Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cinetopia Golden Ticket: December 2013

I received my Golden Ticket in February of 2013 and so it was officially valid starting in March of that year. So, I’ve got another couple months before it’s all used up. Now that 2013 is all over and done, though, the final count of movies I’ve seen (so far) made in the last year is 76 (all but 10 of those seen at Cinetopia, it seems). In a usual year, I average about one a week and – given that there are still movies that were released in 2013 that I intend to see while they’re still in theaters – I suppose I could conceivably double my average this year. I dunno, we’ll see. In the meantime, these are the ones I closed out my calendar year with:

Movie Sixty-one: Oldboy – Apparently, this movie was a total flop. Somehow, I’m both totally surprised and not surprised at all. On one hand, this is a remake of a pretty dark Korean film that I could see American audiences not really embracing. But, on the other hand, there have been plenty of foreign remakes that I would’ve expected to do worse but ended up being fairly well-received. The original Oldboy is certainly not a film that needed to be remade (it’s pretty impressive on a number of levels), but Spike Lee did a pretty decent job, I thought. His re-creation of scenes from the Korean version are faithful to the original, but done differently enough to not feel redundant. He also changed just enough of the story in general to, not only make it feel fresh, but to make it more plausible in some aspects. He wisely toned down the brutality (although it’s still quite disturbingly violent by American standards) and tweaked the ending just enough to make it slightly less grim (Slightly). These were all wise decisions and serve the remake well so it’s a pity people have turned their noses up at it. It really perplexes me when a decent remake like Oldboy completely tanks while a big, steaming pile-of-shit remake like this year’s Evil Dead rakes it in. As far as American translations of foreign films go, this is about as well done as one can hope for. It’s not an improvement, but I’d say anybody interested in seeing the Korean version should see this one first. You’ll probably end up appreciating them both more.

Movie Sixty-two: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – It’s a rare kind of comedy that transcends into legendary cult status. These films don’t seem to have much in common other than having a high laugh-per-minute quotient and being endlessly quotable. Examples of such movies are Blazing Saddles, The Holy Grail, Caddyshack, and – more recently – The Big Lebowski and Office Space. The original Anchorman was one such movie. Given that these films are essentially freak occurrences with no real perceivable recipe, making a sequel (especially a decade later) is bold move. So, it’s no surprise that Anchorman 2 is kind of a befuddling mess. The most pathetic thing about it is that the whole film is basically squandered potential. They bring back a lot of the original cast and repeat a fair portion of jokes (souped-up for the second time around) and there are celebrity cameos galore, but they don’t seem to know what to do with all this stuff once they have it. I suppose this was due to arrogance on the filmmakers’ part. The thinking seemed to be “Hey, we’ve got all the elements from the original intact, this movie’ll pretty much make itself! What can go wrong?” That’s like throwing a bunch of tasty ingredients into a blender and expecting it to taste as good as if it were properly cooked. It’s true the movie is funny at times, but a lot of the laughs are in response to things being so bizarre, the viewer doesn’t know how else to react. The perfect point of comparison is in the end credits of this film and the first one. The original Anchorman concluded with alternate takes and bloopers that were hysterically funny. This one has one clip at the very end that makes absolutely no sense and actually made me sorry that I stuck around ’til the very end. I was frankly kinda embarrassed for all these A-list comedians when it was all over. Luckily for them, twenty years from now, people will still be quoting Anchorman and all but forgotten about its sequel. Don’t believe me? Compare the legacy of Ghostbusters to that of Ghostbusters 2. In fact, did you even know there was a Ghostbusters 2?

Movie Sixty-three: American Hustle – There’s been a lot of pre-emptive Oscar buzz surrounding this film and - why not? It’s a retro piece containing several previous Oscar-nominees (and winners) in roles where they yell at each other and cry a lot. Most of all, it the whole movie screams classic Scorsese right down to Christian Bale’s performance which screams DeNiro (not just because of his thick Bronx accent, but also because he put on tons of weight for the role). Oh, and the actual DeNiro is in it too, just to be sure. I personally didn’t see what the big deal is, though. Story-wise, it’s similar in a lot of ways to Ridley Scott’s The Counselor (although not nearly as grim) and no one seemed to give much of a damn about that film (which I actually thought was better). I guess timing is everything and that’s why studios tend to release films like this at the end of the year. It’s entertaining and the performances are good, but I wouldn’t bother seeing it a second time. More than anything else, I was distracted by the hideous hairstyles and constantly waiting for one of Amy Adams’ nipples to slip out. All of that notwithstanding, the film probably will get a nomination for Best Picture, but more because the Academy allows ten films in that category, not because it actually deserves it.

Movie Sixty-four: Saving Mr. Banks – It’s not often I see a film that jumps back and forth between two separate stories being told in parallel. That’s good because, almost always, one story is more interesting than the other and I get frustrated when the film breaks away from the superior one to continue with the inferior one. It doesn’t even matter if both stories are quite good because I will always prefer to stick with the better one no matter how almost-as-good the other one is. The perfect example of this is The Godfather Part II. A superb film, but it would be even better if I could watch the Vito Corleone prequel completely separate from the Michael Corleone sequel. I suppose I have a one-track mind. Anyway, that’s the problem with Saving Mr. Banks. The scenes with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are so delightfully amusing that when we cut back to P.L. Travers’ childhood I found myself reacting the same way I do when I’m unable to fast forward through television commercials. They interrupt the tone and momentum of the story disallowing the viewer to fully experience the emotions of one story arc before switching back to the other. I suppose the flashbacks help serve the story in the long run, but are they absolutely necessary? It doesn’t seem like it. I’m sure they could have trimmed down the backstory to one sequence midway through the film and accomplished the same revelations. This is a good movie – two good movies, actually – but they compete with each other in a way that makes them both suffer. Maybe they’ll release a special edition DVD that has the different stories on separate discs. If they do, watch it that way.

Movie Sixty-five: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – This movie is a bit of a conundrum. It has some really incredible moments and a number of beautifully executed scenes. That’s probably how it was able to produce one of the most compelling trailers of the year. As you may have heard from other reviewers, though, it’s not anywhere near the epic it presents itself to be. There’s no point in comparing it to the original 1947 version with Danny Kaye because it is completely different. Nor is it a literal adaptation of James Thurber’s short story but rather simply inspired by the concept of a grand daydreamer. I give it props for going out on its own, actually. So, it doesn’t suffer by comparison, but it does suffer. Don’t get the wrong idea, I did like this movie. It’s largely due to the ambitious direction by Ben Stiller, who I found quite likeable in the title role. And Kristen Wiig, as the obligatory love interest, is even more likeable to point of being downright adorable. The movie is beautiful to look at and the fantasy sequences are great fun (as are the real-life adventures Walter eventually undertakes), but there’s something lacking in the script that I can’t quite put my finger on. Some kind of imperceptible “glue” that’s necessary to keep a story like this together and really make it sing. I was entertained, but my disappointment was that the film didn’t deliver on a potential that was so clearly there waiting to spring forth. It’s like seeing a talented person who would be a brilliant fine artist settling for designing logos and letterheads (and, believe me, as a person who went to art school, I’ve seen plenty of those). In other words, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a good movie that should have been outstanding. As far as criticisms go, that’s not so bad, but it is a little sad.

Movie Sixty-six: Grudge MatchPeter Segal is one of those directors who, if you know his work, you know exactly what to expect. His films are harmless, mildly amusing and make no effort to impress you, make you think, or take chances. To give you an idea of his caliber of filmmaking, his best movie is Tommy Boy. I love Tommy Boy, but I don’t love it because it’s brilliant. Grudge Match is another dopey (but not entirely unlovable) comedy from Peter Segal with the usual paper-thin archetypes you would expect. In one corner, we’ve got DeNiro as the dirty old man who starts out wanting to make a quick buck and then decides his main priority is making things right with the son he never knew he had. In the other corner, we’ve got Stallone as a blue-collar guy who wants to leave boxing behind but steps up in tribute to his former trainer and an attempt to win back the love of his life. On the sidelines, we’ve got Alan Arkin playing the politically-incorrect curmudgeon with the blunt pearls of wisdom and Kevin Hart as the sassy fast-talking black man who laments about how lame white people are. There’s also Kim Basinger (who’s as good as she ever was, actually) as Stallone’s object of affection and Jon Bernthal as her (and DeNiro’s) son. I suppose everybody’s good in their respective performances, but only as good as they can be in such shallow roles. When it came to the big fight at the end of the movie, I didn’t really care who won, but maybe you’re not supposed to since the film essentially has two protagonists. Y’know, now that I think about it, it might have been a more interesting movie if they never revealed who actually won the fight. Unfortunately, with a movie this mindless, their target audience would never stand for that.

Okay, 2014: What’cha got for me?

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