November 20, 2015: Don’t Lose Your Zen

Friday’s Festivities:

I couldn’t get a handle on it.

Plants in the breezeway, an endometriosis booth, turning t-shirt into knapsacks–

Why?

The Second Floor Screen:

Straight Outta Compton was a well-made, if straightforward and by-the-numbers, biopic depicting the rise and fall of West Coast rap group NWA.  Well, some of them.  Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre certainly get the lion’s share of the movie’s focus.

Ice Cube’s son is eerily similar to his father in voice and appearance, and definitely nailed the style of his father’s rapping.  The recordings, in fact, were the highlight of the film, capturing the ferocious spirit and camaraderie of the concerts and studio sessions.

Also: Suge Knight was, and still is, according to the movie, one of the worst people in the rap industry.

October 30, 2015: Haunted Horror Reitz

Friday’s Festivities:

I guess the theme name was an attempt at a pun, so we’re off to great start.

Silky faux cobwebs dangled from the signs.  Stevie Wonder hollered from a nearby radio, reminding us that superstition ain’t the way.  Jon Snow and Avatar Aang passed each other by the elevators without remark.

It was time to get spooked.

Folks in the breezeway lined up to make lanterns out of mason jars and carve pumpkins into grinning jack o’ lanterns.

The Grand Ballroom was awash with flickering lights, through which wound the queue for a haunted house — well, more a string of connected tents than a house — out of which emanated the requisite shrieks and prerecorded ambient noise and chainsaw snarls.  The first episode of the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror playing on the projector screen didn’t quite fit in the the room’s atmosphere.

The Second Floor Screen:

Waiting for the night’s feature presentation to begin, they didn’t shut the auditorium doors all the way.  Thus one had to endure dueling Halloween playlists: “Oogie Boogie’s Song” from The Nightmare Before Christmas swinging along under the black skies of Wojiech Kilar’s score for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Michael Jackson singing “Thriller” to the frenzied strings of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho.

So The Conjuring began promisingly enough, ratcheting up suspense with James Wan’s nimble camera and a reliance on understated practical effects to depict a story from the case files of exposed frauds Ed and Lorraine Warren.

But things get less understated and, frankly, less frightening as the film goes on.  The movie overreaches in trying to connect the demonic presence in the old house to the collection of occult artifacts in the Warrens’ home, and by the end James Wan is trying to outdo William Friedkin for exorcism antics.  Here’s a tip, horror filmmakers: don’t try.  You likely can’t.

October 23, 2015: 80s Throwback Carnival

Friday’s Festivities:

Of course “Beat It” was playing when I walked in.

And the breezeway had become a roller-skating rink.

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Pictured: fun.

On the far left in that picture, you can see students with parents who had arrived for UF family weekend being spirited away (heh) on a ghost tour.

This was a top-heavy Friday; the rest of the attractions had been crammed into the Grand Ballroom on the second floor.  Tina Turner was up on the projector screen singing “Let’s Stay Together” while guests tried their luck and skill at carnival games.  Bottle-shooting, ball-throwing, horseshoes, they had it all.   Well, some.

Trying skee-ball, I actually sank a 100-pointer.  Not bad.

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Minus carnies or the chance of food poisoning.

The arcade machines lining a wall of the ballroom provided ample nostalgia for anyone lucky enough to grow up near a real arcade.  I didn’t indulge myself beyond “Centipede” and “Pac-Man,” but the machines had dozens of games.

There was a drum kit set up for a band called WD Han, which I had no intention of waiting for or sitting through.

There was the movie to catch.

The Second Floor Screen:

You don’t need me to try and summarize the plot of a Mission: Impossible movie, do you?  It’s understood, I think, that the plot is perfunctory, secondary to the stunts and action set-pieces.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has plenty of those, and they’d be nice enough — writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, Hollywood scribe behind such winning screenplays as those for Edge of Tomorrow and The Usual Suspects, has a good eye for action, and in Tom Cruise he has a charismatic lead willing to do his own stunts — if it weren’t for the editing.

Even when divorced from needless use of shaky camerawork, the use of excessive cutting to build momentum in action sequences has been the bane of the film industry for years.  Editor Eddie Hamilton managed to suck too much of the fun out of the movie’s solid choreography and action staging with his hyperactive work.  When things stand still, you can focus long enough to see an excellent action movie trying to escape.

October 16th, 2015: Welcome to New York

Friday’s Festivities:

“Show ’em whatcha got!”  That was Jay-Z’s sample of Flava Flav, shouting at me from the Reitz Union breezeway.

This particular GatorNight didn’t have much.

There was a long queue for hot dogs, in contrast to everything I’ve seen regarding actual New York City hot dog carts.  As I’m not much of a hot dog guy, I passed on that.

Someone named “Joe” was giving away custom spray can paintings, because nothing screams “big city life” like graffiti.  A NY green screen photo op and street signs (I have no idea) rounded out the breezeway’s thin offerings.

The Grand Ballroom was taken over for “Drag Ball- Powder, Pearls & Pumps,” held in honor of Pride History Week.  The idea, one of the event organizers said, was to recreate the party atmosphere of 80s gay culture.  They nailed the array of disco lights, but even when the music started there wasn’t much dancing.

The Second Floor Screen

Watching TrainwreckI was surprised that Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow hadn’t sooner collaborated; the irreverence of her script and starring performance felt a perfect match for the comedy director’s sensibilities.

If anything keeps the film bobbing above water when so many romantic comedies drown, it’s the fundamental sincerity embedded in most of Apatow’s movies; from the script to the performances (with wrestler-turned-Internet-joke John Cena and basketball star LeBron James as surprise scene-stealers), Trainwreck treats its characters’ relationships with disarming gentleness, for all the crassness of some of the dialogue.  It’s rare, these days, to see a rom-com during which one wants to see the characters end up together, and in this Trainwreck succeeds.  A personal highlight: the kind of laughs Bill Hader can earn just with the word “No.”

October 9th, 2015: The Price is Reitz

Friday’s Festivities

Well, I won a medal.
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The astonishing achievement that earned it?  Tossing three consecutive wads of paper into a wastebasket no more than two yards in front of me.  This was part of the “Office Olympics” held on the 2nd floor next to the Grand Ballroom.  The folks enjoying musical chairs — yes, really — and paper airplane distance competitions seemed about as riveted as the characters of The Office might have, so the naming was appropriate.

This was after surveying what the ground floor had to offer, and it was a particularly energetic Friday under the breezeway.  The center was dominated by a rectangular foam aisle, not unlike your average birthday party bounce-house, down which a spherical cage was hurled into a set of hard plastic pins.

The cage had a guy in it.  It was human bowling.  Frankly, I can’t see the staff member doing the rolling earning a place on any bowling team; gutter balls, every single one, way to the left.

The Society of Physics at UF brought science demonstrations that easily carried the night in terms of entertainment value.  The steady flow of onlookers was electrified — groan if you want, I suffer for my puns with many, many sleepless nights — by the dance of sparks from the Van de Graaf generator and by the volunteers battling the torque of a giant gyroscope crafted from a bicycle wheel.  SPS member Gabriel explained that the society was taking these open demonstrations to the campus, to the farmer’s market, and to other local schools to get adults and kids alike interested in science.

I suspect it’s working; bravo, SPS.

“Frisbee golf” took up the southern end of the breezeway, players hurling frisbees here and there and wildly off-course trying to land them in baskets resembling neon drums chained to umbrellas.  I couldn’t tell if anyone was keeping score or not, but I suspect they were having enough fun that winning was a secondary consideration.

On the other side of the human bowling was the “Sticky Wall,” where people queued up to don Velcro suits and fling themselves onto a bouncy wall lined with clinging fabric.  In action, they resembled nothing as much as sad, drunken grasshoppers.

To the west, out on the grass, a dead woman was screaming in a water tank.

“Dunk a Zombie” was the name of the event, which saw staff member Phoebe — very cheerful, very soggy — bedecked in bloodied skeleton suit inside a carnival dunking machine.  Each person who lined up to drop her into the water (“It started out warm, but now it’s cold!” I heard Phoebe exclaim to a friend) had three chances to strike the target with a rubber ball.  One couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic zombie than Phoebe, flinching prematurely at the clang of every ball’s impact against the machine, howling with hunger and frustration every time she emerged from a successful dunking.  Her costumed coworker Carla was standing nearby, waiting to replace her after enough water-logging.

All this before 10:45.

The Second Floor Screen

My undocumented viewings of GatorNights feature film presentations this year had spanned a range of quality from the kinetic poetry of  Mad Max: Fury Road to the merely decent thrills of  Jurassic World (I was sadly unable to make any of the showings of Pixar’s wondrous Inside Out).  Ant-Man, Marvel’s latest superhero adventure, managed to edge closer to the former than the latter of the two I’d seen this year, even if it didn’t reach the same heights.

Of course, its small scale is part of the point, isn’t it?  Ant-Man‘s lower stakes put it in contrast with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just as Scott Lang’s shrinking suit sets him apart from the superheroes we’ve become accustomed to on the big screen.

While the film overall feels a bit slight, it avoids collapsing under the weight of world-building and exposition like too many other modern blockbusters (even, some would argue, a few recent marvel productions).  Paul Rudd is surprisingly effective as Scott Lang, the reformed cat burglar who enters the tutelage of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, effortless in his role as this movie’s “prestige” cast member) and his daughter Hope (Evangelline Lilly).  Corey Stoll, bless him, does the best he can with the paper-thin villain he’s given (the corrupt corporate suit who becomes Yellowjacket).

Director Peyton Reed manages to mine plenty of fun and humor (most laughs being won by the peanut gallery of Lang’s burglary accomplices) from the first superhero heist movie, with a story by Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright.  I must admit, while the movie was a pleasant surprise, there lingered behind every shot the tantalizing thought of what might have been if Edgar Wright had directed the film as originally planned.  I can’t help but wonder, darkly, what made such an intelligent filmmaker depart due to “creative differences.”  Why a producer like Kevin Feige, seemingly interested in attracting the smart, creative mainstream directors and writers to his growing movie mythos, couldn’t keep a hold of this one.  What, in the original incarnation of Ant-Man, was too smart and creative for the master plan?

It may be awhile before my curiosity is satisfied, but what resulted in Wright’s absence was still a refreshing treat in-between the weighty conflicts and pyrotechnics of Marvel’s other features.

Though you can’t help but laugh when you realize that Wright was replaced with the director of a film called Yes Man.

What I’ll be up to

This is a bit of a late start, considering I began my work last week, but here we go.

Every Friday night, I’ll be attending GatorNights, a night of fun activities and a movie screening put on at the Reitz Union hotel by the Reitz Union Board of Entertainment.  Shortly after, I’ll post my commentary on the events, centering around my criticism and analysis of the night’s featured movie.

There’s the mission statement.  Time for the mission.