Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cinetopia Golden Ticket: September 2013

It’s a good thing August was as prosperous as it was for movies because September was a virtual drought. I didn’t even go to the movies until halfway through the month and, even then, the few movies I did see weren’t much to howl about. Luckily, I had the final episodes of “Breaking Bad” to keep me occupied (and satisfied) enough to not feel deprived. At any rate, here are the four that I managed to see in September:

Movie Forty-two: The Family – There must be a ton of movies out there about a mob snitch who relocates his family via the witness protection program with the subsequent fish-out-of-water gags as his wife and kids try to adjust to the mundane life of the average citizen. I can’t specifically think of one, though. Regardless, the formula seems tired and familiar and not something a filmmaker like Luc Besson would stoop to. I think, as both writer and director, he had way too much faith in the material. For instance, there’s a scene where Robert DeNiro’s character attends a screening of GoodFellas and then is asked to give a lecture about it. Sounds funny, right? Except we don’t see him watching the movie or delivering the lecture (except in staccato bits and pieces as the film cuts back and forth to other scenes). What’s most frustrating about this movie, though, is that it sets up several potentially interesting subplots that end up going nowhere or, even worse, conclude in oddly unrealistic ways. Even the overwhelmingly predictable climax – the mob enforcers find out where the family is hiding and the obligatory violence ensues – has some peculiar moments. For starters, these are the most indiscreet hit men I’ve ever seen in a movie, the protagonists do things inconsistent with their characters, and some scenes just don’t make sense. Why, for instance, if two guys were fighting for their lives in a room with at least four guns on the floor, would they opt for a belt and a kitchen knife as their weapons of choice? There’s a good movie in here somewhere and the performances are actually pretty good (especially from the children), but, overall, it’s just kind of a mess. Seems like just a paycheck movie, if you ask me. Its unimaginatively succinct title is the perfect indicator of how little creative energy was spent.

Movie Forty-three: Prisoners – Other than talking during a movie, nothing makes me have more contempt for a film audience than hearing them say, “That’s it?” when the end credits roll. I heard it at Martha Marcy May Marlene. I heard it at No Country for Old Men. I even heard it at Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. All of those were movies that ended with brilliantly executed open-endings and Prisoners does as well. It’s a tell-tale sign of the intelligence of an audience (or lack thereof) by how dissatisfied they are with having to use their own imagination rather than being spoon-fed an ending – even after the filmmaker has said all they needed to say. These are same people who demand to know what’s in the case from Pulp Fiction, what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, and basically The Usual Suspects in its entirety. In short; myopic control freaks. The ending is one of the best things Prisoners has going for it, but let me back up and talk about what leads up to it. It starts out feeling like a suburban, white-collar version of Mystic River and then gradually segues into suburban, white-collar torture-porn. It’s nothing special for the first two-thirds (other than Hugh Jackman trying way too hard to get an Oscar nomination). About 90 minutes in, though, it starts to get really interesting. I was especially caught off-guard because this was the part of the story where I was expecting it to end, but some things occur that, I wouldn’t go so far as to call “twists,” but they’re certainly unexpected tangents. I won’t reveal what they are, but I was impressed by elements that, at first, seemed liked red-herrings, but were actually clues that meant something other than the obvious. These kind of clever tricks are exactly why the ending works as well as it does. Being shown everything but not knowing what it means entitles the audience to a little “Hmmm” moment at the end. However, a “Hmmm” moment is not the same as a “That’s it?” moment and, if you can’t tell the difference between the two, you’re quite simply an unsophisticated movie-goer and should just stay home watching sitcoms where the studio audience tells you when to laugh.

Movie Forty-four: Don Jon – This is a peculiar writing/directing debut. The movie is sound: Competently-directed, decently-written, well-acted, nicely-shot, tightly-edited, etc. It’s the subject matter that’s a bit odd for a successful and popular performer like Joseph Gordon-Levitt to choose as his first outing in the captain’s chair. Though the trailers give some indication as to what the movie’s about, they really kind of gloss over it by making it look like simply like a quirky love story: A club-hopping babe-hound finally makes an effort to settle on just one girl for a long-term relationship and gets more than he bargains for (at least, that’s what I thought I was in store for). That is technically the plot of the film, but – in truth – it’s really about porn addiction. I suppose promoting it more as a “Jersey Shore-esque” romantic comedy would make audiences feel more comfortable about going to see it, but I can picture couples out on a date squirming in their seats as they watch it (particularly if the dudes watch a lot of online porn when their girls aren’t around). It’s a pretty brave topic to undertake for your first film and one almost has to wonder if Mr. Gordon-Levitt has (or has had) his own struggles with porn addiction. He seems to know what he’s talking about, there’s a lot of footage from actual porn prominently featured (and strategically cropped) throughout. Plus, as the star of the film, JGL sees to it that he fondles and kisses a lot of hot girls. One particularly uncomfortable scene where he dry humps Scarlett Johansson in the hallway outside of her apartment comes to mind. So much attention is paid to that scene that I almost wonder if he made the whole movie just because he’d always wanted to do that. That said, this is still a good movie. It’s funny, it’s entertaining, the characters are interesting enough, and it has some nice surprises. Just be prepared to see a lot of almost-porn and voice-over about how masturbation is better than actual sex. I would think the ideal way to watch this film would be alone in a dark room hunched over a laptop.

Movie Forty-five: RushJerry Seinfeld once said, “To me, the problem with boxing is you have two guys having a fight that have no prior argument. Why don't they have the boxers come into the ring in little cars, drive around little a bit, have a little accident? They get out, ‘Didn't you see my signal?’ ‘Look at that fender!’ Then you'd see a real fight.” Rush is a movie based around that very idea except, instead of boxers, they’re Formula 1 racers. I’ve always found auto-racing to be pretty stupid, to tell the truth. For one thing, it seems like a colossal waste of money. Professional sports are money-pits to begin with, but in auto-racing… Even if a race runs absolutely perfect without any mishaps whatsoever, the car still takes such a pounding that the crew has to pretty much rebuild it before the next race no matter what. With that in mind, the “sport*” is also so volatile, that I don’t see how racers could conceivably be angry at other drivers for running into them. Hell, they’re lucky to survive the race at all. Needless to say, I didn’t like this movie since that’s pretty much all it was about. It’s well-made and all that stuff (in fact, it might be Ron Howard’s best looking movie), but it just wasn’t for me. Sports aren’t really my thing to begin with, but I have been known to love a number of movies about sports. Lots, really. So, I can’t say it’s entirely my fault I didn’t like this film. I just didn’t care about two feuding arrogant motor-heads whose egos hinged entirely on who could drive faster. The King of Kong is documentary about the rivalry of two championship players of “Donkey Kong” and the intense on-going conflict between them (and their respective pathetic entourages). It’s a serious film, but really showcases the absurdity of such a pointless competition. I didn’t find Rush any less ridiculous.

*I put “sport” in quotes because it seems to me racecar drivers don’t physically exert themselves much more than someone playing a video game.

Now that October is underway, the usual horror-movie watching will commence. So, it really doesn’t matter if there aren’t many theater flicks worth checking out. However, from what I see coming up, there’s some good stuff on the way. So, I may just spend the whole month going from movies at home to movies in the theater. Good thing the weather sucks.

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