to advance the plot and it became predictable.  Perhaps that is the gist of the matter - the film was too predictable once you picked up on the parallels to the original film.

The older Han Solo is the most interesting character in the film which doesn't bode well since this trilogy is about a new generation.  Imagine if Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi had been the most interesting character in Star Wars.  Maybe I felt that way because I know Han Solo's backstory and have had 35+ years to revisit the film and its characters.

Actually, the plot is a little problematic.  The Rebel Alliance won the war in Return of the Jedi but in The Force Awakens, they are referred to as the Resistance and the military power is controlled by the First Order which has tapped into the Dark Side of the Force.  How the winners of the war came to be the insurgents 30 years later was not explained.

I could nitpick the film but the ultimate litmus test is that I became bored with the film at various points.  I won't go so far as to say that I didn't like the film.  If nothing else, the scenes with Harrison Ford and Adam Driver make the film worthwhile but it seemed a bloated at 2 hours, 15 minutes.  I wonder if the film could stand on its own merits if it was the first entry in the Star War series and not the seventh.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alamo Drafthouse is Open

On Thursday (December 17), the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco officially opened.  It is located at 2550 Mission Street (22nd Street) on the site of the former New Mission Theater.  I can't find the citation but I believe I read that the New Mission opened in 1916.  Vacant for several years, the site was most recently a furniture store.

It appears that only the main auditorium is open at this time.  They are screening Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in 2D and 3D.   All the screenings are sold out until December 24.  Their website indicates that The Big Short opens on December 23.  Joy, The Look of Silence and The World of Kanako (which I saw at the San Francisco International Film Festival and can recommend) open on Christmas Day while Star Wars is carried over for several weeks.  The Drafthouse will have five auditoriums - the main one on the ground floor and four smaller ones on the second floor in the converted balcony.

There is also a bar in the lobby called Bear vs. Bull.  That doesn't refer to the stock market but back to the days of Spanish California when there was a tradition of pitting bulls vs. bears in fights-to-the-death (the bear usually won if I remember correctly).  Apparently these fights took place in the Mission District of SF hence the name of the bar.

The Drafthouse had a soft opening starting on Saturday.  Admission was $5 and food & non-alcoholic beverages were 50% off.  I believe the regular evening ticket price will be $13.25.

I went on Sunday night to see Steve Jobs.  The bar was not open and large sections of main auditorium were empty even though all the seats were reserved on the Drafthouse website.  I should note that the Drafthouse is one of these theaters where you select your seats at the time of ticket purchase.  I assume they didn't want to pack the house for the soft opening because the primary purpose was to train the kitchen and wait staffs.

I ordered the Deviled Eggs and Chips & Queso.  They serve the food in metal reusable trays.  Chips & queso are not so popular here but it's a staple in Austin (the Drafthouse's hometown) where I visited many times in 1980s.  Not merely nachos with cheese whiz, the queso is melted cheese with diced tomatoes and roasted chile peppers.  Sometimes it gets more fancy but that's the holy trinity - cheese, tomatoes & chile.  The classic is Velveeta and canned Rotel tomatoes & chile.  The queso I had on Sunday was not as good as I recall but I am 30 years removed from the last time I had authentic queso.  At $10 (regular price), it's also a lot more expensive than I recall.

For those unfamiliar with the Drafthouse, they serve food & beverages (including alcohol) in the theater.  I liken it to the New Parkway in Oakland but more upscale.  The Drafthouse has a strict no cellphone policy as well.  I didn't see anyone being escorted from the theater for using their cell phone on Sunday but am looking forward to witnessing my first exfiltration.

The main auditorium can seat over 300.  The interior design is a little too wide for the screen.  If you are sitting on the edge, the angle is too wide for my taste.  There is ample legroom in the aisles as the servers need to pass by.  I was afraid that the servers moving about would be distracting but it wasn't although some of them got down on the floor and crawled to avoid blocking audience members views.  I found that a little too over-the-top but appreciate the sentiment.  My only complaint I was sitting in the back and could hear the servers talking about the orders.  However, if given a choice, I would sit closer to the screen than I typically would for an auditorium of that size.

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As anxious as I was to see the interior and as much as I appreciated the $5 admission (with an additional $1.25 convenience fee), I would not have gone unless the film was compelling.  I've been reading for months that Steve Jobs was the best film no one saw in 2015.

Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen & Jeff Daniels, directed by Danny Boyle, (2015) - Official Website

The film is divided into three acts.  The first act takes place in the Flint Center in Cupertino in 1984 on the day of the launch or unveiling of the Apple Macintosh.  The middle act is at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in 1988 for the launch of the NeXT computer.  The final act is at the San Francisco Opera House for the launch of iMac in 1998.

The scenes are hectic as the last minute preparations are being made before letting the press & public into the buildings.  As Jobs prepares for his presentations, he is interrupted by various individuals and technical glitches.  The constants are Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Job's loyal marketing VP who serves as his gatekeeper, chief of staff & conscience, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniack, co-founder of Apple and yin to Job's yang, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, Apple's CEO, Jobs mentor cum adversary and Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Job's flighty ex-girlfriend and mother to his child (whose paternity Jobs publicly denies).  A trio of actresses play Lisa, Jobs' daughter whom he supports financially if not emotionally.

Based on Walter Isaacson's best selling biography and with dialog by Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs is a fascinating films.  Feeling a bit like The West Wing (I was a big fan), the film has Sorkin's trademark "walk and talk" dialog.  Fassbender (as Jobs) says (paraphrasing), "Before every product launch, everyone I know gets drunk and decides to tell me what they really think about me."

The scenes are contrived.  I suspect the events of several years are condensed into the 45 minute acts.  Sorkin almost pulls it off but at times I could tell he is taking Isaacson's narrative prose and forcing the characters to speak expository dialog.  Ultimately it doesn't matter because because Jobs (the man and character) are so fascinating.

The prototypical flawed hero, Jobs (as portrayed in the film) is remote except for the times he acts like a jerk.  Filled with self-confidence to the point of hubris, Jobs first two launches were business failures in the traditional sense.  However, both were necessary in creating the myth of Steve Jobs.  Tellingly, he wears suits and neckties (one is a bow tie) in the 1984 and 1988 scenes.  It's not until the final act that he dons his now famous black mock turtleneck and Levi's blue jeans.

The failure of the Macintosh exiled the prince from the kingdom of Apple and put him in conflict with his surrogate father figure (Sculley) and spiritual brother (Wozniak).  Accompanied by his loyal servant (Hoffman), Jobs wanders the wilderness before ultimately settling at NeXT.  Again, the NeXT computer is a failure but Jobs has learned some of the lessons of life.  The movie would have the audience believe that the NeXT computer was developed only for its operating system.  Jobs knew that Apple's OS was quickly becoming obsolete so he positioned NeXT as a takeover target to facilitate his return to Apple.  The iMac represents Jobs' first (but certainly not final) triumph.

Those old enough to remember may recall that Apple's most successful product for the first 20 years of its existence was the Apple II or one of its variations.  The film sets up a dynamic that the Apple II was Wozniack's achievement even though Jobs received the lion's share of the credit.  However, Jobs knew and resented Woz's role and wanted to create something successful without Woz.  This sets up the key dynamic of the film which is the Lennon-and-McCartneyesque quality of Jobs & Woz's relationship.  Despite a deep and enduring friendship, each resented the other's skills and successes.  If the film is accurate, Wozniack was obsessed for 14 years in getting Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II's engineering and design teams.  Much like Lennon & McCartney (Woz compares himself to Ringo in the film) in the 1960s, your preference of Jobs vs. Woz speaks volumes about your values and personality.

In each act, Jobs is confronted by Woz, Sculley, his daughter and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld (an original Macintosh engineer) while Hoffman serves as his confidante and majordomo.  Steve Jobs is a well written and nicely structured film which can easily be adapted to the live theater.  Uniformly strong performances by the cast only buoy the film.  Fassbender and Rogen really captured the mannerism of Jobs & Woz.  Fassbender's Jobs comes off as disagreeable which is consistent with what I have read but he could inspire strong loyalty.  The film makes one wonder why anyone would want to work with Jobs.  Jobs' brilliance and genius are on full display in the film but his charisma seems lacking.

Steve Jobs isn't a great film but it is tremendously enjoyable to watch.  It helps if you have some knowledge of Apple's early history.  The teaming of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is particularly intriguing.  I hope they collaborate on more films.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pedophile Priests, James Bond & Rocky Balboa

I was in Las Vegas around Thanksgiving.  There are 20 or 30 multiplexes in Las Vegas and they all seem to show the films.  Mockingjay, Spectre and Creed were well screened.  I've run out of steam w.r.t. The Hunger Games series so I'll probably skip the latest installment.  On three consecutive nights, I watched:

Spotlight starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams & Liev Schreiber; directed by Tom McCarthy; (2015) - Official Website
Spectre starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz & Léa Seydoux; directed by Sam Mendes; (2015) - Official Website
Creed starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone & Tessa Thompson; directed by Ryan Coogler; (2015) - Official Website

All three of these films have been well reviewed.

Spotlight has been receiving Oscar buzz.  It's well made and well acted but somehow it doesn't seem to be an Oscar caliber film to me.  To bastardize a phrase better suited to Creed, Spotlight "punches below its weight."  The film begins with the Boston Globe investigating pedophile priests in 2001 and quickly expands to uncover the Boston Archdiocese's enabling and cover-up of the incidents.  Michael Keaton plays the editor of Spotlight, the Globe's publication specializing in investigative reporting.  A lifelong Bostonian, Keaton's Walter "Robby" Robinson leads a three reporter squad played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams & Brian d'Arcy James.  As they start to ask questions, they encounter institutional resistance from the Catholic Church, it's attorney & other civic institutions.  If there was one take away from the film, it is that although the Boston Archdiocese shoulders much of the blame, many people & organizations (including the Globe) were complicit either by their actions or lack thereof.  Stanley Tucci has a nice turn as the eccentric lawyer representing many of the victims.  Liev Schreiber is also memorable as the Jewish, new-to-Boston editor of the Globe.  With the exception of an outburst by Ruffalo's character, Spotlight shows restraint in not giving the audience's outrage an onscreen outlet.  It makes the story more powerful.

Spectre may be Daniel Craig's last turn as James Bond.  I could nitpick some of the more contrived plot points and that this film tried too hard to tie together the last three Bond films (all starring Craig) but this is 007 afterall.  Bond films have always been (and should always be) judged on their stunts and action sequences.  Spectre doesn't disappoint.  I can recall three outstanding sequences with no trouble.  The opening is set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead.  Bond assassinates a few people, avoids a falling building and gets into a fight while in a helicopter...and that's in the cold opening.  Wrestler Dave Bautista plays the evil henchman quite well.  He and Bond engage in a thrilling car chase in Rome.  Finally, Bautista & Craig have a hellacious fight scene in a moving train.

Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld the head of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), a criminal organization which has put into motion all the troubles Bond has had in the past three films.  He also happens to an old friend of Bond.  I'm a big fan of Waltz and he's not quite a flamboyant as past villains (I'm thinking of Javier Bardem in particular) but does quite well in the role.  By giving a subtler performance (relatively), Waltz gives Blofeld more nuance and even seemingly genuine congeniality at times.

To best enjoy Spectre, it helps to be familiar with the James Bond franchise and in particular, the last three films of the series.  I would characterize myself as a modest fan of Bond films but enjoyed Spectre quite a bit.  Of the four Daniel Craig films, Casino Royale is still my favorite (primarily because of Mads Mikkelsen & Eva Green) but Spectre is a solid entry.  Sean Connery is still my favorite Bond with Daniel Craig being my second favorite by a large margin.  He played Bond a tad too sullen and self-pitying for my tastes but his portrayal was fascinating at times.  His relationship with M (Judi Dench) was particularly interesting.

People are raving about Sylvester Stallone's performance in Creed.  I have to admit that Stallone's Rocky Balboa is the best part of Creed which is otherwise a rehash of the original Rocky with Michael B. Jordan as the young boxer and Stallone as the wise boxing trainer.  The story has come full circle.  Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky's opponent and close friend, Apollo Creed.  Angry & resentful at having been abandoned by his father, the younger Creed takes his frustrations out on his opponents in the ring.  Self-taught and raised by his father's widow (Phylicia Rashād) in a mansion, "Donny" Creed quits his white collar job in LA and moves to Philadelphia to train under his father's greatest opponent.  Unfortunately, he forgot to ask Rocky if he would train him.  Being a Rocky film, you know they have to get together and overcome some adversity before Creed (improbably) gets a shot at the title.  Real life British boxer Tony Bellew is effective as the champ "Pretty" Ricky Conlan.  Creed reunites director Ryan Coogler and Jordan who previously worked together in Fruitvale.  Jordan is adequate in the role but never quite convinces me he could be a professional boxer.  Of course, the fight scenes in the Rocky films were outlandish but there was something about Stallone that suggested a broken down pug.  Burgess Meredith conveyed that sense also.  Coogler deftly intersperses some homage scenes to the previous Rocky films.  I surprised myself by catching a reference to a third Balboa-Creed fight which is the fade out scene in Rocky III (the action freezes and transforms into a painting by noted painter Leroy Neiman).

My viewing of Creed is noteworthy because it was the first time I saw a film at a drive-in movie theater in over 37 years.  I was driving in a part of Las Vegas I typically don't go to and saw a drive-in theater.  I went back to see it just to experience the drive-in theater experience.  The sound is now transmitted via a short range FM signal so you listen to the film on the car radio.  By scanning, I was able to listen to the other films at the six screen complex.

Rocky vs. Apollo by Leroy Neiman