Monday, April 1, 2013

Cinetopia Golden Ticket: March 2013

For the uninitiated, Cinetopia is small chain of theaters in Vancouver, Washington (with one in Beaverton, Oregon) that has made high-end movie-viewing its ceaseless goal. In addition to more comfortable seats with extra leg room and full-service dining from its in-house restaurant, they have ginormous screens with digital projection and state-of-the-art sound systems that seem to be comprised of speakers carpeting the walls and ceilings. It’s quite impressive.

As if this wasn’t enough, owner Rudyard Coltman has been spear-heading new ways to get film fans into Cinetopia to share their appreciation other than merely watching movies. Most recently, they experimented in having a movie-themed game show in promotion of A Good Day to Die Hard. Contestants answered trivia from the Die Hard franchise as well as completed physical challenges inspired by the movie series, winning various prizes with every round. The grand prize winner of the championship trivia round received a Golden Ticket, which allows for an entire year of unlimited free movies at any Cinetopia location, any day, any show, any way he wants. Lucky bastard.

At the end of that video, you can see a dorky picture of the lucky bastard in question and that lucky bastard is me. Who’da thought watching all those Die Hard movies over and over would actually pay off (outside of being their own reward, I mean)? After winning the Golden Ticket, I was in full-on “too good to be true” mode and was looking for a loophole (as if the pass was ineligible for premieres or special engagements or not for use in the movie parlors or could only be used a few times a month or whatever), but no – this is the real deal and I’m like a kid in a candy store.

My Golden Ticket officially went into effect at the beginning of March and I saw two movies that first day alone. It seemed to me that, after having received such a generous prize, I owed it to the people (or, at least, to myself) to keep track of the free movies I’ve seen this year and review them as I go. So, for the remainder of this year (and into winter 2014), I will be using this blog to look back on the movies of the past month that I probably never would have seen without my Golden Ticket.

Movie One: 21 & Over Unfortunately, after Oscar time, movie studios kinda lose their ambition and have a tendency to release stuff they’ve been sitting on for some time or don’t have much confidence in (or both). I can’t say for sure that 21 & Over fits into that category specifically, but it’s a pretty mediocre and forgettable movie. That’s a shame, because movies like this are poised to be hilarious and exhilarating. The Hangover was exactly that and this film was made by the guys who wrote The Hangover. But, it was also made by the guys who wrote The Hangover Part II, so I guess they’ve already exhausted the premise. 21 & Over wasn’t altogether bad; it just wasn’t very good, either. It started out pretty promising with likeable characters that had good chemistry and amusing banter, but, ironically, once they started partying, it actually became less interesting. Ultimately, the movie just seemed lazy. There were so many gags where the punchline was somebody simply ending up naked (which, in itself, is not funny) that it got old real fast. I’d say more about the movie, but frankly, I don’t remember much. And I saw it just a month ago.

Movie Two: Jack the Giant Slayer It’s my understanding this movie didn’t do so hot in theaters. Can’t say I’m surprised. It’s not a bad movie (certainly much better than 21 & Over), but I could tell while I was watching it that this would be a film that would probably slip through the cracks. I didn’t see John Carter last year (and it seems nobody else did, either), but I suspect Jack the Giant Slayer had the same problem. There were all the ingredients of a blockbuster: An accomplished director doing a classic story with good actors, a decent script, well-crafted action sequences, excellent special effects and some humor sprinkled throughout. So, what went wrong? I think people just weren’t interested in seeing a movie about “Jack & the Beanstalk” any more than they were “John Carter of Mars”. Not right now, anyway. That’s the real trick, I think. It’s like the stock market. Who knew that Lord of the Rings would be such a huge success being made about 45 years after the books were published? Nobody did. Audiences were just ready. Speaking for myself, I enjoyed Jack the Giant Slayer enough to be glad I watched it, but it certainly didn’t blow me away as much as the filmmakers clearly intended it to. And that’s not even the filmmakers’ fault. I just wasn’t really in the mood for it. I probably will someday, though.

Movie Three: Side Effects Don’t worry, this month’s entry won’t be entirely comprised of expressing my disappointment in sub-par films. This movie I knew very little about going into, but was told that’s the way to see it. Given it was a Steven Soderbergh opus; I knew I was in good hands, so that was enough to pique my interest. As I said, going in to this movie cold seems to enhance the experience, so I’ll say very little about the movie as far as details. It has a very small cast and all of them turn in very compelling performances (Yes, even Channing Tatum) making it almost feel like a play. Intimate stories like this can be quite powerful with the right script and an accomplished director and this film has both, in spades. In fact, this is the best movie of the year so far (and by far). If you missed it in theaters (although, Portland people can catch it at the Hollywood Theatre this week), don’t worry. It won’t suffer much from being seen on DVD.

Movie Four: Snitch In some ways, I enjoyed this movie even more than Side Effects, largely because I expected so little from it. The way the film was marketed (mostly from the trailer) and given the fact it stars The Rock, I was anticipating a brainlessly macho action extravaganza harkening back to the 80’s-era Stallone/Schwarzenegger nonsense. What I got instead was a very well-constructed suspenseful drama. In fact, it’s barely an action movie because it’s trying so hard not to be. The Rock plays a man who takes it upon himself to gather incriminating evidence on drug dealers on behalf of his son who is caught receiving narcotics in a sting operation that borders on entrapment. The story does a good job of showing (quite plausibly, I thought) how this father won’t take “no” for an answer to the point where the DEA says “Well, we might as well use him, then.” And when the obligatory speech comes around about two-thirds into the movie where the dad confesses to his son in the visitation room that he realizes he hasn’t been an attentive enough father, but is going to try to make things right, it doesn’t feel forced or hokey. Indeed, it’s quite appropriate at that point in the story and even surprisingly touching. People often don’t give professional wrestlers much credit for being good film actors, but let’s not forget: that’s what professional wrestlers are. I think, over time, if he chooses the right roles, The Rock… No… Dwayne Johnson will be well respected as an actor and will have earned that respect.

Movie Five: Dead Man Down Crime thrillers where the characters are double-crossers and not everything is as it seems have ceased to be surprising because we all pretty much walk into these movies expecting to be surprised in the first place. Outside of completely changing genres midway through the movie (like having an alien burst forth through Colin Farrell’s chest or having Noomi Rapace suddenly jump into a choreographed song and dance number), there’s not much more filmmakers can do to catch us off guard in movies like this anymore. That said, this isn’t a bad entry in that category. I think they tried a little hard to make a fairly simple premise seem complicated, but it’s still a worthwhile ride. Again, I don’t wanna say too much in the off chance you’re the type of person who is caught off guard by the kinds of plot twists this movie contains, so I’ll keep it short. The set-up of the movie is that a gangster (played by Terrence Howard) is being anonymously tormented out of revenge while one of his underlings (played by Colin Farrell) is being blackmailed by his neighbor (played by Noomi Rapace) who has an agenda of her own. If that kind of scenario sounds like something you’d enjoy, you’d probably enjoy this movie. I did. But I probably wouldn’t watch it again.

Movie Six: Spring Breakers I could never tell the difference between Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. Still not sure I can, but they at least are capable enough actresses for me to be able to tell them apart in this movie. Clearly they’ve both reached that rite of passage where child actresses attempt to transcend their wholesome images by playing hedonistic hell-raisers (as Alyssa Milano and Drew Barrymore did in the early 90’s). I gotta say, they do a good job, too. Not merely in playing unscrupulous sluts, but actually adding some depth to their characters as well. Gomez is particularly good in a scene where she pleads to James Franco (who practically disappears in his role as a small-time gangsta) that she feels they’ve gone too far and wants to go home. I have mixed feeling about this film because it succeeds so well in some scenes and falls short in others. For instance, there’s a mesmerizing shot where the girls’ first robbery is viewed through the windows of a restaurant from the getaway car as it circles around the front door to the back, but they ruin it later by revealing the details of what went on inside through flashbacks. There’s also a great set-up to the climactic scene and, when it’s over, you’re like “That’s it?” Bottom line, though: This movie accomplishes what it sets out to do and anybody expecting to see lotsa T&A won’t be disappointed.

Movie Seven: Olympus Has FallenAnd we’re back to lame movies, this one being the worst on this whole list. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare, of course, but I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare with Snitch, either. Besides being an all-around stupid movie, there were other things that bothered me even more about this one. Mainly, it seemed to have an almost cynical disregard for human life. Now, I’m not such a pansy that I shake my head disdainfully at a high body count (for crying out loud, I won the Die Hard Game Show, so what does that tell you), but this movie seemed to say that dozens - even hundreds - of human lives are disposable so long as the President survives. Really, is any one person’s life that valuable? There’s a scene in the movie where the Speaker of the House as acting President goes on television assuring the American People that the chain of command is still intact. After having seen the White House obliterated, the Secret Service almost entirely wiped out, a significant amount of the upper tier of government officials executed, and everything the terrorists are demanding on top of that, you’d think there’d be a point where the remaining functioning government would say, “Screw it, what good is the President to us now?” I’m not trying to downplay the importance of the role of Commander-in-Chief nor his significance as a man, but seeing as how he is this movie’s “MacGuffin,” I didn’t feel like whether he lived or died really mattered in the grand scheme of things, particularly when he was the terrorists only real bargaining chip and their ultimate agenda seemed to be to kill more Americans anyway. There’s also a particularly tasteless scene where the top of the Washington Monument is ripped off after a terrorist plane crashes into it. The debris crushes fleeing bystanders and the remaining structure is left smoldering. Clearly the filmmakers were trying to underhandedly strike an emotional chord with the audience by using imagery reminiscent of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. I wouldn’t have been as offended if it had anything to do with the plot, but it was just there to make us upset about something fictional by reminding us of something actual. Pretty sickening.

I saw Olympus Has Fallen on March 29th and I’m aching to wipe it out of my memory with something good for April. Unfortunately, I’m unable to find anything I’m interested in seeing even for free this week (at Cinetopia, anyway). Hopefully, I won’t hafta wait ‘til May to see something good, but stay tuned.


  1. By the way, as you may have noticed at the very, very end of that embedded video, Cinetopia is having another "Game Show" for the new "Star Trek" movie in May. It'd be nice if somebody I knew won the Golden Ticket so we could go to all these free movies together.

  2. Great write ups, John, you really should work for a periodical as a movie reviewer.
    -- SBR