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American Hustle & the best films of 2013

An article in the Daily Beast talks about American Hustle not being as good as the buzz surrounding it and that it should not be a leading candidate for Best Picture.  I agree.

I enjoyed seeing the film, but was myself surprised when it won so many awards, got so many nominations, and then was talked about as a challenger to 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture.  I think that most of the comments and criticisms in the article are accurate.

I have a couple more films I want to see before I release my Best Of 2013 list.  I've missed most of the foreign films this year and may not get a chance to see them before I make my list.  That's not so unusual, though some years in the past, particularly when I was single and living in Dallas, I was better about that.


Good article on Inside Llewyn Davis

The Daily Beast has a good article on Inside Llewyn Davis, which I saw on Friday, and why it was generally snubbed by the Motion Picture Academy.  An excerpt:

Throughout, you feel the bone-chilling cold of the streets and Davis's loss. This isn't a film about conquering demons or surmounting impossible odds, it is a film about losing and losing more, the chipping away of character and of hope. It is about losing your dreams, not achieving them, life shrinking, hope diminishing, aspiration dissolving. 


The Spectacular Now

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This well-reviewed film captures the angst and awkwardness of adolescence without some of cliches that these films often succumb to.  The leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, deliver strong, compelling performances.  Shailene's innocence and earnestness infect you, while also inciting your pity -- she is too vulnerable.

I knew the film would be dramatic, but I expected a little more humour.  I wonder if it will enter the pantheon of teen films for this current generation of teens, or if it is too heavy to do so?

3 1/2 film reels
3 1/2 popcorn kernels 


Before Midnight

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Last weekend Michael and I finally saw Before Midnight.  First, some background.
Before Sunrise, the original film in this series, resonated with all the romance of our early twenties (I'm just a little younger than the characters).  We all wanted to have an experience like Jesse and Celine.  When I rewatch that film, at different points in my life, my experience of it is both nostalgic and new, as the older me reacts to it in different ways.
Before Sunset was beautiful and lyrical and filled with the cynicism we had developed by our thirties, skeptical of romance, but still longing for it.  It articulated realities.
I long for Linklater to make another every decade or so, as this really is the Gen X love story.
***Spoiler Alert***
Halfway through the film, I did not like it.  I was not connecting to it as I have the others.  Maybe the big difference is that I have yet started my family, so I am behind my age cohort and my experiences are different.  I enjoyed the nervousness of the airport departure scene of Henry at the beginning and the awkwardness and casual dialogue of the return drive in the car.  But the scenes at the home of the author Patrick did nothing for me.  Yes, they established how pretentious Jesse can be, but the dinner conversations about love and penises was vapid.
In truth, though, the film does not begin until Jesse and Celine begin walking and talking, again.  That's what we really want.  And it burns intensely once they arrive at a hotel for a romantic night and have an explosive fight.  It was so tightly wound, I was afraid there would be violence.
And, yes, the film was authentic.  It sounded, often, similar to the fights we have.  The accuracy of it was shocking and convicting.  It cut me to the bone, leaving me somewhat numb at the conclusion, but also longing for Michael.  We held hands through some of the worst of the fighting, both startled to see ourselves.  I, who had felt very connected with Celine in the past, found myself so very like Jesse and angry at Celine.
In ten years, or so, maybe we will be at Henry's wedding, somewhere in the States.  And we'll meet Jesse's ex.  If so, then she must be played by Winona Ryder.  
4 film reels
3 popcorn kernels

The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a short trip to Minneapolis this week, I took The Great Gatsby along and read it for the third time -- once in high school (when I did not like it) and again in 2000 (when some youth of mine were reading it in high school, and I liked it, but didn't love it). I was reading it again because I'd just seen the movie, and it seemed like a good thing to do -- to reacquaint myself with the details.

I liked it more this time, though still don't love it. This time I caught all the gay content which I wasn't paying attention for or taught to pay attention for the previous times I read it.

I enjoyed the recent film, though I had critical things to say about it. And now re-reading the novel, I realize how much more the film misunderstood or misrepresented. I was particularly struck by Nick Carraway's comment in the penultimate chapter "because I disapproved of him from beginning to end." The movie gave the complete contrary impression.

View all my reviews

More trashing of Star Trek Into Darkness

Richard Corliss' review in Time also trashed it.  Here are my favourite lines:

But with its emphasis on its hero’s adolescent anger, the movie turns this venerable science-fiction series — one that prided itself on addressing complex issues in a nuanced and mature fashion — into its own kids’ version: Star Trek Tiny Toons. At times, the viewer is almost prodded to mutter, “Grow up!”

Read more: http://entertainment.time.com/2013/05/13/star-trek-into-darkness-the-young-and-the-reckless/#ixzz2TwV1QWiz


Gatsby film not gay enough

Last week it was The Great Gatsby which I was criticizing -- though I enjoyed watching it; I did not hate it, like Star Trek this week.  

Late in the week I read, but didn't get a previous chance to blog, an article at the Atlantic on the lack of the gay theme from the novel in the new film.  This author things missing this important element meant the Luhrmann completely misunderstood and misrepresented the story.  The take was different than that I'd read in other reviews, but I found it very interesting.

I clearly need to (and intend to) re-read the novel.

"As a homosexual man..." Froelich says, "Nick understands the necessity of deceit in a society that defines one's desire and agency as illicit."

This is also, I'd argue, why Nick is attracted to in Gatsby. It's not that Gatsby is, as the movie Carraway insists, the "single most hopeful person" he's ever known. Rather, it's that Gatsby is a momentous, glorious, incandescent sham. If Jordan is deceitful, Gatsby is even more so. And just as he falls for Jordan and her dishonesty, so is Nick riveted by the transformation of poor, nobody from nowhere Jimmy Gatz into the wealthy somebody Jay Gatsby. Nick and Gatsby are alike not in their innocence, but in their capacity for subterfuge.


Star Trek Into Darkness

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***Spoiler Alert***

The structure was poor.  The pacing was off.  The editing was bad.  The score was ridiculous and distracting.  The characters and moments were wasted.

I liked the reboot with the new cast in their first film.  This one I hated.  It left me wondering if these filmmakers really understand story, for they don't seem to grasp, at least in this film, how to tell a story.

For one, there is too much in this one film.  The original cast took three films to tell the parallel story to this one.  And did it much better, of course. (Oh, and this film also has to mix in elements of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

I was annoyed with the constant and uncessary climaxes.  When Steven Spielberg used that technique in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark it was out of homage to the old serials and was done tongue-in-cheek.  He did not intend for all action films to become like that, wasting moments.  Even something like the fight with the Klingons can't be enjoyed because it is edited and shot in such a way that the coreography of a great fight scene is completely lacking.  I think more filmmakers should be forced to go back and watch the sword fight between Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood -- it well-paced and a delight to watch (or any gunfight in The Wild Bunch would work as well).  

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan one of the great sequences is when the two ships slowly and quietly stalk one another in a nebula.  That is much more engaging than this over-the-top nonsense.

Another complaint, at the close of the film much of San Francisco is destroyed, in what would have clearly killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people.  Yet, there is no moment for any emotion connected to that.  It was most unncessary for the plot of the story.  It was simply masturbatory destruction that really appals me.  Can we watch hundreds of thousands of people being killed and simply rush on to the chase scene?  This shocked me for its amorality, maybe immorality.  I feel the water circling the drain of the nihilistic nadir of our moral tradition.

But what actually angered me -- and I mean angered me, really pissed me off -- was the ruining of a sacred moment.  In my lifetime there were onlly two films which completely emotionally overwhelmed me to the point of being almost numb when I left the theatre.  One was Schindler's List, the other was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  I quite vividly remember that experience--people, including adults, crying in the theatre, the quiet numbness of the room when the film ended, the way people shuffled slowly out of the darkness, mumbling to themselves and their friends "He can't be dead, can he?"  Our beloved Mr. Spock was dead and it was such a shock.

And the moment had been written, directed, and played beautifully -- with emotion, but not sentimentality, but most powerfully with a clear moral conviction.  It was a lesson in the virtues for myself, and I know many other young boys.  It is a scene which has remained with us.

This was not homage.  It was a pale shadow that missed everything of value in the original scene.  And to overcome its vacuity, it had to complicate it.  Instead of the simple moral and physical struggle Spock endured, Jim has to climb and kick and act foolishly, turning a simple moment into some agon.  It is not the courage of moral conviction, as in the original story, but physical exertion.  Disgusting.

What appals me is that these filmmakers have watched and enjoyed and discussed and debated and imagined these stories and these characters throughout their lives just as I and my friends have done.  And given the chance, the wonderful, amazing chance, to shape the characters and the stories themselves, this is what they give us?

I enjoy these characters and the new actors portraying them.  And Benedict Cumberbatch was a delight as Khan, even if the character's power and force was wasted in this piece of trash.

1 film reel
1 popcorn kernel 


42 & Gatsby

I used to blog a lot about films.  Film, as a category, used to be one of the largest in that category cloud down there on the lower right side.  When I was single I saw more films, for one thing.  Now even when I do see them, I often don't make the time to write about them.

Recently I saw both 42 and The Great Gatsby.  Here are my thoughts.

42

I loved 42.  One way to tell -- I was teary-eyed throughout.  The story and the way it was portrayed were beautiful.  Chadwick Boseman was a convincing, powerful, and beautiful Jackie Robinson.  Harrison Ford was a delight to watch as Branch Rickey.

The compassion, justice, and equality messages of this film were wonderfully well done, without being too sentimental or heavy-handed (though if ventured into those terrains slightly).  I highly recommend it to everyone, and particularly to young audiences, as a way to learn.

3 1/2 film reels
5 popcorn kernels

The Great Gatsby

First thing: almost all the negative reviews are accurate.

Second thing: I still enjoyed it.

The film does seem to miss the central point of Fitzgerald's novel -- the critique of decadence and the loss of good, traditional midwestern values.  Nick Carraway seems to long for the glitzy, decadent days, rather than be glad to have escaped them.

I've never thought the story was this over-the-top, thinking it was a gentler novel.  Though the version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was one of the most boring films I've ever seen.

I understood that this was Luhrmann's take on the story, and I enjoyed his take.  Could have done without the cgi effects, like floating words and Daisy in the heavens, that pulled me out of the story.

DiCaprio and Maguire are very fun to watch, as is most of the supporting cast.  Some scenes are a delight, such as the tossing of the shirts in Gatsby's bedroom.  Others are finely crafted scenes with mesmerizing performances -- particularly the climactic fight between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan.  

2 film reels
4 popcorn kernels