Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Movies - In-Betweeners

I saw these movies. They were fine.Not awful, not great. I'll just say a few words about them. All of these are worth watching if it's in your wheelhouse.
A Million Ways to Die in the West had its funny moments. I didn't expect much. Might be a fun rental.

Godzilla was fun. Perhaps the most important part was "Let Them Fight," which helped to teach Realism in International Relations. I wouldn't mind a sequel.

Edge of Tomorrow was a good video game movies, as that's what's really happening. Tom Cruise is just restarting the game each time. It was fun to watch him make different decisions to progress further along.

A lot of people seemed to really like Chef. I found it to be OK. I guess it must have hit an emotional button with them that it didn't with me.

Snowpiercer was a different angle for a dystopian future. It had its moments, but over two hours is a long time to be in one location. There are parts that are a bit weird. A few big adjustments and this could have made my top ten list, I think.

I seem to remember liking The Skeleton Twins. I think there was good chemistry between Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, even though they played twins. But other than that, it was too forgettable.

If you want to know more about tank warfare in World War II, you might enjoy Fury. It was a decent movie.

Foxcatcher features three great performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. It's well worth watching just for those. I try to go into movies knowing as little as possible, so I avoided the true facts about this until after I had seen it. I wonder if I actually would have liked it more if I knew more about it.

I would have enjoyed Into the Woods much more if it hadn't been a musical. And that's because I didn't like any of the music. I can't recall a single melody. Most of it felt more like talking in tune than singing a song. It's also probably about twenty minutes too long. Johnny Depp truly finds his inner... pedophile.

I just saw the following two movies today. They aren't bad enough to be on the bottom list, but they weren't really good either.

 The paintings in Big Eyes are accurately described by an art critic as kitsch. I felt like Christophe Waltz's performance was as close to a representation of kitsch that an actor can portray. Unfortunately, I don't think it was on purpose. It was creepy, silly, and over-the-top. The movie itself? OK.

Unbroken is broken. I hoped that the Coen Brother's role in writing the script would elevate this beyond melodrama, but it doesn't. If you enjoy being uplifted by cliche, by all means go enjoy it. There's probably a good movie to be made about Zamperini. This isn't it. Eh - I probably would have put this on my bad list if I had more time to get angry about it.

I saw two more movies this year that don't get to go onto the good or bad list since they are re-releases. The first was Gone With the Wind. I wrote about it here, though I'm not sure I remembered to mention how it's SO DAMNED LONG.

A movie that would have made the top ten list if it had come out this year was Blazing Saddles. I saw it at the Paramount. If you've never seen a movie at the Paramount, you need to do yourself a favor and go see something in 2015. First, it's a beautiful art deco theater. Next, it begins with a news reel and cartoon, then old movie trailers. You can win prizes in the raffle (which comes with your ticket). And then you get to see a great movie with people who also love that movie. Best of all? Five dollars. Don't I repeat this every year?

Oh yeah - the movie? Blazing Saddles is still the funniest movie ever made.

2014 Movies - Just Plain Disappointment

These movies were just plain disappointing. There's lots to like in them. I would probably like to watch individual scenes of them someday. Eventually. I don't think I have a lot of new things to say about them. Most of what I'm going to say I've seen repeated online.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was an advertisement for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and all of the spinoffs. The thing is, that works with comic books because you have a new one every month. It works with TV shows (Mork on Happy Days) because you have a new episode every week. But with a movie? You get one every other year at the most. So it has to be a REALLY good movie in order to include all of that. It wasn't.

As a teacher, I think I have a good idea of how Electro's origin was written. The people who were supposed to do it forgot that it was due. So they got drunk and/or high instead. So someone came up with idea of him being bitten by a radioactive electric eel. They thought that was hilarious, wrote in down in a joke email that they pretended to send. They then were all awoken the next morning by a call from the person in charge wanting to know what their idea was, seeing how it should have been finished. They panicked and sent the email. The douches in charge didn't notice how stupid it was, so they accepted it. I'm pretty sure I've received essays written the same way, though they were probably smarter.

I think I've figured out part of what I don't like about the Amazing Spider-Man movies. On one hand, they finally captured the humor and banter of the character. But they haven't figured out the heroism. In the comic books, every once in a while (quite often these days), someone from the future comes back and mentions what a great hero Spidey turned out to be. Most of the characters do a double take, thinking or even saying, "This guy? The creepy guy who hangs from the ceiling, covers his whole face, and makes stupid jokes? I doubt it." That's the attitude these movie makers have. But for a few of the heroes - the ones who know him best, such as the Fantastic Four and Captain America - will nod and understand that he is a great hero. And the audience knows. We nod along with them. We don't in these movies.

I loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I loved each movie more than the last. I liked The Hobbit movies less and less. Things that worked in the first three - Legolas defies the laws of physics - didn't work in these.

I'm definitely not the first person to state that these three movies could have been cut down into one great movie. Perhaps, if we're lucky, Topher Grace will do that for us someday. If it were me, though? I would probably cut almost all of third movie. I would cut the entire Battle of the Five Armies. The problem with this movie is that it's called The Battle of the Five Armies. I think I would only include the first and last few minutes. Maybe you could but the battle down into a quick five minute montage of important plot points, though I don't think that's even necessary.

I made small plans to reread The Hobbit when the movies were officially announced. None of the three really pushed me to finally go ahead and do so. Maybe I'll get around to it after I watch a super-edit of the three movies.

There's at least one good thing that came out of Rosewater. John Oliver got to host The Daily Show while Jon Stewart was making it, and that led to his HBO gig.

We had been hearing about this movie since even before then, and it sounded like a great idea for a movie. I wonder if directing Rosewater was too "serious" of a job for Stewart. It felt like he wanted to get his comedic side out of the way.

The thing that really made this movie disappointing was the last act, not because it was bad but because it was good. Once we start to find out what else was going on while Bahari was in prison, the movie takes on a new life. It felt like that's where the movie should have really begun.

Ready for the surprise about Wish I Was Here? Kate Hudson isn't the bad part about it.

I really liked Garden State and I still enjoy sitting through episodes of Scrubs. I'll plug that into Netflix while I'm doing other things and let it play in the background. So I really wanted to like Wish I Was Here. The problem is that it wanted to take the quirk from Garden State that often felt natural, but it felt forced. I guess it's much like how Legolas get to slay the Oliphaunt and ride down its trunk, but he doesn't get to climb a falling bridge. Natalie Portman gets to make silly sounds, but Josh Gad doesn't get to wear a space suit.

Next - the in-betweener movies.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Movies - You have to start somewhere!

41 movies this year (with still a day to catch another or two). Not the most, but much better than 23 from last year. Two of those 41 don't count, but I'll get to those later. These are the worst movies of 2014.

Good news for me. Much like 2013, there weren't any movies that I absolutely hated. But these bottom three are movies that I wish I'd skipped.

Starting at the very bottom is Under the Skin. I didn't get it. I had no idea what was going on for most of it. I read a review of this after I saw it from someone who liked it. I feel like we saw totally different movies. He described things that I would have genuinely liked to have seen. Just... blah.

Noah had very few redeeming qualities. But it's starting with a story that's pretty dumb to begin with. Probably my favorite thing about Noah were a couple comments I read on various social media sites. The second time I saw basically the same comment, I copy/pasted it. "I didnt' see it because I heard it wasn't historically acurate."  That's funny. The big creature things were cool. I might want to see a movie about those things.

Sin City was by far my favorite movie of 2005. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was just about my least favorite this year. Part of that has to do with my expectations following the first. But the rest is that it just doesn't work. It's bland in the characters, story, and most disappointingly, the visuals. Such a shame.

So those are the only three movies that deserve the bottom. Next I'll get to four movies that I want to like, but I also want to include on this list. They were the four most frustrating of 2014.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

1940: Gone With the Wind

I made it through eleven movies before this extended break. The plan was to watch a movie a week. How difficult would that be? Throw in the summertime to make up for a few missed weeks and I would finish in about a year and a half. But right from the beginning, I knew there was a movie coming. I knew there was a movie that I was going to have to force myself to watch again. What's the big deal? It's just SO DAMNED LONG.

I watched Gone With the Wind for the first time when I watched all 100 of the AFI top 100 movies. I believe I split it into two days, breaking at the intermission. And still, with two different two hour chunks, it felt incredibly long. I knew that I was either going to have to split it into smaller chunks and watch it scene by scene or just force myself to sit down and watch it straight through. So I put it off and put it off and put it off. Why? It's SO DAMNED LONG.

Thank Cinemark for bringing me back to the Oscar Project. They show a weekly classic movie. When I saw that they would show Gone With the Wind, I thought it might be an opportunity to give it a shot. I have a much easier time watching longer movies in the theater. You just can't quit on a movie in the theater (unless it's so incredibly bad (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, since we're discussing Civil War movies)). So I went, and here I am. First thought? It's SO DAMNED LONG.

There are a bunch of great things about the movie. There are several beautiful shots of the characters, usually Scarlett, silhouetted against and orange sky. They were even more incredible on such a large screen. The music is great; I'm still whistling the theme. Every time Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable are on screen, they are terrific. Since just about every one of Rhett's scenes are with Scarlett, that means he's always brilliant. That goes double for the final scene where he, frankly, no longer gives a damn. But the final scene is also great because the movie it over. You see, it's a four hour movie. I don't know if I've yet expressed that it's SO DAMNED LONG.

When I was thinking ahead to writing this, I was planning on writing about how it clearly didn't deserve the Oscar. In 1940 it was up against Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Of Mice and Men, to name a few. And there's one more movie - The Wizard of Oz. Yes, Wizard should have won. I would rather rewatch all of those other movies than to rewatch Gone With the Wind. But that's mostly because those are reasonably lengthed movies which this one is SO DAMNED LONG.

But after this second viewing, and especially seeing it in a theater, I get it a little more. Sure, it's incredibly racist. Yes, Scarlett is a horrible, horrible person. Yes, it gets rather... rapey. But it really is an epic film. It's a BIG movie in ways other than it's four hour run time. I just wish it wasn't SO DAMNED LONG!

NEXT WEEK: 1941 - Rebecca

Oscar Project Rankings:
  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  4. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  5. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  6. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  7. Grand Hotel (1933)
  8. Cimarron (1932)
  9. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  10. Broadway Melody (1930)
  11. Wings (1929)
  12. Cavalcade (1934)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May is... Lyric-a-Day Month!

Why Lyric-a-Day Month?

It, of course, follows in the grand tradition of the ever popular Haiku-a-Day Month in November and the (on hiatus) Blog-a-Day Month in October and (one time) Movie-a-Day Month in December. I figured I might as well throw another little challenge out there for myself, since the end of the school year isn't enough.

So why lyrics? I've loved music, as all human do, forever. But I've always been a melody man instead of a lyric lover. I pick the songs I enjoy based on whether I can tap my toes, dance, hum, whistle, or sing along.

But if I sing along, I don't always know the lyrics. You know those misunderstood lyrics that show up every once in a while? "Excuse me while I kiss this guy." Like that.  That's me. I regularly have no idea what the real lyrics are.

As I play some guitar every once in a while and try to learn a new tune, I actually have a lot of trouble memorizing the lyrics. I understand when my fingers can't find the chords, since I play guitar rarely enough to be horrible. But they lyrics escape me. I don't allow them to make sense. I don't picture what they are saying. I don't follow the story. I just like the way the words sound.

So enough! This May, I begin my journey to search through lyrics to find some that I like. I've laid out a few simple ground rules for myself.

First, I can't cheat just to be cute. "Tequila" will not be an option. I can't use onomatopoeia to create the sounds of a song without lyrics (Ba Ba Ba Baaaaaaaa for Beethoven's Fifth).If it's in another language, I have to translate. It's not about the way it sounds; it's about the meaning.

Second, I choose to hamstring myself. If there's one band that I actually read the lyrics to, it's my favorite, They Might Be Giants. As soon as I thought of this project, my second day was immediately going to be "Where your eyes don't go a filthy scarecrow waves his broomstick arms and does a parody of each unconscious thing you do." I love that line. But I could spend the whole month just on TMBG lyrics. So I can't use them. I'll make it up another time.

Third, I'm giving no explanation for the lyrics. I'm just posting the lyric and where it's from. I guess you can ask if you really want to know, but I'm just going to go with what hits me. I'll also be inaccurate with the writers of the lyrics on occasion. I don't know if I'll do my full research to list the lyricist. I'll probably just list the artist.

Finally, I need to find the lyric myself in the entirety of the song. That means that I can't just see something on the internet with a song lyric and use that. I can't just use the title of the song. I can't hear someone else quoting the lyrics and decide to use it. This is one I'm going to have to police myself on. Starting with day two, that is.

Day one's lyrics, "It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be" by Bob Dylan, was actually the spark that lit Lyric-a-Day month. But I didn't hear that lyrics myself and decide to use it.  I got it from Penn Jillette.

Penn usually uses the quote to sign off on his podcast, Penn's Sunday School. He has talked about it a few times as being a lyric that he thinks about often. I want some of those lyrics for myself. So while I start in Penn's shadow on day one, I move out for day two.

And for those keeping track, yes, this is the second internet project with inspiration from Penn Jillette. Filthy atheist.

And for those not on Facebook, I'll post them there. Sorry I might round them up here at the end of the month. I might not.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Good year for The Oscars

This is a pretty good year for the Oscars. That doesn't necessarily mean I will actually watch it all, but maybe.

What do I mean by a good year? There's no clear front runners, and there aren't any movies that I hated. So I mean it's a good year for me. In previous years, it seems that there has always been a movie or to that I have actively rooted against, such as Avatar, or Benjamin Buttons. The last two years I have been quite sour on a couple movies each, with Extremely Loud and Tree of Life in 2011 and Silver Linings and Les Mis in 2012.

For the 2013 noms, I genuinely enjoyed every movie. There is one movie I don't think stands a chance There is one movie I liked much more than others, but I also highly doubt will win. There are three that I think are leaders and won't be surprised if they win. And rest could sneak in there if some others cancel each other out.

I've already written about seven of the nine, so I won't write too much of a review for them. You can follow the 2013 Movies label if you like. The other two, Philomena and Captain Phillips, I saw earlier this year.

Philomena is a nice movie. It's not Best Picture winner, however. This is the only one that I'm sure will not win. However, it is a really good story, and one that many people should see. It takes a few turns that you won't expect, as well as being interesting, touching, and funny. If nothing else, the Oscar nom brought it some good attention, as well as bringing more attention to Steve Coogan.
Here are the movies that I think have an outside chance, in case votes cancel each other out.

I think Captain Phillips would have a better chance of winning if not for Gravity. It seems that there's always a crowd-pleaser in the running, a movie that the "average" movie goer would enjoy. I think most people would really get into the suspense and drama from Captain Phillips. And considering it did well at the box office, people did go see it.

But again, I think it is hurt by Gravity, which also fits that criteria, but perhaps better than CP. There's also the controversy surrounding the true story, in which the real Captain Phillips might not have been such a courageous or great guy.

Beyond that, it is a good movie. It gets better as it goes along. The suspense is played perfectly. I watched it several months after it came out, and the other people in the theater will still quite into it and not sure what to expect at each turn.

Her is a good movie, but it isn't for everyone. I've heard people describe it as too creepy. I described it as a cringe movie, but also quite beautiful. I think more Academy voters will see the beautiful part, but I don't think enough will.

Dallas Buyers Club is going to do well in the acting category. Both Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey were excellent. Not only did Leto play a cross dresser, which the Academy always likes, not only did he lose a ton of weight, which the Academy also loves, but he was absolutely brilliant. That's my only "If he doesn't win the whole thing sucks" pick for this year.

If Martin Scorsese hadn't won for The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street would be this year's Oscar winner. It's a better movie than The Departed. But because of that, I'm going to leave it in this category.

Just about every person I have talked to who has seen Nebraska has told me the same thing. They liked it the best out of all the nominees, but it probably won't win. I absolutely agree. It was the best movie of the year. I was hoping for some kind of late push for it, but I don't think that will happen. At best, I'm hoping for a statue or two for the actors nominated, Bruce Dern and June Squibb.

The three movies I think have the best chance of winning are 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle.

12 Years a Slave is a movie most people agree about: great movie, but hard to watch in places.  The "hard to watch" places could either work for or against it. The Academy doesn't always shy away from "hard to watch," such as Schindler's List. But 12 Years a Slave goes a step further in its graphic brutality. I wonder how many people didn't watch the movie because of that. I offered it as extra credit, and a few students didn't want to watch for that reason.

Many people loved American Hustle more that I did, but I also thought it was pretty good. It's a good ensemble piece with some great acting. My two biggest problems were with the music and what I thought it was trying to be. I doubt any voting members of the Academy had the same problems. I think the one thing that might hurt it is that it came out at the same time as The Wolf of Wall Street. While those movies are quite different, there's still something similar enough about them, and they could get lumped in together.

Gravity is the crowd-pleaser, as I mentioned above. In addition, it's a very good movie. And it's technically brilliant. You never feel like you're watching nothing but special effects, which is what makes it work. I feel like people watching at home can get behind Gravity. They often throw in one of these movies to make them fell better that it's nominated, and this year it's good enough that they might agree and give it the win.

Beyond that, my only other interest is that Frozen wins the Best Animated movie. I'm still telling people - and still the don't believe me - that it was a damned fine movie.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Way We Were

Number 1 - Nebraska

School yearbooks are funny. Our book used to be in black and white with a few color pages. We used to spend hours figuring out exactly which pages were going to get to be in those coveted color pages. If there was one regular complaint from middle school kids about the yearbook then, it was that it wasn't all in color.

After I returned to the yearbook from a break, the world of yearbookery had changed. We were in all color. We were paying a lot more for the book, but that decision was gone. We were in glorious color. And during that year, as the class was looking at some black and while photos during our photo of the week session, some kids suggested that we have some pages in black and white. And the class agreed.

You can't win.

Unless you watch Nebraska.

It's in black and white. I absolutely cannot imagine it any other way. To be absolutely honest, I do not think it would top my list if it were in color.

As I played with my photos from my vacation last summer, I spent a few second with every single one of the almost 10,000 photos. In the end, I picked just about 750 to actually edit. With a good handful, I tried them in black and white. But here's the thing I wasn't quite sure of. Why did I try with some and not others? And why did some work in black and white and not others?

I'm still not sure if I totally understand logically. But on an emotional level, I understand it a little more after watching Nebraska. There's a certain emptiness to black and white photography. The dark is what isn't there. That's a bit of sadness, loneliness, or whatever else. But there's the light. Something of significance is there that we can accent in a way that color cannot.

There's a certain emptiness to Nebraska. Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, seems to live a bit of a hopeless life. As the movie starts, he is walking alone. It turns out that he is walking from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar prize that he won. Or didn't.

Everyone else who looks at the "winning" ticket points out that he hasn't actually won anything. The viewer understands very quickly that it isn't actually a winning ticket, But Woody can't seem to get it through his head.

He's portrayed as a loser. This is a guy who can't hold down a job. He's probably an alcoholic. His wife seems to blame him for a lifetime of unhappiness. His two kids seem to be in lives that are falling apart. The obvious connection is Woody.

This is the guy who gets five minutes of screen time in most movies. There a middle aged guy down on his luck. We wonder why for most of the movie, but then his father shows up for a scene. Oh, ok. That's why this guy is so unhappy. He has a crappy father. Got it. Move on to the rest of the story.

But in Nebraska, our focus is on Woody. As the movie goes on, we are shown who he is. We are shown where he's from. We are shown more about his wife and their relationship. Tiniest of spoilers - it's nothing like what you think.

The story is framed around the relationship that changes between Woody and his son David, played by Will Forte. David knows that Woody has won nothing, just like everyone else. He needs a short break from his own life. Helping Woody take this journey is going to allow for that.

You can also see, however, that David wants to be there when Woody finally fails. Perhaps he, too, has seen those movies. He pictures himself as the victim of the circumstance of being Woody's child. Nebraska is largely Woody's story told through David's eyes. We learn about Woody's background as David does. He has only heard the stories; now he gets to see the reality.

There's an emptiness to their lives. But that's not the focus. There's some light to it. There's something there. There's something in the past. There's something in their future. The black and white shows us that. We feel it.

Nebraska isn't exactly a redemption story. It isn't exactly a happy story. It isn't a sad story. It's a lot of everything. It's about, you know, the grey area.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Seasons in the Sun

Number 2 - Frozen

This was the biggest surprise I've had in the theaters in a long time.

Somehow or another, I wandered across this article discussing Frozen. I say that because I really have no idea why I clicked on it. I had no interest whatsoever in seeing the movie.

I saw one trailer. In my memory, I seem to remember a moose chasing a carrot across ice. Hijinks ensued. It wasn't funny. It wasn't entertaining. It also wasn't a moose.

I don't even remember paying enough attention to the trailer enough to notice that is was Disney. I'm pretty sure that all I thought at the time was that this movie was trying to cash in on the Ice Age bonanza, and that seemed really, really lame. I was reminded of that trailer with the squirrel and his frozen nuts.

And then look at the poster. More of the same. I'm sure I had to assume that it's about a silly snowman who lost his carrot nose. Or something.

And if you didn't read it, that's the point of the article. Disney wasn't marketing this movie to me. It was marketing it to dumb kids so that they would drag their unsuspecting parents into the movie.

After glancing through the article, which I didn't carefully read until after seeing the movie, the idea stuck in the back of my head. I checked out the rottentomatoes score - currently at 89%. But because of that first trailer, I also checked the score for Ice Age. It's at 77%.

As I've mentioned Ice Age a couple times now, I should point out that I didn't hate it or anything. There just wasn't anything special or even interesting to me about it.

So why did I see it? The next time I was planning to go see a movie, I was going to get to the theater a bit too late to see what I really wanted to see. I might have only missed trailers, but I don't like showing up after its dark and tripping over people and blocking their view. Frozen was showing about twenty minutes later. High rottentomatoes score? Free pass? What the heck.

Frozen is not Ice Age.

It's a fantastic story. It has great characters. It has two strong female leads. It's funny. The music is fun and memorable (why yes - I do, in fact, want to build a snowman). And most importantly, it's smart.

The interaction between Anna,  voiced by Veronica Mars Kristen Bell, and Prince Hans seems to be typical. The villain seems obvious. It all turns around later in the story in a way that not only works, was surprising, but was cool.

I went into Frozen with absolutely no idea what it was about or what was going to happen. The only things I remembered that I didn't know from the article is that there was a female lead and that there were songs.

The biggest problem I've had with this is that in conversations with actual adult people is that I've mentioned that it was great and I've gotten some sideways glances. My credibility is questioned. I'm sure the same has happened with many of you. But Frozen is a damn fine movie, and almost my favorite of the year.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Love's Theme

Number 3 - Gravity

The trailer and the hype didn't get me for Gravity. Looking back, I don't know if I ever saw the trailer in the theaters. I didn't see a lot of movies in the season leading up to it, so I probably saw it on a small computer screen. Or maybe just a commercial.

But Gravity is one of those movies that really needs a big screen. If you haven't seen it in the theaters yet, there's still time. I even wish I had seen it in IMAX.

I did bite the bullet (and the extra four or five bucks) to see it in 3D. Once again, I listened to some joker or another tell me that this was a movie that needed to be seen in 3D. Once again, they're wrong. About once a year or so I fall for that. Totally my fault.

During Gravity, you get a strange sense of the claustrophobia of being in space. The nothingness closes in around you as much as it does the characters on the screen. That's something that the big screen does that your TV might not.

We're getting so close to entering an amazing age of CGI. Looking back at the time since the biggest and blockbusteriest pioneers, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, movies have seen a lot of really, really shitty CGI. In many cases, though, filmmakers have done a great job in building on those blocks to create some great effects where they aren't necessarily obvious.

Gravity is one of those movies. While you're watching it, you start with a sense of logic that tells you that they obviously didn't film it in space, so there must be something going on. But the thing that sets it apart is that you very quickly forget. I wonder if it's because there are no monsters or even animals behaving is ways they wouldn't normally do so? Because you don't have to suspend that reality?

Other than that, it has a pretty straight forward plot, the acting is well enough, and we get character development. What more can you ask for?

Even though I wasn't expecting to like Gravity as much as I did, that's nothing compared to the absolute surprise I got from watching movie number two...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Come and Get Your Love

Number 4 - Dallas Buyers Club

I think I'm experiencing déjà vu with this movie. It's nothing about the plot or setting or anything like that. It's Matthew McConaughey.

You see, he's really, really good in Dallas Buyers Club. I left the theater thinking to myself, "Matthew McConaughey? As in, 'All right, all right' with no shirt on playing the bongos? He's this good of an actor?"

And then I took a look at IMDB to see what else he had been in. My memory is that he's been crapping it up in a bunch of stinkers. But no, it's a list of pretty good movies. And pretty good performances.

And here's the déjà vu. I'm pretty sure I've had this same conversation with myself and gone to IMDB and reached the same conclusion.

I guess it isn't a particular movie that I'm thinking of but just the guy himself. Now there are probably other reasons as well. I didn't see Sahara, but I heard it was a turd and that he was probably a piece of corn in that turd. His role in The Wolf of Wall Street was memorable, but his acting was a bit over the top. And yeah, he was that guy who played the bongos and ran around without a shirt. Or so I heard. Or read. I don't know. For some reason, that's how I know him.

It's funny that I talk so much about McConaughey being good. Jared Leto was phenomenal and will get a best supporting actor nomination.

In addition to all that, it's a really good movie. When it's finished, you'll learn more about HIV and AIDS medications. All I knew before going in was "AZT. That's the AIDS drug, right?" Turns out - no. It's not. Or it shouldn't be. And oh yeah - you'll hate another part of our beloved government, specifically the part that is supposed to be keeping us safe from all of the horrible drugs that people are abusing themselves with. Because it's a black and white issue - no grey area whatsoever.

It's still in theaters. Go see it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dancing Machine

Number 5 - Twelve Years a Slave

Yeah, it probably earns its spot on my list because I'm a history nerd. But damn, it's a good movie.

Teaching eighth grade, slavery was always a focus in the spring. We try to do everything we can to get kids to really understand exactly what was going on. It was pretty important to understand the brutality of just the idea of owning another person. And then there's the actual physical brutality.

Every year, in almost every class, there was always at least one of these boys. They would have to show everyone how tough and awesome they were instead of, you know, trying to understand the concept. They would tell everyone else how they wouldn't take any of those beatings. They would fight back and kick everyone's ass.

Or, perhaps, when we watch Glory, they would giggle at Denzel Washington as a tear rolls down his face while getting beated. When that happened, it was always a strange juxtaposition of giggles and sniffles. Unfortunately, they weren't the uncomfortable giggles that you often get with students. For those of you who aren't teachers, it's that moment when kids are uncomfortable with what they are seeing and hearing. And instead of shutting up and trying to absorb or think about it, they laugh.

But this isn't that. These boys are laughing at Private Trip (Denzel's character) for being weak. Real men don't cry, after all. He's just getting whipped.

A few seconds later, they show a quick shot of his ripped up back. Some of the kids get it at that point, but not all. A big part of that is technology. Watching something in a classroom using district purchased projectors doesn't exactly show clarity. It's easy to miss exactly what you're seeing.

But even so, Glory doesn't show the full brutality of skin getting ripped off of someone's back. Perhaps they skipped it because it didn't want to earn an R rating that it didn't deserve.

Twelve Years a Slave goes all in. You see it. You hear it. You feel it. It's bad. The bad thing is that an eighth grade classroom, full of people who need to see this, probably won't be allowed to.

The movie is even more heartbreaking when you know the outcome, which is actually spoiled in the title. Solomon Northup "lives" as a slave for twelve years before being returned to freedom. You feel the years he lost in his life. But you have to remember that he is one of the few who got freedom at all. Every other slave you see in the movie remained a slave. Most were born a slave. Their freedom doesn't come until the War Between the States later on and the Thirteenth Amendment.

The acting, by just about everyone, is raw and perfect. If Twelve Years a Slave doesn't get a Best Picture nod, I just hope that a few of the people in it do. 

The worst thing about the movie? That poster. Look at that thing. It looks like it's for Run, Soloman, Run instead of this. Shame.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Movies - The better movies

I left this off of the last post:
Man of Steel was a good enough superhero movie. It just wasn't a very good Superman movie. It quickly became clear as to why he no longer had his underwear on the outside of his pants. That's because when you get your panties in a bunch, you don't want to wear them anymore. I'm cool with the brooding, moody superhero. But this wasn't Superman. I have plenty of faith that Ben Affleck can be a good Batman. I have little faith that Zack Snyder can make a good movie, and I wish Affleck had been tapped for that role instead.

If this moment isn't in the next Avengers movie, it fails.
Now to the better films.

The last superhero movie this year was Thor: The Dark World. I thought it was the best of the bunch, but it didn't have much with which to compete. It was fun and funny. It continued the storyline of the character between Avengers films. It did what it needed to. I wonder if these movies are too big, and that they really have to be. While Asgard is a great change of pace, I would like to see more of the god on Earth type of thing. Have Thor take on some of the Marvel Universe villains (how about Thor versus the Absorbing Man?), but keep the focus on something smaller. He doesn't have to save the universe each time. This goes for all of the Marvel movies. Save that for the Avengers.

I'm enjoying the new Star Trek movies. Star Trek Into Darkness had an interesting enough take, and Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong. I'm not a big enough trekkie to compare these, but I can tell you that as long as this cast is on the Enterprise, I'll keep coming back. They nailed each character.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues had no way of living up to the first movie. I accepted that before watching it, and it helped. There were a few funny parts, but nothing as quotable. There were a few long stretches between laughs. But the funniest scene (which was also the funniest scene in the first movie - funny how that works) was pretty darned funny. It features one of the Jacksons.

Last year, I forgave the length of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I think it's because of the LOTR films, which I loved. But in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I just couldn't sit still. Everything looks great. Everything is fun. But there are just... so... many... details. I haven't read the book since fifth grade. Is there really enough left for another movie? I'm definitely not the first or last to say this: It would have made a REALLY great single film.

Saving Mr. Banks is going to be a top choice for people who don't really see a lot of movies. I say that in the most condescending way I possibly can. While watching it, I got caught up with it as well. It's a good movie. There were plenty of tears falling in that theater. But here are two reasons why it can't be great. First, Tom Hanks... isn't very good. With most actors, you can forgive it. But I can't with him. Sorry. The second reason is very similar to my critique of Les Miserables last year. If you loved Saving Mr. Banks, it's probably because you liked the music. But the music was from a different movie. If you got a little teary eyed during Feed the Birds, it wasn't because of this movie. It's because of Mary Poppins.

Her is a cringe movie. You won't feel comfortable for the entire movie. When you start to feel comfortable, you notice it, and it's not OK. And yet, I still have to say that the movie is quite... beautiful. Perhaps that says more about me than the movie.

American Hustle tried really hard. It tried too hard. And everything is technically good about it. The story is fine, the acting is really good, and it looks great. But it doesn't quite come together. For me, it was the music. Partway through I thought about how good the soundtrack was in representing the late 70s. As the movie kept going, they crammed in more and more songs that would make a great soundtrack. But it started to become a parody of itself. It started to become - how many late 70s songs can we license and cram into this movie? Apparently, all of them.

The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely a Martin Scorcese film. You won't mistake it for anyone else's work. Unlike in American Hustle, he knows how to grab a song from the time period and make it stick to a scene. Everyone is great in this. I was concerned from the trailer that Jonah Hill was just playing Joe Pesci. He sorta does, but he also has his own thing going on. There are shots of Leonardo DiCaprio where he looks a lot like Orson Wells in Citizen Kane.  If  five weren't such a nice round number, I would have made it a top six list and started with The Wolf of Wall Street. It's a three hour movie, but it didn't feel much longer than two hours fifty-five.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a cool little Coen Brothers film. I use the word little carefully, as each Coen Brothers movie feels intimate. Their movies really are about people. They are about the characters and not as much about what happens. But some of their movies feel bigger. This really is about one guy. Sure, there are other characters. But it's about Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer in the early 1960s. The big conflict you will have when you watch is whether to actually root for him or not. All I could think of while watching was this story from The Onion. And then I just wanted him to get some kind of day job.

Tomorrow - number five.