Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Hopper: Episode 2

With a job that I’ve taken on recently, I have found less time to sit down and watch movies. Luckily, I had a few days off to just relax and decided to go see several films that I wanted to see for some time.

One thing I’ll say about this 2013 thus far is that there have been far more films than usual that I gotten my attention. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because it gets me to go to the movies more often and makes me want to get excited about them. The bad news is that, as seen with “Kick Ass 2” and “Man Of Steel,” the movies more often than not end up disappointing and shallow. 

This time around though, I decided to stick with movies which I felt would not lead me down that path. Well, they certainly weren’t shallow or disappointing, but most also just weren’t that good.

“Elysium” (2013)

Movies like “Elysium” have become a pet peeve of mine, and as a result I end up despising the movie and what it’s trying to say. Films that think they’re being smart by showing just how awful and disrespectful the human race can be and forgetting all the great and wonderful things humanity has done in it’s time, only focusing on the terrible and selfish side of our nature.

I don’t know if I’ve said this in my reviews before, but the main the thing which I always focus on in a movie are the characters and the story. To me, that is and always should be where the focus of the attention should be for both the audience and the filmmakers. Lately, I’ve realized the message of the film and what it’s trying to say can be just as important. When it comes to the moral that “Elysium” is trying to sell, I’m not buying it.

Not only is the moral as subtle as a sledgehammer, taking every opportunity to beat it’s message into the audience’s head, but it’s hateful and off-putting. The characters who live on the Elysium space station, where they are given every comfort they can possibly imagine, are un-relatable and unsympathetic. 

These people have created technology that can solve any illness or broken body part, and they refuse to share this technology with any other than themselves. Why? Because that’s apparently how we would act. That we are selfish creatures who only look out for themselves and would sooner die than give something precious like that to anyone else.

To which, I say screw that movie. 

Even beyond the ludicrous message and moral of the film, it still finds ways to suck. It follows the tiring movie cliche nowadays of jarring and unsteady camera shots, also known as “shaky cam,” thus making it nearly impossible to tell what is going on what a fast paced action sequence is going on. It doesn’t help when the editing is just as frantic and jarring, the lights of the big climatic space station battles constantly turning on and off and the protagonist and villain looking nearly identical. This makes many, if not all, of the action scenes terrible to watch and uninteresting.

In the end, “Elysium” pisses me off just thinking about it. The film wants to be intelligent but comes off as condescending and insulting towards everyone. If I want a film that shows the dangers of our current lifestyle without making humans look like selfish douche-bags, I’ll stick with “WALL-E.”

Final Grade: F+

“The Way, Way Back” (2013)

Traditionally, I’ve never cared for the “Coming-of-Age” story. Not to say that these types of stories are bad or there aren’t any good ones, just that it’s usually a story that doesn’t grab my attention. Maybe it’s my moral feeling that it takes more than one revelation, experience or change in a person’s life to truly “come of age.”

However, that doesn’t stop me from admitting when a coming-of-age story is done incredibly well. “The Way, Way Back” is one of those great stories of a teenage boy coming out of his shell and learning what he really wants out of life. You really feel that this boy, Duncan (Liam James) does go through a huge change in life as he starts out as a kid who doesn’t seem to know what he wants to do or where he fits in, but over time learns to have fun with what he has.

What really stands out from this movie is Sam Rockwell, who plays a hired-hand at a local water park, named Owen. This guy takes every opportunity to have as fun with the job he has, cracking jokes at the local attendees and employees, hitting on his boss, making song, movie and video game references and so on. It’s a case where writing and acting choice come together perfectly to make for an unforgettable character. 

Had Owen been played by anyone else, this role wouldn’t have worked. Rockwell’s blend of charisma and sincerity makes this character pop out at you and beg to be seen. Not once did it seem like he was going over the top or just scraping for a joke. Sam Rockwell made Owen seem like an actual person, rather than just a character in a film.

Overall, “The Way, Way Back” starts out rather slow, but once Owen is introduced and we spend more time with him, the more you like him and the people around him. The film doesn’t try to pull any curve balls on you but does a fine job at getting your attention. 

Final Grade: B

“The World’s End” (2013)

Edgar Wright is one of the best directors right now and is probably the best director of comedies. “Hot Fuzz” is wall-to-wall hilarity and has one of the most well-written screenplays I can think of. “Shaun Of The Dead” is a wonderful parody to zombie movies and has some great one-liners. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is a fantastic tribute to geek-dom and offers up just as many great lines and dialogue as Wright’s other works.

Which brings me to his newest film, “The World’s End.” The story of Gary King (Simon Pegg) who wishes to recapture his youth with his best buddies, who have all moved on with their lives, and finish something they never could when they were young: going to twelve pubs across a mile radius. King is determined to finish this pub crawl and relive the greatest night of his life, even if it kills him. Which it might, considering that everyone else in the town has been taken over by an alien race and replaced by robots.

Now, in that premise lies my main problem the film. Namely, the lack of any logic or sense in the main characters. Gary wants to finish the pub crawl because that was the highest point in his life and wants a second chance, I get that. But if these guys had an ounce of common sense, the minute they were attacked by these robots, they would have forgotten all about the beer and left town.

I understand this film is a comedy and if the characters did that there would be no movie. That I shouldn’t be thinking about that since this is just a dumb comedy. That’s where I disagree. Edgar Wright’s movies are far from “dumb” comedies. The writing has so much thought and effort put into them and the characters actions are far from idiotic. The characters themselves may not always be that bright and often act like man-children, but in “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun Of The Dead” their actions make sense. They behave like normal human beings, but not in “The World’s End.” As such, these characters act alien to us. 

That doesn’t mean “The World’s End” is bad by any stretch. The character of Gary King is hilariously tragic, and he goes to amazing lengths to get his group of friends back together. Until the point where the aliens are introduced and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost begin fighting them like pro-wrestlers, the film is both hilarious, well-written and well acted. It’s too bad at that point the film begins to sink into cliches and predictability. 

Final Grade: C+

“Blue Jasmine” (2013)

I have a love-hate relationship with Woody Allen. While I’m certainly impressed by Allen’s body of work and certain filmic achievements, particularly “Crimes And Misdemeanors” and “Midnight In Paris,” I can’t help but roll my eyes at what he considers comedy and the narcissistic tone of so many of his movies and acting style, especially “Annie Hall.” I don’t think Woody Allen is a bad filmmaker by any stretch, but a tedious and repetitive filmmaker. 

Allen’s newest film, “Blue Jasmine,” certainly doesn’t feel like any other movie that I’ve seen from him, but I can’t help drawing connections to other ones I’ve seen, in particular “A Streetcar Named Desire.” This film is about the formerly wealthy Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchette) who has recently lost everything she ever owned when her husband (Alec Baldwin) was sent to prison for being a crooked financier and committing suicide. 

Jasmine moves from New York to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco while she tries to get back on her feet. She tries to adapt to her new non-glamorous life style while also suffering from a mental breakdown after the death of her husband.

The film spends its time following Jasmine as she tries to find a new goal with her life and attempting to get back to the life she left behind, as well as Ginger and her problems with life and dealing with her snobbish sister, while also cutting back to flashbacks of New York and Jasmine’s attempt to get Ginger who the high society and failing. At times, it felt like there was far too much going on at once, while also cutting to flashbacks that slowed the pacing of the present scenes to screeching halt. 

It also didn’t help that Jasmine’s attitude towards her sister and wish to simply return to the lifestyle that had left her in the dust just made her unsympathetic. There was no reason to relate with her on a personal level. I felt more emotionally connected to Ginger, since she was willing to put all of her future plans and life on hold just to help the sister who had treated her so badly and continues to treat her lifestyle choice as the bad ones. 

As I said before, this film reminded me of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with both it’s plot line, character motivations and themes. I will give “Blue Jasmine” enough credit to say that it pulls off these elements better than “A Streetcar Named Desire,” since that film didn’t have much going for it other than Marlon Brando’s performance. Give “Blue Jasmine” a shot if you like Woody Allen, enjoyed “A Streetcar Named Desire” or you like tragic stories. 

Final Grade: B-

Final Thoughts:

I felt rather disappointed by this run of movies. Not because these films were poorly made, but because of what the majority of them were trying to say. The moral of a film can often be just as important as the film itself, and most of these films seemed to be showing the poor side of humanity. The side that filmmakers feel goes unchecked and needs to be brought up.

Yes, humanity has its darker sides and isn’t perfect. Nobody said that we were this amazing race of perfect beings. But that doesn’t mean just because we pollute or succumb to greed, rage and vengeance, that we’re suddenly a savage race or that we deserve to perish. 

For every crime committed, there is an act of blessing. For every selfish act, there is someone being selfless. Every time something bad is done in the world, there is another person out there committing a good deed to help better the human race.

You have to take the good with the bad, and I choose to see the actions of both sides rather than focusing on just one side. I choose to see humanity as someone like Owen from “The Way, Way Back.” Helpful and kind, is willing to crack a sarcastic joke occasionally, but still has his own problems and downfalls. Owen is far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean he needs to change who he is. 

If I walked away with anything from these movies, it’s being reassured in how I feel about humanity. That for all the cynicism in movies these days, I’m not going let that affect how I see and feel about how people choose to run their lives. 

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