I’ve always admired Roger Ebert. “Adored” would be a better word, actually. I’ve been reading his reviews for so long, I really felt like I knew him. In fact, his death made me about as sad as I think one could be for the loss of someone they’d never actually met. He caught my attention early on when I discovered his syndicated movie review show as a kid. I was every bit as much of a movie fan back then and I was in awe of the concept that somebody could have a career (and even their own show) of watching movies and then talking about them. It never occurred to me that there could be a drawback to that kind of arrangement.
Two months out of a year’s worth of free movies has shown me that drawback. The truth is, for every great movie, there are probably nine bad ones. It’s an interesting position, to have unlimited free movies whenever you want them. As a normal paying customer, you exercise discretion because you obviously don’t want to spend money on something you don’t think you’d enjoy. Some of that discretion still remains, in my case, because I certainly don’t want to spend time on something I don’t think I’ll enjoy (I have absolutely no intention of ever seeing Scary Movie 5, for instance, no matter how free it may be), but I am more inclined to indulge in something I wouldn’t normally pay for. As I stated in my previous post, I have been pleasantly surprised in some cases by movies I had little to no expectations of (I still stand by my ascertainment that Snitch is a great movie despite my own prejudices) and never would have seen in the first place were it not for my Golden Ticket, but – just like good movies I would have paid to see – those are few and far between.
In case that last paragraph sounds too cynical, let me be clear: I’m not in the least bit sorry I have a year’s worth of free movies at my disposal and I’m still excited about what remains in the year to come. I’m merely pointing out that, the more movies you see, the percentage of movies that impress you decreases exponentially. So, let’s take a look at the past month of mediocrity, shall we?
Movie Eight: Evil Dead – The original Evil Dead never had a claim on quality or dignity, but it did have one thing going for it: Excess. Probably 90% of its shoestring budget was dedicated to gory special effects that were impressive enough to earn the film a permanent standing in the horror hall of fame. With that in mind, you would think a remake would be something spectacular with a huge budget behind it. Yeah, baby! Crank that sucker up to 11! Unfortunately, I thought the same thing about the Godzilla remake 15 years ago (which was terribly botched in ways that, to this day, still mystify me) and the Evil Dead remake suffers the same fate. It’s really quite simple folks: Get some teenagers up to a secluded cabin, make them likeable enough so we can at least stand them for 90 minutes (this version’s first mistake was failing to manage even that), find a way to unleash evil spirits, then an hour’s worth of special effects, freaky monsters and gruesome deaths (each one more impressive than the last) that accumulates into a finale that makes us say “whoa.” How hard is that? It’s pretty pathetic when you take a movie that wasn’t very good to begin with and do away with whatever it had going for it to make something even worse. I’m having PTSD flashbacks of The Amityville Horror remake.
Movie Nine: Jurassic Park 3-D – Some movies were made for the theater. Not just because they have breathtaking scenery and fantastic sound effects, but because the presentation is integral to the experience. Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, is a movie I will only see in the theater because to watch it any other way is to undermine its greatness. It makes me shudder to think that there are probably people out there who have actually watched it on an iPad. I used to own Jurassic Park on video years ago, but got rid of it before too long because I never watched it. I always assumed it was because it just wasn’t a good enough movie to stand up to multiple viewings. But now, having seen it in the theater again 20 years later, I see it’s all about the presentation. It was every bit as impactful as the first time I saw it in the theater as a teenager, which is impressive given all the movies we’ve seen since then. That’s Spielberg, I guess. JAWS holds up, so why wouldn’t Jurassic Park? As for the 3-D aspect, the conversion is pretty spectacular and looks about as realistic as it possibly can, but the fact is Jurassic Park is a good enough movie that it doesn’t need it at all. Although, that scene when the velociraptor leaps up at Lex hanging from the ventilation shaft seems like an even closer call with the 3-D.
Movie Ten: The Place Beyond the Pines – Here’s one I went to see just because I’d heard it was good. And, man, was it good. It’s a compelling arrangement of three movies in one with stories and characters (and their connections with each other) overlapping within a span of about 15 years. Movies like this usually separate the chapters into a series of vignettes, but this film has a nice flow where the viewer just rides along with the story as it unfolds in unpredictable tangents. Much like real life. It has an especially beautiful ending that suggests that life comes full circle and the character who exits in the final scene is likely to go on and eventually enter as another character does in the opening scene. It’s a pretty powerful movie. The set-up, relationships and pathos of this film reminded me of a Dan Chaon novel. If haven’t read Dan Chaon, do yourself a favor and seek out his work. But, do yourself a more immediate favor first and seek out The Place Beyond the Pines.
Movie Eleven: 42 – When Red Tails came out, it was almost unanimously deemed prosaic by critics. That bummed me out, but I went to see it anyway in the hopes that I would like it regardless of public opinion. Unfortunately, the critics were right. It was unfortunate not just because I wanted to like it, but because the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is such a great one and they deserved a better telling of their legacy, especially since the service of black soldiers in World War II is so grossly overlooked. 42 is a better movie than Red Tails was, but it still falls short as far as the kind reverent tribute Jackie Robinson deserves from a film. I was hoping for a more sentimental and moving baseball flick like The Natural or The Pride of the Yankees. Maybe part of the problem was that Jackie Robinson lived a very straight and honorable life. He was faithfully married to the same woman for over 25 years. He didn’t have any problems with drugs or alcohol. He didn’t have any debilitating illnesses (unless you count diabetes, which he was diagnosed with after he retired from baseball). He wasn’t even traded from the Brooklyn Dodgers during his entire major league career. So, basically his story is that he was a good ball player, they let him into the major leagues, racists didn’t like that, but his prowess and talent combined with the changing of the times made people think differently and, eventually, he became a legend. That’s about it. Makes for a good milestone in the history of civil rights, but lacks some punch as a movie. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, but I would have liked it to be better. As a footnote, I’d just like to point out that there was some controversy surrounding Tarantino’s Django Unchained and its overabundance of the word “nigger”. Now, I wasn’t keeping a tally, but it seemed like 42 used the word about as many times as Django did. How come nobody made a fuss about it this time? Is it because baseball is a less inflammatory subject than slavery and therefore racial slurs are more acceptable in a sports movie? Or is it just because 42 wasn’t as popular a movie?
Movie Twelve: Oblivion – This kind of movie is exactly what I was referring to in the third paragraph of this blog post. Oblivion is a perfectly competent science fiction film. It’s tightly directed, beautifully shot, well-acted, has amazing special effects, good action sequences, realistic dialogue and an original enough story to not feel redundant. Plus, Morgan Freeman. Yet, even with all those elements in place, I walked out of the theater feeling little more than that it was a decent way to kill a couple hours. Is that because I’m seeing so many movies that my standards are too high or was it merely a garden-variety sci-fi flick that didn’t deserve much acclaim? Probably a little of both. In any case, I’m glad I saw it, but by the time next spring rolls around and I’m compiling my top ten favorite films of the year, Oblivion will surely be omitted. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was forgettable.
Movie Thirteen: Pain & Gain – Apparently, some of the real life victims (and families of victims) portrayed in this movie have come forward complaining that this movie glorifies the criminals depicted and makes them likeable and “sympathetic”. I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Everybody in this entire movie (with the possible exception of Ed Harris’ character and his wife) comes across as a world-class grade-A bag of douche, in my opinion – bad guys and good guys. There isn’t a single likeable or sympathetic person or action in the whole movie. In fact, I’ll even take it a step further and say that anybody who even liked this movie is probably kind of a dick. Let’s face it, the movie was made by Michael Bay and we all know he’s a dick. It really is an insufferable movie made worse because it’s over two hours long. Interestingly enough, you could probably trim it down to 90 minutes by simply letting all of the slo-mo scenes play in real time.
There were a number of days last month (especially the rainy ones) where I actually wanted to go to the movies, but I had seen everything I conceivably wanted to see (as I said before, I never had any intention of seeing Scary Movie 5 or any film of its caliber), so I had nothing to do but wait for something new to come out. Thankfully, the studios tend to get a jump on the summer market by releasing some of their blockbusters as early as May. So, here’s to hoping I’m in for some better stuff in the months ahead.