Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cinetopia Golden Ticket: January 2014

January is often the last breath of decent movies from the previous year since most studios want to get their films out early enough to be consider for Oscars, but late enough to stay fresh in the minds of movie-goers. Once the Academy Award nominations are announced, though (as they were in mid-January), the studios resort to house-cleaning. In other words, they’re dumping out all the crummy movies they don’t really have any faith in to the theaters in the hopes they can bleed so money out of audiences that are either gullible, bored, or have low expectations from films they’re willing to see. So, that means I had a good two weeks where I saw some good movies whereas the second half of January was dominated by films that weren’t even worth the drive to the theater. Thankfully, Cinetopia showed some decent retro flicks that helped fill in the gaps.

Movie Sixty-seven: The Big Lebowski – Back in October, Cinetopia did a “Sci-Fi Classics” series. I remarked that it was a bit of a misnomer in some cases, but for the most part, they showed good stuff and there were some bona fide classics in there (like Alien and Aliens, both of which I went to go see). Now they’re doing a “Cult Fiction” series and, again, they’ve kinda misinterpreted the true meaning of a cult classic. A literalist would think they’d show flicks like Repo Man and Evil Dead 2, but you can’t fault a mainstream theater like Cinetopia for going with mainstream material. Frankly, I think I’d rather see most of the movies they selected over some quintessential cult films (for instance, they’re showing The Shawshank Redemption, which is a masterpiece, but a more exemplary cult prison film would be Caged Heat), so I can’t complain. Anyway, they started with The Big Lebowski, which skirts both territories in that it’s a cult film that’s generally appreciated by the masses. It was good to see it on the big screen again. I’m not sure when I last saw it, but it had to have been within the past few years and I’ve certainly seen it enough times to quote it pretty accurately. Man, it’s still just as funny as ever, though. That’s another calling card of a cult film: Its ability to withstand the test of time. Well done, Cinetopia. Now, if only you had enough sense to show Blade Runner instead of Starship Troopers.

Movie Sixty-eight: August: Osage County – When making a dramedy, the subject matter that yields the best potential is dysfunctional family. If you can get Meryl Streep to play the matriarch, so much the better. August: Osage County is based on a play and it feels like it, but not in a bad way. All the usual elements are in place: Bitter mother, absent father, resentful daughter(s), two-faced sister, her henpecked husband, their idiot son, cynical teenage grandkid, and the quiet but wise housekeeper. Mixed in, are doses of infidelity, chemical dependency, devastating secrets, ambiguous suicide and, of course, good ol’ reliable cancer. This all may sound quite derivative, but it is, in fact, a really good movie and never really feels recycled or tired. It’s only nominated for two Oscars, but deserves more. It’s appropriate, though, that the two nominations it did get were for acting. Actors must love being in movies like this with such heavy roles and juicy dialogue that they can really dive into. It’s a pleasure just watching them work. The movie ends, as most stories like this do, without any real revelation, but that’s how life is, isn’t it? The final scene shows Julia Roberts driving away with a quizzical look on her face that is never explained. My interpretation is that she comes to a realization that she’s going to eventually end up as bitter and cruel as her mother, despite her vehement intentions not to. If you think I just gave away the ending, you’re wrong. It’s up to you to decipher your own meaning.

Movie Sixty-nine: Her – This is a very realistic and likely future, I think. We already live in an age where, if you start up a conversation with a stranger on a bus or an elevator, you are the weirdo and the people on their smart phones or iPads are the norm. It won’t be long before, anytime you see somebody talking, it’s to a computer. I’ve certainly reached that grumpy old man stage of my life where I refuse to indulge in certain technological advances (like Twitter) because I think they’re pointless and dehumanizing (like Twitter). But, on the other hand, I am on Facebook, I do have an iPhone, and here I am writing on a blog at this very moment. Where is the line? That’s what Her seems to be asking. It’s got some pretty insightful things to say and interesting areas it explores. I was surprised and impressed by some of the directions it took and disappointed in other areas it neglected, but overall, this is a pretty intriguing scenario to consider. I suppose its main point is the one Short Circuit brought up (much more lightly) in the 80’s: What makes something “alive?” Is it its capacity for love? What got me thinking was that so much of who we are is physical. Our personalities (and maybe even our souls) are shaped by things that happen to us and, quite often, those things are physical. Sexual abuse, chemical imbalances, drug addiction, debilitating illnesses, being born blind or deaf: All of these are things a computer can’t experience. They can learn about them, sure, but they can’t live them, particularly because most of them happen by pure chance. Even on a smaller and more common scale, I can remember times when I got into an argument with a girlfriend simply because I was hungry or she was tired. Could a computer even be in a bad mood just because? It’s interesting that human foibles, not strengths, are what keep us separate from technology. I’m going off on a philosophical tangent, but that’s the power of Her. It’s not the best film of the year, but it might be the most thought-provoking.

Movie Seventy: Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coen brothers are on a short list of directors whose movies I will always watch no matter what. Some of the directors on that list are there because they’re consistent and I love their work, others are eclectic and often surprise me in delightful ways. The Coens are the latter. For the most part, they write their own material. So, for them to have such a diverse body of work is something of a miracle. And rarely do they disappoint. I have such faith in these filmmaking brothers that, outside of watching the trailer, I don’t even bother to read reviews or look into what their latest film is about. I just go see it. Inside Llewyn Davis is a peculiar entry into their repertoire. It feels like somewhat of a mixture between Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch with the cinematography of vintage Orson Welles. It has the same sort of aimless and seemingly random story arc as A Serious Man with the same kind of somber, dry humor of The Man Who Wasn’t There. When it was over, I wasn’t sure exactly what I had just watched, but I liked it all the same. And I loved the music. I can wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend this film to anyone else who’s a Coen brothers fan. For the rest of you: See it at your own risk.

Movie Seventy-one: Lone Survivor – This plays like Black Hawk Down on a smaller and fairly simpler scale. I wasn’t familiar with the incident to begin with, outside of it being a true story. I figured, as such, a number of liberties would be taken. Indeed, while watching the film, I thought several times There’s no way somebody could survive that. While I’m sure the film isn’t 100% accurate, after having seen it and learned more about it, I think a great deal of it was, in fact, very accurate. For starters, one of the characters gets shot multiple times and still manages to carry on (rather implausibly, I thought), but, in real life, the autopsy showed he had 11 bullet wounds. So, yeah: I think they got that part right, at least. There are also several scenes where the titular lone survivor comes extraordinarily close to death and is miraculously saved one way or another. Given the film was based on the book written by the survivor, I have no reason to believe he would lie, especially under the circumstances in which his fellow soldiers were killed. The movie begins with a grueling montage of what appears to be actual soldiers in actual training and then ends with heartbreaking photos and footage of the deceased. Everything in between is hard to watch, too. But, it’s good for the rest of us to watch it. If soldiers actually experience such things, it seems fair the rest of us be made aware of what they experienced.

Movie Seventy-two: Fight Club – Remember how I said the Coen brothers are among the few directors of whom I will watch any and all movies they do without hesitation? Well, David Fincher’s on that list, too. I, of course, had seen Fight Club before, but I was happy to see it again in the theater as part of Cinetopia’s aforementioned Cult Fiction series. The first time I saw Fight Club, I didn’t care for it. I think I was expecting a mindless action flick and, when it turned out to be much more cerebral than just dudes punching each other, my mind wasn’t ready for it and I found it too much to take. I thought about it for some time, though, and, after seeing it a second time, I loved it. Like The Big Lebowski, I can’t remember for sure how long it’d been since I last saw it (even though I own it), but I’d forgotten just how good it really is. I can’t believe it’s 15 years old now, but it holds up remarkably well. I suppose the themes it explores are as relevant today as they were back in the late 90’s, if not more so. I wonder if the younger generation identifies with it as much now as I did then. In any case, it was a joy to watch on an 80 foot screen with surround sound after all this time. Especially since David Fincher is one of my favorite directors and this is his best film.

So, all-in-all, with two old favorites book-ending a few Oscar-nominees, I’d say it was a pretty good month. It’s a shame the final month of my Golden Ticket will be most likely be predominantly populated with humdrum films, but I had a good year. If there are enough worth seeing, I might break eighty, which is a pretty impressive haul for a year’s worth of free movies. After that, I may just hibernate for the rest of the winter.

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