With the decision that May is now the start for summer movies, this week we officially hit the mid-way point for this blockbuster season.
It’s been an interesting couple of months, with a lot of sequels as well as some honest gems that snuck in between the explosions.
Plus, as we sit stewing in our own meat bags (aka our skin), the siren-song of $7 air conditioning combined with flickering images on a large screen is something no one can ignore.
Iron Man 3
We’ve all heard that by this point, RDJr IS Tony Stark, and I’m not going to disagree. But I think it’s more because RDJr has figured out how to absolutely embody the character and take someone who in the wrong hands could seem a joke and make him into something more, someone with depth and sorrow as well as swagger. That we can watch Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark spends most of the movie out of his suit and still see him as Iron Man, is because of the strength of RDJr’s performance. Of course the major selling point of this movie was Ben Kinsley’s outstanding spin as the Mandarin, both before and after (no spoilers, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean). Was the end silly? Yes. Was the addition of a a kid sidekick just skating on the edge of cutesy? Yes. Do we still sorta despise Gwyneth no matter how much RDJr tries to make her seem charming? Yes. But in the end, the movie was fun and exciting and with set pieces like the barrel of monkeys rescue sequence, you – or at least I – am able to forgive and enjoy.
The Great Gatsby
I’ve already discussed how I’m not a fan of this movie. And as time has gone by, that hasn’t changed. There has been very little for me to hang onto with this one, apart from how fantastic Leo was. But the addition of depth and importance to Daisy just prevented the film from having any lasting resonance for me. Oddly, in the end the movie was really like Daisy – pretty but without substance.
Star Trek Into Darkness
I so desperately want to add a colon to that title.
Although it lacked the same slam I felt after I saw JJ Abram’s ST revamp, I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness. I must confess that some of that was due in part to the presence of one Benedict Cumberbatch – that man could read the phone book and I’d pay 10 bucks to own that recording. But the movie also built on preexisting relationships that both the characters in the film had together as well as the one the audience has with that cast. It’s now cannon that the original StarTrek isn’t cannon, so we can get over that and see where this new universe takes us, which happens to be a smartly worked reversal of one of the most iconic scenes in Star Trek history. The resolution in this universe was a little hacky and as thrilling as the fight scene between Spock and Khan was, it was all a little much. I never did see Spock as much of a badass, but perhaps that is something that needs to change. Also, more Bones. Please more Bones.
I was able to see this movie at a free screening around a month before it opened and liked it so much, I paid to see it last weekend. Melissa McCarthy sells every single line in that movie as if she had Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glenross whispering in her ear. No matter how foul or crass, she made everything her character Shannon Mullins said seems as if it was being thought of a la minute. That gift of spontaneity doesn’t reside as much in Sandra Bullock, but she acquitted herself well. What makes The Heat so interesting, however, is that it’s a buddy movie with two women where the fact that they are women isn’t the central focus of the film. Yes, we see that Mullins has had several sexual encounters (and good on them for making her a guy-magnet) and yes, we hear that Bullock’s Ashburn was once married, but both of these attributes could easily apply to two guys. Neither character spent forever lamenting being single, having “lady problems”, or crying when things get too rough. Yes sisters, we are that much closer to film equality.
The Stories We Tell
This is one of those hidden gems I was talking about. Part documentary part reenactment, Sarah Polley takes us deep inside one of the biggest secrets in her family. Each family member had their own memories and experiences, and it is while piecing it together that you get a sense of what really happened. Polley has directed two previous films, Away From Her and Take This Waltz, both of which were heartbreaking in their own way. As she interviews her brothers and sister, her father and extended family and friends, all to learn who her mother really was, you feel a yearning as the valley between what Polley remembers (her mother died when she was very young) and the person her mother truly was. And with Polley, the added mystery of her own patrilineage just adds to the desire. Anyone who has lost someone can understand the need to rebuild that person’s past in an effort to gain understanding. And sometimes how we choose to remember that person is just as important.
Now You See Me
I love a good movie about magic. The Prestige and The Illusionist both whetted my appetite for that odd mixture of wanting to believe in the magic on screen and trying to peek behind the curtain to see the truth. Now You See Me is a jumbled story in many ways, but the components all come together well enough to make it a fun jumble. I’m a sucker for those big set pieces that dazzle, and NYSM has no shortage of those. You aren’t going to walk away feeling that you have learned something profound, but you will definitely walk away thinking “How the hell did they do that?” Special mention to Jesse Eisenberg who has managed to carry off being an absolute tool while not being completely hateful and to Mark Ruffalo who does befuddled like no one else.
There is so much I want to say about this disaster, but since I was taught if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all…
I will say that the green screen effects aren’t always terrible and I wasn’t constantly laughing at the ever-changing accents and slam-over-the-head Scientology references.
PS – The twist is that the movie is terrible.
Every once in a while I see something that hits me smack in the chest in a painful but not unwelcome way. Frances Ha hit me like that, and how. Greta Gerwig plays Frances, a rootless 27 year old who just can’t quite figure it out. Her desire to dance when she probably isn’t good enough to do it professionally and her seeming inability to put down stakes in adulthood echoed in a way that was honestly uncomfortable. I don’t want to dance, and trust me when I say no one wants me to dance, but I understand that want that is and will remain out of reach and I spent more time than I wish to admit floating without a permanent address. At the root of it all is the fundamental change in Frances’s relationship with her best friend. She so defines herself as being half of that duo that when her friend finds her place and definition in a new couple, Frances loses her apartment and her identity. It is a painful journey to rediscover what her life is going to be and who she wants herself to be. Gerwig gives Frances a naiveté that manages to not grate and not inspire mere pity. Her successes, no matter how minor, seem to explode with joy and we watch and encourage every little step she takes towards truly and finally growing up.
Sure this is essentially a snuff film, but at least it’s a snuff film that tries to raise some interesting questions. Would everything really just sort itself out if for 12 hours a year people could commit any sort of atrocity they wanted? Are we all just a few jealous moments away from outright murder and violence? Do the rich really have it better off? (And yes, that last question was rhetorical) I will say that Lena Headey sold the hell out of her role in this and made the end of the movie work despite its innate silliness.
Although I remember loving Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, I don’t remember them as well as I’d like. It’s possible that is both a function of time and a willful desire to have those memories be as hazy as possible. I have aged along with Jesse and Celine, from that fresh-faced, optimism where the future is wide open and chance encounters hold all the promise in the world, to older, slightly jaded and wounded and hesitant. This last round, however, they have moved ahead of me. Jesse and Celine, having reconnected in Before Sunset have stayed together, not marrying, but raising a pair of angelic looking blonde twin girls. They might be the semblance of domestic bliss but all the hurt and insecurities from all the previous years are barely beneath the surface. With Jesse’s son living in the US and the Jesse, Celine, and their girls living in Europe, the ingredients for verbal sparring are all there. And spar they do. After years of knowing each other, they know how best to hurt, what scars can easily open, and how far to almost push each other. It is uncomfortable to watch them, as the dialog seems to incredibly real. You are no longer watching two people fall in love, you are watching the ever after and that is not magical, but just as emotionally fulfilling.
This Is The End
A movie that is almost wholly reliant on dick and masturbation jokes, This is the End manages to also find a sweet spot. Watching the fictionalized versions of many of the comedic actors we have mostly come to love over the past decade either get killed in brutal and highly amusing fashions or fight for survival in post-apocalyptic LA is far more entertaining than I would have imagined. Danny McBride is just foul in all the right ways and Jonah Hill is slimy and unctuous. But as everyone has said, the movie is stollen by Michael Cera playing a 180 degree turn against type. His interaction with Rihanna is worth the price of admission alone. What clinched the movie for me was the very end, which wasn’t the original ending, but worked perfectly for me. Backstreet IS back!
Man of Steel
It is going to be difficult to write about Man of Steel without acknowledging the otherworldly level of handsome of Henry Cavill. I mean, really… just look at that man!
Thankfully, I really enjoyed him as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman. Yes, it’s much darker than the Christopher Reeve version – this guy isn’t a bumbling idiot when donning his glasses. And yes, there is A LOT more on Kryptonite than we’ve seen in the past. But for me it worked. There is an inherent “outsiderness” to Superman that makes his penchant for being a loner understandable. Plus his adoptive father played here by Kevin Costner instills in him a deep fear of having people discover who he really is. As this is an origin story, we get to see him become Superman and it is more trial and error than before. And to me, more of a discovery.
Michael Shannon is the only person who can make me forget Terrance Stamp’s General Zod. His singleminded devotion to what he sees as his duty to his people and his planet almost explains his actions, but add in the tiny gleam of insanity Shannon is able to impart, and it all falls into place. Amy Adams isn’t a flighty Lois Lane, but a true intrepid reporter who is Superman’s equal and eventual confidant. Sure, the end of the film has destruction on a scale that is unimaginable and entire city blocks are demolished without so much as a first thought, but by this point I’m so immune to that whole thing, I pretend said buildings and streets are as empty as a studio backlot. I will say that every punch, every body slam had weight. You felt them hit you in the chest, making what might be an overlong battle scene an involved endurance test for all involved. I didn’t have so much of an issue with Superman’s last actions; I’m not sold on the comic version of the character. And the cry of anguish and pain that Cavill let out gave the action depth and meaning beyond just a mindless killing.
I will add that I half expected Russell Crowe to start singing…badly. But he was a much more defined Jor-El than Brando was, which while not saying much, says enough.
So that’s the first part of the summer. Thoughts on Monsters University, World War Z, Pacific Rim, and others up next!