Movie Twenty-six: Despicable Me 2 – The first Despicable Me wasn’t that long ago, yet I don’t remember much about it. I remember I liked it, but beyond that, all I really recall is that the minions stole the show. The same is true here (probably even more so this time). However, I’m relieved the filmmakers had sense enough to not make them the focal point of the movie because, even as amusing as they are, I don’t think they could support a whole feature film on their own (a concept actually referenced over the end credits with “auditions” for a minion movie). While this is a pretty unnecessary (if not downright pointless) sequel, it’s not without its good moments. Indeed there are some genuine laugh-out-loud gags and it remains consistently entertaining enough to never feel tiresome. The showing I was at had both kids and adults laughing a lot and I can’t imagine this movie aspiring to accomplish anything more than that. However, I’m also fairly certain I won’t remember much about it by the time Despicable Me 3 comes out.
Movie Twenty-seven: Pacific Rim – I was expecting something more like Independence Day (in terms of structure, not content or the lacking quality thereof). In other words: Monsters attack, humans rally, robots are built, vengeance is served. But, after a short preamble, they flash forward to where the monsters have already destroyed a great deal of the planet (giant robots included) and the movie we’re about to watch is humanity’s last-ditch effort at victory (with whatever robots are left). While I felt deprived of what would probably be an equally good origin movie, I can’t complain since the way they did it gets you right into the action from the get-go. Not many surprises here. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve pretty much seen the movie. But, on that note, if you liked the trailers, you’ll like the movie. Guillermo Del Toro is a master at wielding CGI. He’s even better at it than Spielberg. I can’t put my finger on what he does differently, but somehow, it seems so much more authentic and never feels cartoony. More importantly, the action sequences (while truly epic) don’t feel overwhelming or disorganized (like they did in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel). It’s not easy to do right, but it’s quite effective when it is. On those grounds, Pacific Rim is Del Toro’s masterpiece. I’ve been thinking for years that I’d like to see a live-action “Voltron” movie. Now, I don’t think we need one.
Movie Twenty-eight: The Lone Ranger – I can’t say I liked this movie all that much, but it was probably the most interesting movie experience I’ve had so far this year. Y’see, my dad was a huge Lone Ranger fan when he was a kid. He used to listen to the radio show in the late 40’s/early 50’s religiously – literally never missed an episode. To this day, he can still recite the introductory speech by heart. He was such a big fan of the original Lone Ranger that he held the subsequent television series starring Clayton Moore – widely considered the definitive Lone Ranger (just as Bela Lugosi is considered the definitive Dracula) – in contempt, finding it corny and ridiculous. He’d been saying for years how he wished they’d make a Lone Ranger movie and do it right. A version made in 1981 bombed so bad, I don’t even think he saw it. So, he got excited when he heard a new one was in the works. It was heartbreaking to see his excitement wane with every update about this latest version (starting with the news that Johnny Depp would play Tonto). It got to the point where my dad pretty much gave up and decided that, since this was the closest he was ever going to get to a bona fide Lone Ranger film in his lifetime (he’s 73 – although, at the rate Hollywood’s doing “reboots”, he may actually still get another chance), he’d just hafta take what he could get. His exact words were, “I'm training my mind to not look at this movie as being about the Lone Ranger, but a western with a lot of special effects. Maybe that will make it acceptable.” We went to see the movie together and I braced myself for his walking out in disgust (although it was probably more likely that he’d just fall asleep). Now, I don’t know much about the Lone Ranger, but I have my own impressions of how the legend should be represented. This wasn’t a horrible movie, but it certainly squandered its potential by making what I thought were poor decisions. For starters, the Lone Ranger himself is kind of a bumbling fool and a very reluctant hero. That doesn’t seem right to me. Even more implausibly, he seems to go from a wimpy priss to an expert-marksman/master-equestrian overnight. Almost everything Tonto says is a punchline and he’s more comic relief than faithful sidekick. Sporadically, there are several awkward attempts to make the movie appealing to modern audiences. For instance, the familiar catch phrase “Who was that masked man?” is replaced by “What’s with the mask?” and “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!” is played for laughs. Even when they finally perform the William Tell Overture, it seems more like an ironic joke than a triumphant fanfare. So, I walked out of the theater shaking my head and thinking my father was going to go home and slit his wrists. Imagine my surprise when he said, “That was good.” Apparently, it was more true to form than I was even aware. Things I thought the filmmakers had just fabricated were actually part of the original story – even certain minor events and smaller characters. Remember that scene in A Christmas Story when the dad is answering trivia questions and asks the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse? Well, the nephew’s in there too and was indeed The Lone Ranger’s only surviving relative in the legend. So, as weak as the movie was, they at least did their research and I hafta respect that. The one thing my dad did take exception to was the overabundance of CGI. Can’t say I blame him. It was phony-looking and thus distracting. If Gore Verbinski had the command of special effects that Guillermo Del Toro had, this would have been a much better movie. More importantly, this film shouldn’t have tried to be something it wasn’t. One of the saving graces of the recent Captain America film was that it embraced its timeframe and felt nostalgic, like an old swashbuckling movie serial. The Lone Ranger seemed to want to have it both ways, which created a mess. Audiences have reacted accordingly and it’s turned out to be one of this summer’s biggest flops. All that matters to me, though, is that my dad enjoyed it. After 50+ years of waiting, he finally got his Lone Ranger movie. I’m happy for him.
Movie Twenty-nine: The Conjuring – This has got to be the most derivative horror film I’ve ever seen. I realize that horror films by their very nature have to use similar gimmicks employed by movies made before them, but this is ridiculous. This movie is basically a checklist of horror movie clichés that could be entitled “What’s that from?” I’m not kidding, it borrows elements from 1944’s The Uninvited to 2007’s Paranormal Activity (and every haunted ghost story ever made in between). There’s even a creepy old car that resembles Christine. It’s comprised of so many movies we’ve already seen, the filmmakers might as well have made it a spoof and called it Scary Movie 6. One might argue that the movie is the way it is because it’s “based on a true story”. Right. I saw a documentary that interviewed Lorraine Warren (the paranormal investigator portrayed by Vera Farmiga in this movie) and the one thing about her I believe to be true is that she’s bat-shit crazy. Realism is irrelevant in this case, anyway. As Jack Nicholson said about being directed by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining: Just because something’s realistic doesn’t mean it’s interesting. The Conjuring is neither realistic nor interesting. It’s not scary, either.
Movie Thirty: R.I.P.D. – Speaking of derivative, R.I.P.D. clearly tried to re-create the magic of Men In Black by taking the exact same formula and simply replacing the aliens with ghosts. Unfortunately, what the filmmakers failed to realize is that it wasn’t the aliens that made Men In Black great, it was the humans. The chemistry and banter between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith was what really sold that premise. Plus, everything was thought out so comprehensively in Men In Black, they made every ridiculous scenario seem hilariously plausible. So much of R.I.P.D. doesn’t make sense. I’m perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief for any movie that deserves it (in fact, that’s what I want from every movie), but you’ve gotta meet me half way. I don’t want to go into too many details about the number of things that made me scratch my head because that would take too long (and, frankly, I don’t want to frustrate myself further by dismantling a movie so perplexing), but here’s an example: You’ve probably seen in the trailer that the officers of R.I.P.D. have “avatars” so they can work undercover amongst the living. Ryan Reynolds’ avatar is an elderly Chinese man. That’s great. It’s ironic, it’s effective and it’s amusing. However, Jeff Bridges’ avatar is a smoking-hot blonde who, for some reason, wears a tight, form-fitting, low-cut dress. Clearly, the writers did that to be funny, but the gag is nullified by its senselessness. If you’re working undercover – especially as covertly as a spirit among the living – how is it effective to draw attention to yourself by being exceptionally good-looking? Even the movie itself shows how inconvenient it is since human bystanders are constantly ogling Officer Pulsipher and, in some cases, interrupting their investigation by hitting on him. It’s kinda funny, but not funny enough to justify its absurdity. The whole movie’s strung together by such aberrations that I just couldn’t swallow it. I was ready, willing and able to buy the concept of deceased lawmen hunting fugitive spirits, but I guess the filmmakers weren’t willing to take it as seriously as I was.
Movie Thirty-one: The Wolverine – I didn’t see X-Men Origins: Wolverine until a month or two ago and, I gotta say, I think it kinda got a bum rap. It’s not a particularly good movie, but it’s nowhere near the stinky turd everyone made it out to be. Never really having read X-Men comics, my pre-conceived notions were minimal at best, so maybe that’s why. At the very least, I thought it delivered enough mutant vs. mutant action to be worth watching. The Wolverine is a better movie, but seriously lacks in the mutant department. There are a couple in there besides Wolverine, but for all intents and purposes, this more closely resembles a samurai flick than a superhero movie. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing mainly because it makes this a decent individual movie (as opposed to a chapter in a series). With the exception of references to the end of X-Men: The Last Stand and an epilogue that sets the stage for X-Men: Days of Future Past, there’s not much connection to the other movies and you don’t even need to have seen the previous installments (unless you require the basic exposition of Wolverine’s character, which the movie sums up well enough as it goes along) to get the gist of it. Frankly, given the haphazard non-sequential chronology they’ve been following with these movies, it’s felt a bit confusing trying to keep the timeline straight. Doesn’t sound like X-Men: Days of Future Past is gonna cut us any slack, either, since it will contain characters from all different time continuums. So, a stand-alone film with minimal mutants and a self-contained story is actually quite refreshing. Plus, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is always entertaining any way you slice it.
Movie Thirty-two: The Way Way Back – It occurred to me the other day that so much of everyone’s childhood is just waiting. By that, I mean all the times your mother or father would take you somewhere merely because they had errands to run and you were too young to look after yourself. I was thinking of all the times I sat in a shopping cart while my mom bought groceries or being in the car with my dad while dropped stuff off to and from work or even in the waiting room of the doctor’s office because my brother was sick, not me (to say nothing of all the “naps” I was forced to take where I just laid there wide awake looking up at the ceiling and thinking what total bullshit naps were). Suddenly, I felt deprived of a significant percentage of my youth by having to sit quietly and patiently while not playing, learning, or even working. My thinking on this didn’t even extend into my pre-driver’s license adolescence. That opens up a whole new level of painful memories and this movie is almost entirely based around those miseries. It effectively illustrates how sucky it is to be drug along on family outings (and exactly why they suck), but it kinda fails in its coming-of-age moments of actualization and redemption. Not from lack of trying, there are some great set-ups, but the outcomes aren’t as satisfying or realistic as I was hoping. Overall, the movie is basically the same story as 2009’s Adventureland, with a bit more emphasis on family. In other words, there’s nothing much new here. That’s okay, though. It’s important to tell stories like this every few years so we don’t forget our own experiences growing up. This movie wasn’t nearly as touching as it aspired to be, but I appreciated it for making me feel reflective.
And so, onto August. Not sure what my first movie will be, but it probably still won’t be The To-Do List.