17 July 2013

A whole bunch of movies

I think my lack of updates is at least partly caused by a combination of suddenly having a very busy social life (back in Chicago) and becoming a regular listener of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour (haven't they basically covered it?), but I miss you, blog. And I've seen A LOT of movies in the last few weeks. So rather than trying to make myself go back and write thoughtful, worthwhile posts on all of them, I'm just gonna give it to you fast and dirty (admit it, sometimes you like it that way).

Before Earth
I love Will Smith, but nope. Bo-ring. The biggest problem, I think, was that one of the premises of the film was that the Bad Things tracked people by sensing their fear. So the ultimate fighter (Will Smith, duh) had to be a person who could show no fear, which turned out to translate more broadly into showing no emotion, ever, which is kind of counter-productive in a movie that also wants to be about father-son relationships. Or not - it basically plays right into the emotionless-father-and-the-raging-hormonal-son-who-just-wants-to-hear-Daddy-say-he-loves-him dynamic. But I don't go to Will Smith movies to see him being a robot goddamnit.
  Jaden does an ok job, but he's maybe a bit more like a normal teenager than one really wants to see in the movie. In other words, one minute he's acting like a child, the next like a brave young man. He regularly doesn't listen to instructions and does the exact opposite of what he should do and you want to shake him. So yeah, probably just like a real teenager?
  I will say though, the special effects were pretty cool. The planet looked really neat, and definitely seemed like a living thing, another character in the movie, which does weirdly make you think about climate change and saving the environment and stuff. 
 Oh, and then there's this weird thing with ghosts (ok, I guess I had more to say about this movie than I thought...). Unclear whether the dead really are coming back to speak to the living, or whether imagining they are is a way that the living pep themselves up. I found it kind of odd. Maybe this is because I'm working on a book project about Gothic fiction, so I am way, way more attentive to how the supernatural is being portrayed than anyone else would ever want to be.
  Overall though, the movie was boring. The promo interview that Will and Jaden did together in NYMagazine, on the other hand, was totally fascinating.

Fast and Furious 6
I don't understand why all of the Fast and Furious movies are totally sweet. But they are. I mean, people are like, "what? really, another one?" And then they're like "well, I guess if suckers are still willing to go..." And you know what? I am one of those suckers. I will keep going because they keep being bizarrely fantastic. The writers seem to have hit on the formula for the perfect mindless action movie. Convoluted plot, sprinkling of corny emotional issues (but not enough to drag the movie down) delivered with just the right amount of sincerity and woodenness, snarky humor and cheesy one liners, and stunts that are just ridiculous enough to be TOTALLY AWESOME. A ringing endorsement from me. Boyfriend hasn't seen the entire series and I am really looking forward to going through it again and seeing if the previous movies are as good as I remember. 

Man of Steel
I don't know why everyone is hating on this movie so hard. I wasn't all that interested in seeing it (I'm pretty over the whole superhero movie thing), but Better Half was, as were some of our friends, so why not, we went to the opening screening at midnight. I should be up front here and tell you that I dozed a little. But still! I enjoyed it! I very much appreciated that they skipped a lot of the stock pieces of the superhero genre (lengthy montage as he figures out his capabilities; droning explanations of how things got to this point; tormented negotiations with the love interest because superheroes aren't good at maintaining relationships; self-righteous lecture on what a hero is) or dispatched them quickly and efficiently. I thought the movie wasn't nearly as trite as many of these things are - I even found some aspects of the story compelling. The movie was definitely really, really long, but again, what movies aren't these days? The special effects were pretty sweet. Overall, I quite enjoyed it, for what it was. It wasn't exactly the same as every other superhero movie. Maybe that's why other people hated it?

What Maisie Knew
Very well done. Excellent acting, gorgeous cinematography. It's really hard to tell a story about a sweet little girl getting neglected by her parents, because often you worry so much about the child and hate the parents so much that you can't actually enjoy the film. What Maisie Knew cleverly gets around this problem by having rock-solid, reliable caretakers at hand, so you know that nothing really bad will happen to Maisie, and also by giving the parents just enough self-awareness to realize what awful parents they are, even if it's not enough to make them better, which makes you despise them a little bit less. It's a sweet, quirky story about incredibly attractive people. I liked it.

Star Trek: Into Darkness
Meh. I enjoyed it well enough when I saw it, but I don't remember much of it at all. I didn't like it as much as I did the last one, and I think overall the dialogue was less snappy and the plot was less intelligent, but it wasn't bad.

This is the End
Maybe it's partly because I read this Linda Holmes piece  on the lack of women in this summer's movies, or maybe because it really just is that blatant in this movie, but GAH! Let me start by saying, sure, it's a funny movie. The porn mag sequence between James Franco and Danny McBride is phenomenal. There are plenty of chuckles to be had. It's fun to see celebrities playing versions of themselves, kinda, and to feel like you get to see them in their regular lives, kinda. The plot is silly and takes a seriously cheesy turn towards the end, but hey, that's ok. But seriously, how much do these guys hate women?? Three women get to talk during this movie: Mindy Kaling, who shows up to say that she wants to have sex with Michael Cera; Rihanna, who basically just gets to repeat that she's not gonna have sex with anyone (see, 'cuz she's empowered! Right?); and Emma Watson, who gets to resurface in the bunker in the middle of the movie, only to be kicked out of the movie again because she makes rape jokes not funny. No, really. She reappears, then there's this odd scene where Jay, the sensitive guy, tries to talk to the other guys about how she might be worried that they're gonna rape her (how depressing is that? The movie can't quite decide whether he's a sensitive feminist for being concerned about this, or whether it's creepy and weird. I can't either.), and in the ensuing dialogue, they accidentally give her the impression that they're debating who gets to rape her, and she gtfo, after axing a giant penis sculpture. Once she's gone, the movie can go on with slotting males into all the traditional "female" roles (thereby challenging typical conventions of masculinity, which initially tricks you into thinking its doing something subversive with gender, until you realize that it's only subversive enough to permanently rid themselves of women) by having Franco, for instance, have a crush on Rogen. In fact, they even go the distance and have one of the male characters get raped, and another one later in the movie become a sex slave. Sexual violence: totally funnier if men are the victims. Right?
It's a rare case when gender stuff angers me enough that I have a hard time enjoying the movie, but this movie managed to do it. It's not just the specific points listed above. It's that throughout the entire movie, I felt very much like I was on the outside looking in on a scene where I was not wanted, specifically - and solely - because I'm female. It's not that they don't think women can be funny. It's that they don't care, because so can men, so why have women? My boyfriend was like well, it's just that it's a movie about a group of friends, so it had to be those guys because they're friends in real life. To which my response is, oh, so they don't have female friends in real life either?
  Look, maybe I'm rare in having a large group of friends that includes men and women. Maybe it is unreasonable of me to think that people should have (close) friends of the opposite sex. But I do, and yes, if you don't, than I think you probably are kind of sexist. 

Much Ado About Nothing
Yes, this really is the next thing I saw. Even more funny, Anthony Lane actually reviewed this along with This is the End (and I thought his review was spot-on, though I don't always enjoy or agree with his stuff), pointing out that both movies are basically extended house parties. 
Anyways. Let me be up front and say that I LOVED the original (well, the 1993 version, maybe there was an earlier one) Much Ado About Nothing, the one with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson back when they were still married, and Denzel Washington, and Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard before they went on to do kind of weird random stuff with their careers, and even a surly Keanu Reeves. It's actually one of my all-time favorites. I basically know it by heart. I've seen it a bazillion times. It's so great. Why would you even make another one, unless you're gonna do something meaningfully different, because obviously you can't do the same thing better? So I was almost certainly not gonna like this one anyhow, and you should probably discount everything I have to say.
  But I thought their delivery of the lines was flat and ugly, and the black and white stripped the whole film of any warmth or human feeling, and the gestures toward modernizing the story were unnecessary and seemed tacked on and actively dumb, given the whole Hero plot. A couple of the moments of self-parody that many reviewers have mentioned, like a dog howling in the distance during a monologue about love, are cute. Nathan Filion is pretty great as Dogberry. But I didn't care about most of the other characters, and I was bored during the entire movie. So there.

The East
An entertaining thriller. I don't have much to say about it, and I suspect that in years to come it'll be one of those movies where people mention it and I'm like "huh? oh! yeah! that WAS pretty good!" Actually, I tend to not enjoy spy/CIA type movies very much, so the fact that I liked this one is in itself notable. It definitely wants to be a thought-provoking movie that makes you think about terrorism and social action and evil corporations, and it's willing to take that to surprisingly subversive places. Tangent, but I love the way Ellen Paige walks. My boyfriend says it's because she walks like a dude. 

The Heat
YES. Yes, yes, yes. I went in wanting to love it and so worried I wouldn't, and I loved it so much more than I expected. I love buddy cop action films of the 80s, so it's not like it was a hard sell, but this was SO funny, I was literally in tears at one point. Holmesie (yes, that's how I refer to her in my head now, because I love her so much, don't make it weird) nailed it in her review, so I don't think I need to say much else. As a side note, one point where Holmesie and I do disagree - I watched Miss Congeniality on my flight back to the US in June, and I enjoyed it, I dunno why she hates it so much. But entertaining as it is, it is nowhere near as good as The Heat, which is just completely great. Go see it. It's awesome. 

The Lone Ranger
Bo-ring. So boring. Johnny Depp is entertaining enough, doing basically his typical Johnny Depp thing, but he cannot shrug off the deadweight that is the rest of this bloated turd. Everyone else in this movie pretty much sucks. Is the movie offensive to Native Americans? Well, there is the matter of the serious implication that an entire tribe gets wiped out in the middle of the movie, which is, you know, a bummer, but isn't gonna get in the way of anybody's happy ending. Really though, the movie is just overall offensive in its immense suckitude, and you should shun it.

The Way Way Back
If you have seen the trailer for this movie, you probably know exactly what you're gonna see, except for maybe the last 3 minutes of the end. Not that it's bad, it's just pretty paint-by-numbers indie flick. It is nice to be reminded of what a good actor Sam Rockwell is, and how very likeable he is when he's being likeable. It's fun to see Steve Carrell be a jerk, and nice to see that he's a good enough actor to do it convincingly. I don't particularly enjoy watching movies about unhappy teenagers, because I was one myself and what's the fun in being reminded of what that was like? But in this movie, as in many such things, the world is actually far kinder and better than reality at crucial moments (even my boyfriend, who is normally tolerant of movies in a way I struggle to be, leaned over after a scene involving break-dancing and said "Yeah that would never happen."), even though it still kinda sucks. Meh. Pretty skippable movie overall.

I think I'm still forgetting some movies, astonishingly enough. But that's a start at least. I'll try to be better from now on...

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