Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Movie Season with no Ebert

Here we are, solidly into the summer movie season and nothing but crickets on this blog thus far.
TLD: Here's my note, teacher.  I've been sick since the start of April.  I've had 4 to 5 different viruses and other bugs, 2 of them requiring antibiotics.  I'm even home sick today - I can't tell if all the other things have just worn me down or if I have yet again something new.  Ironically, I remember thinking in March, wow, I've been through the whole winter and haven't caught anything significant.  Fate looks out for those kinds of thoughts, so try to avoid having them. (And I discovered in Mary Roach's wonderful (all of her books are wonderful) Gulp, that you catch viruses by touching your eye or picking your nose with an infected finger, and NOT by drinking after someone, as your digestive tract will nuke about any virus.)
My beloved movie critic, Roger Ebert, died on April 4 (the very day I fell ill, I'm just putting together - cue the creepy music), and I haven't had the drive or time to post about it until now.

Since his health troubles started (in 2006 I note from his bio/eulogy on the Sun-Times), I have been quietly dreading the day that Ebert found eternity. I find I miss him very much.

He loomed larger in my life than practically any other media presence, including actors, authors, comedians, writers of all stripes, and celebrities in the political and religious worlds.

That's because when I was growing in my small town in South Dakota, the only TV stations we got were two of the big three and PBS.  I was likely watching either the International Festival of Animation (which should have been called the Canadian Festival of Animation, since it was produced and paid for by Canadian public TV) or watching Monty Python when they mentioned the "Sneak Previews" movie review show.  Before that time, I had no idea such a thing existed.  I was hooked in one viewing and remained a loyal viewer through all incarnations of the show.  I scheduled my week around it.

From that moment, Ebert became my major touchstone on all things movies.  He completely  influenced - though that's not a strong enough word - my tastes in film. We diverged in opinion only about the specific species of semi-plotless tragic dramas, the kind Paul Thomas Anderson likes to make for example, where it's about "our journey with the characters" and the credits roll seemingly at random. While I encounter the odd flick in that vein that I like, I really prefer verse chorus verse movies. Still, if he recommended it, I'd usually give it a try.

I've noticed his absence every time a new blockbuster or bomb rolls through this summer.  I yearn to know what Roger thought about it.  I still have Peter Travers, and the basic barometer of Rotten Tomatoes, which suffice, but as Travers himself says in his sweet eulogy (one of the few sweet ones from a fellow critic), there was no one else like Roger.

Goodbye, Mr. Ebert.

So, let's rewind the summer movie season and start at the top.

Saw Tom Cruise's new "look ma, I'm saving the world" mashup Oblivion.

Richard Roeper has already perfectly coined the flick, so I'll just use that: “This is the sci-fi movie equivalent of a pretty damn good cover band.” In their reviews, most of the critics played "name that reference!' of all the other sci-fi flicks Oblivion is cobbled together from, because it's just so blatantly a cover band, as Roeper said.  Go surf Rotten Tomatoes and you'll see what I mean.

The (probably unintentional) reference that made me grin the most was the female character* who runs the computer while the male character (Cruise) is out fixing battle drones; she essentially has Sigourney Weaver's job in Galaxy Quest where she repeats what the computer and others say - which Weaver's character justifies thus: "Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it's stupid, but I'm gonna do it! Okay?" I listened carefully for a line that made a pointed reference to that one, but I didn't hear one. Let me know if you do, if you see it.
*Names are somewhat intentionally unimportant, but that's a bit of a spoiler, so I'll leave it at that. 

In a bit of Alanis Morissette irony, one of the previews prior to the flick was for R.I.P.D., which  obviously takes most of the premise from the Showtime series "Dead Like Me.," so here we had a preview of a recycled premise before a main feature of recycled sci-fi tropes. (Can't wait to see it!)

Iron Man 3 was fun. Better then 2 at least (I even can't recall how 2 ended). However, like most review have mentioned, it felt that Downey was just saying the lines. His PTSD face was much like his "I love you, Pepper" face.  The cute kid angle didn't play well because Stark is a real dick to the kid, which seemed out of character. I like the suit cha-cha at the end - tres clever.  But the fireworks display was the definition of gratuitous and especially tasteless in tough economic times like these.  It puts on somewhat horrific display how clueless the comfortably rich are about how the rest of us are struggling to keep things together.

Gatsby - just no.  I've never really been intrigued with the story, and I recall the novel as readable, but when I saw Jay-Z did the soundtrack, I thought: naw bro, naw.  Perhaps I'll pick up the book again to see if I missed something the first time.

Star Trek Into Darkness was a joy, even though it wandered into the very plot waters all Trekkies hoped it wouldn't. Happily it's inconsequential as the bad guy could have gone by any name; Montalban, say.  I love how Abrams understands each main character has got to have their moment or we feel unfulfilled.  The whole Dick Cheney gets a really big ship and becomes a pain in the ass subplot was delicious. The final chase fight on moving platforms was beyond cliche, but oh well.  My favorite line was (and I paraphrase from memory): "Bones, stop it with the metaphors.  That's an order."  I see Whisky Prajer has a few thoughts about it, too.

I mention the kid's flick Epic only to warn you off somewhat.  It's an abysmal string of hero's journey cliches, with at least 3 different hero journeys going on at once. Even worse, the plots were (probs unintentionally) lifted from the recent string of straight-to-DVD Tinkerbell movies. Since I had a coughing fit that I just couldn't shake, I was in the lobby when it let out (I spent most of the time standing in the hallway leading to the theater so I could dash out when I had to cough), and most of the kids from 3 to 8 really liked it from their reactions as they emerged.  Everyone else had the facial expression of "2 hours. Gone. Forever."  Yeah, it's the longest cartoon ever made, methinks, clocking in at 10ish minutes shy of 2 hours. DVD this one, and make sure you have something else to do while the kids watch.

I had high hopes for Now You See Me given the cast and the preview.  But, shazaam, they pull nothing but disappointment out of the hat after a pretty cool first act.  The big reveal is so anticlimactic that you half expect a trick ending where they come back and go JUST KIDDING! and do a real ending.  The way the end credits start it hints at that, but then the real credits (the legally required ones) start to ascend and it's just over.  Not sure if you wanna waste the time on this one.  Perhaps if you're marooned on the couch and the remote is out of reach, you can endure it to pass the time, but otherwise, no.

This leaves Man of Steel, R.I.P.D., This is the End, The Lone Ranger and The Way, Way Back as movies I'm more or less looking forward to.  I don't include the kids flicks, because as the father of an 8-year-old, I'll see them regardless.  Though I'm going to try to stick my wife with enduring Disney's Planes, if the moppet wants to see it, though the preview did not seem to interest her.

I'm dubious about Man of Steel because it's likely to be precisely what it looks like: a retread of the origin story covered in the first two original Superman movies, but retooled as a Dark-Night, gritty, perpetually blue-hued version, with over the top swat-fu scenes and shit blowing up during 20-minute long action sequences.  I hope it's more than that, but so far it doesn't look promising.

Caught up with Django Unchained on video and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, which is typical of Tarantino for me.  I've got a buddy who worships him, so that casts me as the cynical heretic in our crowd. I didn't like the Kill Bill episode where the coma-laden Uma is sold out as a sex doll.  It tossed me out of the movie (too grim for the rest of the general tone), and this perfectly conveys my wife's reaction prior to our leaving the group viewing:

Yet Django stayed within the rough confines of a spaghetti western, so the horrific parts (like Django's wife being pulled out of a punishment box that sits in the hot sun) didn't wreck my suspension of disbelief.  Though had I not seen other movies about the horrors of slavery, the historic TV series Roots being one, I may not have able to get past it.  But because everyone who should get it DOES get it in poetically vengeful means, and the fact that it ends with a classic spaghetti western song from the My Name is Trinity series, it worked for me.

Finally, I streamed the documentary on Kurick's The Shining: Room 237.  Wow, what a turkey.  Read some of the reviews from Amazon to get an idea of how terrible it is.  I stuck it out until the end because in the middle one sensible person (the only woman who opines) points out that Danny's path on his big wheel is impossible, and hoped someone else would drop a cool tidbit like that.  But no, it was mostly conspiracy theory horseshite. The most whacked example is it's Kubrick's attempt to tell us he helped fake the moon landings. Others claim it's his holocaust film, while another says it's about the massacre of the American Indians  There are  a couple ideas floated that are so silly, even the guy saying them tries to justify them by claiming in post-modern criticism, even if the creator/author likely didn't consciously create the symbolism or references, if the critic sees them due to his or her personal experience, they are valid anyway.  (Hence the fake moon landing/indians/Nazi "interpretations.") Which is a great indictment of post-modern criticism and theory unto itself.  Perhaps if you've got a bunch of friends who are liberal arts college professors, this would be a fun diversion while you were trying new wines, merely to enjoy the batshit craziness of it while getting lightly buzzed. Oh, and if any of them try to defend any of the theories (besides the one about the big wheel), you'll have identified those who should no longer have tenure.

I'll leave you with my favorite piece of new trivia.  Kevin Pollak reveals in his new autobio, How I Slept My Way to the Middle, the agony he faced during A Few Good Men because everyone wanted him to do his Jack Nicholson for Jack.  He never did.  However, Nicholson's contract stated he had to work only 3 days, and was gracious enough to stay for an additional half day, but no more even though some reaction shots of other actors hadn't been filmed yet.  After he left, Reiner was going to sit and read Nicholson's lines to the other actors to get their lines back to Nicholson in the can.  Pollak suggested that NOW he pull out his Jack impersonation, because after hearing the lines for 3 days, he had them cold.  So, Pollak stood in for Jack and did the lines.  When Reiner went to edit, he was putting together that scene when he realized that he had actually used a couple voice takes of Pollak's because they were so good it was difficult to tell them apart.  He went back and made sure it was all Nicholson, replacing the couple Pollak lines that had crept in, so don't fire up the moving hoping to ferret out Pollak's lines.  Still, how much validation does a guy need when even the director can barely tell who is who.  Kinda like another movie Pollak was in...


Anonymous said...

" . . . here we had a preview of a recycled premise before a main feature of recycled sci-fi tropes."

Yup. It keeps getting harder to find original stories nowadays. Alas.


Yahmdallah said...