Tag Archives: cinema

Chef

Gail and I went to see this at the AMC 30 and it just sucked us in. John Favreau saw us coming and kidnapped us for 90 minutes with a simple, light, yet very cool food movie. Gail and I see a lot of food movies and we loved this. Keep in mind, we’re not very discerning when it comes to food movies. Continue reading

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This movie blindsided me. Gail asked me what I wanted to see, giving me the choice of four films. I ranked them this way: American Hustle, Walter Mitty, Philomena, and Saving Mr. Banks. She disregarded my input somewhat and picked The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and I ended up loving it. Great flick and proof that I just need to do as Gail says. Continue reading

The Hunger Games

After this movie, I left the theatre and went to a bar a block away and sat down just as Louisville and Kentucky tipped off in game 1 of the Final Four. It was as if the movie never stopped.

If you’ve been living in a cave without electricity, you may not know the plot of The Hunger Games. Here it is: To atone for their rebellion, each year twelve downtrodden districts send two kids (boy and girl) to play a death game in a stadium-like setting until only one kid survives. The state rigs it for maximum entertainment value, the elite watch and cheer because they think it’s glorious sport, and the kids do it for free because they have no choice or because they fantasize about the fame and fortune that only one kid can achieve.

If you’re still in that cave without electricity, you may not know the plot of the NCAA Tournament either. Here it is: To make money for big corporations and keep college costs low (jk), each year hundreds of educational institutions vie for the chance to send their basketball team to a huge tournament played in stadiums across the country until only one team is left. The not-for-profit NCAA and the TV networks commercialize it to maximize profits, people who can afford cable and have lots of leisure time watch and cheer because they think it’s glorious sport, and the kids do it for free because they have no choice or because they fantasize about fame and fortune attained only by a few.

So I rebelled. I watched the NCAA Tournament at PJ Clarkes, drinking Guinness and shoveling mini-cheeseburgers, chicken quesadillas, and warm cinnamon cookies with caramel sauce and ice cream down my throat. What I’m saying, silly, is that I rebelled against the depressing feelings brought on by The Hunger Games, not against the injustices done to college athletes.

After I got past the self-loathing, I had a constructive discussion about the movie with my wife. The conversation ranged from comparing it to Star Wars, to asking “What is happening to this world?,” to “hey man, The Road Runner had plenty of gratuitous violence.”

The movie prompts some good discussion.

It was enjoyable and it made me think, but I thought it was just an okay movie. It felt a little slow at times and the characters didn’t engage me for some reason. I didn’t read the books and I went in with very high expectations, the death knell for any movie for me. I did think the ending was cool and I liked the political undertones a lot.

I don’t know why Gail and I decided to see this. It’s basically the same genre as Harry Potter and the Twilight stuff, isn’t it? We had no compunction to see those whatsoever, yet The Hunger Games was on our screen from the get-go. Is it just a little more adult than those mentioned? Were we affected by the overt and subtle media push? Or is it just a better story? I’m going with the better story route.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to discussing it with my nieces.

Further reading:

Haywire

We have us a situation here where a champion athlete is making the transition to the big screen, which is not uncommon. Many famous athletes have debuted in some respectable mainstream roles.

Jim Brown began his acting career with a supporting role in a western called Rio Conchos. Chuck Norris’ first credited role was supporting Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon. Arnold Schwarzeneger burst upon the scene with a staring role in Hercules in New York, a 75 minute romantic comedy.

Gina Carano had a bit part in some low budget action movie called Blood and Bone, which went straight to DVD. So by comparison, it would appear that she started at the bottom, in an even humbler role than these male stars. But, she’s making up for it quickly.

Very quickly.

She has officially arrived with Haywire, her sophomore effort. And I do mean arrived. Director Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven) built this movie around Carano. Here’s the full story of how it came about from the NYT. It’s an interesting twist of fate involving Moneyball and a woman named Cyborg, of all things.

It’s a big-budget action flick with supporting roles by Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Ewan Macgregor, and Michael Fassbender. That’s a serious all-star cast, all devoted to supporting or thwarting the heroine, Carano, in her quest for revenge against a shady group of US government contractors and international bad guys.

I liked this flick. It was kind of muted and understated compared to, say, the Bourne franchise, often regarded as the most artful of the spy/thriller/action movie genre. Carano doesn’t talk much, runs around a lot, and gives a fair amount of steely glares. The fight scenes are short and not particularly vicious, although people do die. I’m not a fight scene aficionado (in fact, I’m a man of peace), but they didn’t seem as violent, loud, and over the top as Bourne or Kill Bill.

Her physicality is certainly evident. Early on there’s a long chase scene through the streets of Barcelona where she’s running down a bad guy. Just running. There are overhead shots, close-ups, and wide angle views. It seems to go on a long time. When she finally catches the bad guy, the fight scene is only seconds. So it’s physical but not gratuitous, the opposite of a fight-fueled, Tarantino-ish frenzy.

I think Carano can do some damage in Hollywood (no pun intended). Unfortunately, she didn’t hold up that well against a bevy of female action characters with movies (Rooney Mara, Kate Beckinsale) in her first week. Oh well. This movie may get some positive word-of-mouth effect as the weeks progress.

The Descendants

My holiday movie marathon continues. I’ve had some varied experiences: a remake of a foreign thriller, a British period-piece/crime fighting buddy movie, and now, an Oscar front-running drama with a famous American actor. I won’t rank them or compare them, that wouldn’t be right.

Okay, maybe I will. Suffice it to say, I’ve really enjoyed all of them. From an emotional standpoint, this one, The Descendants, prompted the widest range of emotions. I was happy and sad. I was excited and bored. I laughed and scowled. In the end, it was a rewarding experience and I’m on board with any Oscar accolades this thing gets. Additionally, as you know, I’m a fan of family carnage, which it had going for it.

Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian guy who’s family secrets get bared when his wife is severely injured in a boating accident. He, along with his two tempestuous daughters and his daughter’s friend Sid, sort through the aftermath of his wife’s accident. At the same time, Matt has to deal with the disposition of 150 acres of prime Hawaiian real estate that his family has owned forever, and for which he’s the trustee.

** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **

Art should illuminate.

At some point in your life you’re probably going to have to sift through the wreckage of some tragedy. It could be something related to your family, your job, your friends, whatever. It could be partly your fault, all your fault, or none of your fault at all. Who knows. You won’t have any control over the details anyhow. But you can control how you react (you’ve probably heard this advice before, I just saw it the other day in some quote).

We follow Matt, his family, and his friends around for a few days and see how they react to his wife’s imminent death (she’s coming off life support soon). Actually, we follow mostly Matt. Through the course of the movie he runs through a bunch of emotions and sometimes reacts without thinking or by thinking of himself first. But in the end, he handles himself with grace and puts his feelings aside to help everyone else deal with this tragedy.

He’s a flawed person. He works long hours, is out of touch with his kids, and can’t express himself very well. But you’re pulling for him. Near the end there’s a moment where his father-in-law accuses him of being at fault for his wife’s death, which you know isn’t true. Your initial inclination is to want Matt to stand up for himself and shout back. He doesn’t. He shows restraint. He reacts the right way.

And it’s a good kind of restraint. It’s not the, “I’m keeping this bottled up inside until I blow my stack” type of restraint. He just knows the right thing to do and he does it, that’s it. And in the end, he gets rewarded with a modicum of closure.

Heavy stuff, I know, but it didn’t feel that heavy. I never really got choked up because there are so many humorous and lighter moments sprinkled in. It’s really a great movie. Just a darn good flick.

A Game of Shadows

There are some great crime fighting duos in the annals of screened entertainment. Holmes and Watson can hold their own against the best of them, at least Guy Ritchie’s version can. I didn’t think this a few years ago when I left the first Sherlock Holmes so my expectations were low.

Well, as it inevitably happens when I have low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be an exciting and humorous trip to the theatre on New Year’s Eve to see A Game of Shadows.

By the way, did I tell you that referencing the director when discussing movies increases your pop culture street cred considerably? Often, if you play it right, it could elevate the conversation to high culture.

You want to talk crime fighting duos? I’ll tell you about crime-fighting duos. My generation had:

They were often characterized by one crazy guy and another guy who’s like, “Hey dude, you’re crazy, nooo way, I got a family at home and I gotta feed my fish and what you’re suggesting could be illegal …so you go ahead, and I’ll follow a few steps behind and probably get embroiled in the brouhaha anyhow, but I’m on record as saying ‘this is crazy, this is crazy’.”

Oops, that last part was from Vacation I think. That’s genre-mixing, another surefire way to jack up your pop culture street cred.

Holmes (Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Law) carry on this tradition of crime fighting duos, Holmes being the crazy guy and Watson playing the family man. They team up with Noomi Rapace, of TGWTDT fame. It looks like the original Salander is getting the best of the new Salander for now, based on the Christmas week box office. I don’t think this will last. I think the book fans will keep TGWTDT alive much longer.

A Game of Shadows had some great slow-motion action scenes, a lot of quirky humor from Downey, Jr. and Law, a very villainous villain, and a pretty exciting and inventive ending.

I give it a thumb’s up.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

There are certain things I glom on to. Fixate may be a better term than glom. All kinds of different things really, and The Millennium Trilogy is one of them.

Other recent fixations:

  • The Wire
  • Three Floyds beer
  • British spy stories
  • Sue Grafton’s alphabet series
  • NBA

This fixation bias could be a character flaw of some sort. I don’t really understand why I do it and it throws me a curveball every so often. The other night, a dear friend asked me, “Why are you such a big fan of Three Floyd’s?”

I didn’t have an answer. I stumbled around a little and eventually just told her something like, “I don’t know really, I just fixate on things…Squirrel!!

I ask for Three Floyds wherever I go, I fantasize about a brewery tour, and I constantly try to push it on others. All this, and I bet I couldn’t pick it out in a blind taste test with Budweiser.

Along these same lines, I can’t really explain my fixation with The Millennium Trilogy either. Why did I decide to fixate on it instead of, say, the Mission Impossible franchise? You have every right to doubt the genuineness of my devotion to these things. Heck, part of why I write this stuff down is to make sense of these fixations. I went back and checked out my take right after I read the first book and it was somewhat enlightening.

I’m sure of this though, these things provide me with awesome sensory experiences. Excitement, anticipation, flavor, introspection …that’s all that matters isn’t it? And the sensory experience is heightened a little bit when you have some stake in it, when you take it a little more seriously, when you care. I could have gone to see the Mission Impossible flick with my wife, but I didn’t, and won’t. I went to see TGWTDT, alone, because, for whatever reason, I’m into it. I care. I’ve read the books and seen the foreign films and read all the reviews. I take my Blomkvist and Salander seriously.

It started out cool. The cover of Immigrant Song during the opening credits was awesome. I just stared in wonder as the music boomed and the black oil stuff oozed across the screen. I bought the song (oh, I already owned the Led Zeppelin version).

It stayed on pace after that. Great movie. Well done by Fincher. Relatively true to the book, at least to my satisfaction. Mara and Craig put forth solid performances as Salander and Blomkvist. I would see it again. I started re-watching the Swedish version (instantly on Netflix) to clarify some things and maybe I’ll re-read the book.

I wonder what it would have been like to see this thing for the first time. I didn’t get to feel much of the excitement and anticipation because I knew the story. There were audible gasps from theatre-goers throughout (it was jam-packed the day after Christmas). It was evident that many were familiar with the story because a lot of the gasps would occur before the shocking moments.

** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **

Fincher made some changes, most notably the ending. It threw me a curveball because I was waiting for the trip to Australia, but it never occurred, so I blanked on the key scene. Oh well.

There are other subtleties that fans are talking about and one of them relates to the Mara/Fincher take on Salander relative to the Swedish take (played perfectly by Noomi Rapace). I thought Mara nailed Salander, don’t get me wrong, but Rapace’s version was what I envision Salander looking like. Monika Bartyzel, from movies.com seems to agree, but for reasons much more subtler than I could discern on my own. She says this:

Fincher’s Lisbeth is not Larsson’s. She is sexualized, softened, romanticized, and less empowered. Whether he intended this or not, it’s what countless critics see in the film; they don’t mind it – in fact most like it – but they’ve recognized it and have written about it.

So there’s that. See what you think. Here’s the Charlie Rose interview where Rapace makes specific reference to “inhabiting Salander” (early on, starting at 1:45). Contrast this with the Charlie Rose group discussion with everyone from the American version (Rooney Mara discusses her take on Salander at about the 19:45 mark).

Hmmm, I don’t know what to make of this issue. I’m not in touch with my subconscious enough to be able to assess if Fincher and Mara ruined Salander.

I hope they make the whole trilogy and I hope they keep the team intact. It didn’t fare well in the first weekend, but there were some big films out, so hopefully it has some staying power. Go see it.

[UPDATE]: John Kass has a take, and a familiar fixation.