Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cinetopia Golden Ticket: November 2013

I only have three months left on my Golden Ticket and I’m finding myself becoming increasingly picky. For instance, I was all set to check out Disney’s Frozen, but when I found out it was a musical, I changed my mind. I’m up to 60 movies (seen at Cinetopia alone) in the past nine months, so - even though I’m seeing these films for free - my tolerance for dreck is less indulgent. Luckily, as my cynicism increases, we’re starting to see the first seeds of award-winners this time of year. The goods ones tend to make the bad ones worth it.

Movie Fifty-five: Last Vegas – Strange as it may seem (especially given the length and content of their resumes), none of the four leading actors in this film have ever done a movie together. A pairing of any two of them would make for a good movie, you would think. It’s a shame that this was the one they ended up doing as a group. Gene Siskel’s defining line of whether a film was good or bad was gauged by asking the question “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” Last Vegas fails that test miserably. Hell, looking at the poster is more entertaining than watching the actual film. The jokes are mildly amusing at best, scenes that are supposed to be touching feel awkward, and some parts don’t make any sense at all. I will say this, though: You’ve gotta give the actors credit for doing the best they could with what they had. Kevin Kline in particular rises above a role he’s way too good for. I remember seeing an interview with Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman (who were roommates when they first moved to Hollywood) and they both confessed that, throughout their entire careers, they were convinced that every acting role they ever had would be the last one they would ever have. I imagine the motivation of the actors in Last Vegas was to give the best performances they could to ensure it wouldn’t be the final note in their prestigious careers.

Movie Fifty-six: Thor: The Dark World – I made no secret of my contempt for the first Thor movie, so - needless to say - I was cautious about this one. However, I was pretty confident from the trailers that the sequel would be better. It would be quite the feat of incompetence if it was actually worse (although both Fantastic Four movies were so god-awful it seemed like they were competing against each other for worst superhero movie ever). Turns out my optimism for Thor redeeming himself was justified. This was just about what I was hoping for from the previous one and, sadly, didn’t get. Most of the areas where the original was seriously lacking they’ve made up for this time around. The script is smarter, the action is better, the jokes are funnier, the special effects are prettier, the performances are sharper. However, the “romance” between Jane and Thor still has no real substance. I honestly don’t see why they would be in love other than the fact they’re both good-looking. But, this isn’t about romance, is it? In fact, it’s more crucial that Thor and Loki have good chemistry in a story such as this and, in their third outing, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are very comfortable in their respective roles and play off each other beautifully. Even more than that, though, the movie knows what it’s doing and revels in what it is, which is something the first movie embarrassingly failed to accomplish the first time. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but, for now, this’ll do.

Movie Fifty-seven: Captain Phillips – This was also my “Movie Forty-nine” from October. I saw it again with my parents. They wanted to check out (a) the film, and (b) Cinetopia’s Movie Parlor. They were impressed on both counts. This is the first film I’ve seen twice with my Golden Ticket (although, I originally saw The World’s End at Cinetopia and then watched it two more times at the Hollywood Theatre). I was happy to see it again because it’s a good movie, but I thought it would be less suspenseful the second time around. That’s true, but only slightly so. As I said before, it’s a beautifully-crafted high-tension action-thriller and, as a true story, I knew the outcome even the first time I saw it. So, the tension was barely diluted (if at all) this time. By the end of the film, my nails were still bitten short, the lump in my throat had returned, and I sat breathing sighs of relief during the end credits. When a film remains suspenseful even after the person watching it knows exactly what’s in store, that’s a good movie. And Captain Phillips is really good.

Movie Fifty-eight: Delivery ManVince Vaughn is one of those actors that is so typecast, you pretty much know exactly what kinda movie you’re going to get when he’s the star. It’s ironic because he started out actually doing a decent variety of roles in the late 90’s (Jurassic Park 2, The Cell, and the Psycho remake, for instance). Normally, actors start out pigeon-holed and gradually branch out as they go, but Mr. Vaughn seems to have done the exact opposite. The fact that, of those three movies I cited as examples, two of ’em sucked and one ’em flopped, is probably why VV was so eager to embrace a one-note act as soon as he found one that worked. Delivery Man is, of course, another set piece for his fans and few others. It’s not especially funny, but it’s not painfully unfunny, either. Interestingly enough, its attempts at being sentimental are more successful than its attempts at humor. That’s not to say it’s a very good movie, but I give it props for making earnest attempts to venture outside the boundaries of a safe (and thus, bland) comedy. It’s not quite brave enough to further explore some of the deeper and darker areas it introduces, but that’s probably wise because the writer/director was pushing his luck already. Bottom line, though, I found myself rooting for Vaughn’s character, I cared about the relationships with his “kids,” the romantic subplot didn’t feel out of place, and, at the end, when his character gives the obligatory speech of revelation, I didn’t find it forced or hokey. Delivery Man is probably never going to be regarded as one of Vince Vaughn’s best movies, but it’s a step in the right direction as far as getting away from his usual shtick.

Movie Fifty-nine: Dallas Buyers Club – On the subject of type-casting, Matthew McConaughey is one of those actors people don’t seem to have much respect for. Like Vince Vaughn, he seemed to go for the easy money which, in his case, was apparently dopey romantic comedies where he’d take his shirt off a lot. While in real-life Mr. McConaughey may be what Jerry Seinfeld referred to as a “mimbo,” I’ve always felt he was a pretty decent actor. If nothing else, he’s proved many times that he can be effectively directed. I’ve even gone so far as to say that Matthew McConaughey should have played Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds instead of Brad Pitt. People always look at me like I’m crazy when I say that, but I stand by my judgment. Moot speculations aside, Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that should shut up the naysayers for good. McConaughey is so good in this role, I defy anyone to name another actor that could have played it anywhere near as effectively. It’s not just because he lost an uncomfortable amount of weight for the part, either. Ron Woodroof is a complex anti-hero acting out of pride and desperation to save his own life (or, at least, prolong it) with whatever means are at his disposal. He’s burdened by homophobia, drug-addiction, and a bold defiance of the FDA whom he feels is depriving him of what he needs when they should be helping him and others like him. This is a grand character and McConaughey breathes amazing passion and authenticity into it. Perhaps this is a turning point for his career. Given his next two movies are being directed by Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan, it would certainly seem so. Maybe, in a few years, people will take me seriously when I say he would’ve been awesome in Inglourious Basterds. Trust me, he would’ve.

Movie Sixty: 12 Years a Slave – You’ve probably been hearing a lot of talk about how 12 Years a Slave will be the film to beat at Oscar time. That’s absolutely true. This is quite a picture and I have yet to see one as powerful so far this year. Never mind that it’s a true story. Never mind the stellar cast (and the equally stellar performances therein). Never mind the intensely in-depth look at slavery. All of those things serve to make it better, but even without them, this is a virtually flawless film. My awe was similar to that of The Shawshank Redemption where I was amazed that a film about prison could be so stirringly beautiful. Another comparison worth noting is Schindler’s List. The same kind of gruesome ugliness is somehow presented in a similar striking beauty as those movies in a way that cannot be explained, just experienced. I’m at a loss of how further to describe it other than to say you really should see this it. Period. It’s one of those movies that serves to make the world a better place even if only to expose light on one of the most deplorable aspects of human history. A footnote I’d like to add: With the performances we’ve seen in movies like Fruitvale Station, The Butler, Blue Caprice, Captain Phillips, and now 12 Years a Slave, it seems as though, finally, the film awards will be dominated by black actors and black directors this year. At least, they should be.

Now, bring on the Christmas movies!

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