Monday, October 7, 2013

The Hopper #3

When I was finishing up the last episode of “The Hopper,” I came to the realization that I had watched literally every movie in theaters that I had wanted to watch and that there wouldn’t be any movies coming out for a while that would interest me. 

That was about a month ago. Now a plethora of movies have been released in the intervening time. Some of whom, I’ve been told, are must see movies, while others are just ones that I think could be cool and worth my time. 

I’m happy to say, of the three movies I watched this time around, that I’m glad I viewed all of them. Each one was satisfying in its own way, and barring a few questionable decisions, they were all enjoyable. 

But let’s start with the one which I’m sure I’ll get the most flak for.

“Gravity” (2013)

No, I did not hate “Gravity.” Quite the opposite, actually. But I will say from the start that I did not enjoy it nearly as much as some people are making it out to be. 

“Gravity” is currently boasting a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and critics have been praising the film out the wazzu. While I understand why people are enjoying this so much, I can’t bring myself to say it’s one of the greatest movies of our generation. 

The plot of the film centers on a space shuttle as it performs maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope, which includes Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who chose to be up here to get away from all her troubles on Earth, and Mission Specialist Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), an adventurer who plans to set the all-time space walk record. When a Russian Anti-Satellite test sets off a chain reaction, their space ship and everyone onboard is destroyed. Now Stone and Kowalski must find a way to survive the harshness of space before they run out of oxygen or more debris gets to them first.

Let’s start with what I thought really worked for “Gravity.” Namely, the look of the movie. If “Gravity” is anything, it is a beautiful movie. Not once does it feel like Bullock or Clooney are in a studio or on a set. They move and act as if they’re literally floating around space. The way the sun and reflections of the Earth reflect off of their helmets is a rather simple yet effective way of showing the scope and magnitude of where these characters are. 

Not to mention, the film cuts to a different shot only when its absolutely necessary. This is something I expected, since director Alfonso Cuaron, who also brought us “Children Of Men,” has a trademark of long-tracking shots during crucial moments. The opening shot of the film lasts roughly 12 minutes, and every second of it is gorgeous to look at. 
So if I really enjoyed the look and feel of the movie, what didn’t I like about it? Mostly the story. In particular, that it’s nothing to write home about. 

Stone and Kowalski go through your basic heros journey, with nothing really standing out or trying anything that we haven’t seen before. It’s not necessarily a bad story, just that it mostly serves as a vehicle to get to the next fantastic looking shot of the sunrise. 

While that can be all well and good, it can be incredibly distracting. I’ve addressed this before, but the main aspect I watch for in any movie are the story and characters. I feel those should always be at the main focus of a movie, and without if either of those falter then the film will suffer. 

While “Gravity” does have a wonderful appearance and can often leave you speechless with just a simple shot of George Clooney looking down on Earth, the story and characters do leave a lot to be desired. 

I read in a New York Times article the other day, in which a film critic said that “Gravity” was “the most beautiful and pretty looking popcorn film of all time.” Honestly, that is something I can agree with. 

Final Grade: B

“Don Jon” (2013)

Now this was an interesting experiment of a movie.

Not only was this Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first attempt at writing and directing a film, but it also is not afraid to openly discuss the problems with online pornography, including addiction and how it compares to actual sex. However, at the same time, I feel there was plenty of missed opportunities in “Don Jon” that could have raised this film from just another romantic comedy. 

There are only a few things that Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) cares about it in life, mostly revolving around his single lifestyle and his porn, which he believes is better than real sex. Jon can lose himself in porn, forget about his troubles and worries for a while, yet sex doesn’t do this at all for him.

One day though, Jon meets “the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen” in Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) and it’s love at first sight. Jon is willing to forego his usual pickup style to get together with Barbara. The moment the subject of his porn addiction comes up, Jon can’t stop. Now he has to choose between his gorgeous girlfriend or his satisfying porn.

What works in favor of this film is Gordon-Levitt and his performance as both Jon and the narrator. From his simple facial motions to the sincerity in his voice, Gordon-Levitt nails it at make the “Don Jon” a likable yet flawed character that we want to see pull through in the end. His narration style boosts this by going into a sorta alternate state of mind when he talks, as if we’re with him while he does the dirty deed. 

Yet I feel there is untaped potential in this film. The movie makes it a point that Johansson’s character is addicted to romantic comedies as much as Gordon Levitt’s character is addicted to porn. They even go as far as to adopt the same stylistic editing when Johansson’s character “reaches her point.”

This could have been a clever and interesting way to show the similarities and difference between porn and movies, especially how some people use them. After all, what is pornography but entertainment stripped down to its bare basics?

Unfortunately, this is something “Don Jon” fails to touch on. The two main leads do have one heated argument about it when she discovers him looking it up after a night of passion, but they only discuss the issue briefly because of how close-minded she is and doesn’t want to talk about anything that upsets her.

The film instead decides to focus on Jon and his romantic life tying into his addiction to porn. The result of which makes sense but is also icky and kinda disturbing. I guess I can’t fault the movie for that, but it does leave out an interesting aspect that could have removed many of the cliches it shares with other romantic comedies. 

Final Grade: C+

“Prisoners” (2013)

Mystery is a genre which is often hit or miss. Either the mystery works and captivates audiences with intrigue and ambiguity or it is so full of holes and red herrings that you leave the audience wondering why they even bothered with it. 

“Prisoners” is an effective mystery that works at keeping the identity of the wrongdoer a secret for a long time, making the protagonists look competent yet still flawed enough to relate, and even has little hints and clues about the outcome even from the beginning. 

After Thanksgiving dinner, two little girls, Anna and Joy, go outside to play. After an hour of not hearing from them, their parents begin to share the neighborhood for them and are unsuccessful. When a trailer that they noticed earlier has disappeared as well, the parents can only assume whoever was in that trailer has kidnapped their children.

Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhall) has been assigned to the case and intends to keep his streak of solving every assignment given to him alive. Yet, when the most likely subject, the trailer’s driver Alex Jones (Paul Dano) fails to give up any information, everything seems to be at a dead end. Until Anna’s father, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackmon), kidnaps Alex on his own and tortures him to try to pry information out of him.

While watching “Prisoners,” I could help but make comparisons to AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” Not that I think they were copying one another, but more that their protagonists end up taking up similar methods to help out their loved ones.

In “Prisoners,” Hugh Jackmon’s character is willing to beat a supposedly innocent man to near death, deprave him of food and water and confine him to a box smaller than a bath tub, all because he feels this man will tell him where his daughter is. He is a good man who is willing to go to these extreme and immoral lengths, all in the name of helping his family.

Jackmon even gets the parents of the other kidnapped daughter (played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) involved on it. At first, both of them don’t want to have anything to do with this, and Jackmon even allows them an opportunity to set Alex free. Yet they don’t take it. They want their daughter back just as much as Jackmon does, and this man with the IQ of a ten-year old might be their only chance. This makes them partners in crime and are just as guilty as Jackmon would be.

Even so, this is just merely a subplot of the larger mystery of the kidnapper, which is nice. It doesn’t overshadow the main story, but it does add character to both Jackmon and the film itself. As I said, the mystery is great at building up all the necessary parts without giving anything away too early, while moving at just the right pace to keep the audience from getting too bored. 

Overall, “Prisoners” is a satisfying mystery that manages to work in characters who are more than just amateur detectives. If you’re a fan of “Breaking Bad” or just really like mysteries, I would highly recommend checking this out. Even if you don’t care for a mystery, it still might be worth a look.

Final Grade: B+

Final Thoughts:

I wanted to also try to see “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2,” but I didn’t get that opportunity this time around. Expect a review of that in a few days though, since I still really want to see it.

All in all, an effective and well-made group of movies this time around. The weakest of the bunch was “Don Jon” and even that had some interesting and funny moments in it. Both “Gravity” and “Prisoners” worked at their own genres and delivered on everything that they promised they would be.

It’ll probably be a while until another “Hopper” comes out, since there aren’t many movies coming out in the next month which I really want to see. There are movies that I am highly anticipating, especially “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.” Those are some films I’m excited to see.

Seriously, how can you go wrong with Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney?

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