Let’s talk summer movies! (Iron Man to Man of Steel)

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.

The Heat

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.

After Earth

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.

Frances Ha

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.

The Purge

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.

Before Midnight

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!

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“Drift” With Pacific Rim

Thanks to Nerdist for the heads up on this one.

Not sure if I’ve made it clear how excited I am about Pacific Rim.

I’m REALLY excited.

So when you get to see a behind the scenes featurette (as these are now called), it makes me giddy.

What struck me about this video is that gives the movie a bit more depth than the mere razzle dazzle of the robot vs. monster plotline. (Not that robot vs. monster isn’t enough, cuz it is)

Two people, piloting as one…how romantic

Clearly there is something emotional and potentially explosive going on with this “drift” concept. As Inception and Total Recall before it have shown us, seeing what is going on in someone else’s head doesn’t usually end well. Having total access to another person’s memories and feelings and life experiences might sound cool and interesting, but our minds are a tangled nest of insecurities and regrets that we don’t really want to share with anyone. And when that is tied in with the fate of humanity and life on earth as we know it, I foresee some issues.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Pacific Rim will be more than just crazytown fights. Guillermo Del Toro really has a grasp on the human psyche and the dangers within – just see Pan’s Labyrinth for proof. Even Hellboy showcased some of the darker angels lurking within. Either way…I’m counting down to July 12.

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Prepping for Arrested Development pt1

With just a few days left before Netflix unleashes new Arrested Development episodes upon us, the interwebs have been a-flutter with lists, interviews, essays, videos, and anything else they can think of that would relate to AD.

Yes, we are all really that excited.

The sheer volume of stuff out there to peruse and read through before 12:01am May 26 can make you dizzy like the side effects from one of the drugs pushed by Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution. So I thought I would share my favorite links and videos over the few days, to help cut down on the noise.

First, Vulture’s surprisingly difficult Arrested Development Superfan Quiz. By sheer luck and a heck of a lot of guessing, I got 50/50.  As you go through it, I will emphasis the sheer luck and guessing.

Then, an amazing supercut of all the comments about Ann Bland Egg Paul Veal and all the “Her?” statements in general. When you see all of Michael’s reactions put together, it’s amazing. And you forget how that “Her?” was used in some other choice situations.

Next is a list from Uproxx of the 20 most obscure pop culture references in AD. Some of them I knew, some of them made sense in retrospect, and some were highly educational – especially Buster’s plaintive cry of “I’m a monster!” (Which incidentally I say to myself on a semi-regular basis. I do have both my hands, FYI)

I just blue myself for nothing

Then a nice little piece from Esquire about why Tobias is the heart and soul of the show. I don’t know if I would necessarily go that far, but he is one of my favorite characters, if not merely for the creation of the position of “analrapist”. Plus the images of him with his failed hair plugs are a thing of beauty/horror.

Finally for today, one of the AV Club’s many, many, MANY pieces on Arrested Development.  I choose this one for the sweet comfort of all the quotes and how they can be used to respond to the new episodes. How meta.

In closing…there’s always money in the banana stand…

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The Pacific Rim trailer that will knock you DOWN

Ok. After watching this, Pacific Rim is now my #2 must-see this summer (#1 is Star Trek Into Darkness for those keeping count)

I mean holy hell! The giant monsters! The giant robots! The Idris Elba! The Charlie Day!

And it’s directed by the guy who gave us Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth?

What is not to like about this?

I don’t care if the movie has no interior logic or character development — just give me big robots fighting big monsters and I’m happy.

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In which I review Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

Have you seen Moulin Rouge?

Did you like it?

Do you want to see it on the big screen again?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then by all means, go see The Great Gatsby.

However, if a “no” crept into your mind at all, I would save the $12 and the possible headaches from the unnecessary 3D.

I should probably say that I loved Moulin Rouge when I first saw it. It was something I’d never quite seen before, the colors, the music, and visual fireworks…it seemed magical. It was easy to get swept up in it all and allow myself to be absolutely and completely dazzled.

The thing about that sort of magic is that it doesn’t always work the second time around. And clearly that is the case with Gatsby.

If you can -can-can….

I should also probably say that although I’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s permanent reading list contribution, I remember almost nothing. It’s one of those books that I know should have had a larger impact on me, but just didn’t.

(Side note and True Story: when I was in 7th grade I had to read Of Mice and Men. Being the last minute worker that I am, I waited until the night before and decided that with only a few pages left, I didn’t really have to finish the book to know what happened. When my mother and I sat to talk about what I was going to write about the book, I expressed sincere shock when she mentioned that Lenny died. She then sent me back to my room to reread the ending of the book. It’s amazing what a few pages at the end of a book can do)

Note: From here there be spoilers…

What this all means is that I came into Gatsby with minimal preconceived notions. I knew that the book ended with Gatsby floating face down in a swimming pool a la Sunset Boulevard, and that someone got hit by a car. But that’s about it. So I my mind was pretty open as the movie started.

It then snapped shut almost immediately.

The first hour or so of Gatsby is Moulin Rouge Part 2: The Rougening. And I really wish I were joking. Everything from the pacing to the camera angles to the voice over made me feel like I was back watching Luhrmann’s other film that featured anachronistic music and flashy costumes and a doomed love story. It wasn’t that it was bad – it was gorgeous to watch and the music was pretty good; it’s just that I’ve seen it before. And as I said, the second time around it all loses something.

Daisy, a beautiful little fool

My other problem with the film is that it tried so hard to make the focal point the doomed love story between Daisy and Gatsby, without really delving into the class issues and social issues going on behind the scenes. Just because Leo is in this, the movie doesn’t need to be a sequel to Titanic – and it shouldn’t be. And as I start to vaguely remember some of the issues in the book, I realized why I had such an issue with Daisy — don’t give Daisy depth just because you can’t figure out how to make her character worthy of a lifelong obsession. Carey Mulligan did a fine job with what she was given, but what she was given was a very strange interpretation of the character.

Nice to see you, Old Sport

I will say that Leonardo DiCaprio was fantastic. He captured everything you wanted Gatsby to be – dashing, charismatic, with the odd insecurities befitting his background. Leo is no longer that fresh faced young adult who won the hearts of all the teeny-boppers as he sunk to the bottom of the ocean. His body has filled out, he has developed lines on his now non-angular face. But this has just made him more appealing; looking like he’s actually been living a life gives him more depth.

Joel Edgerton was also great as bully and bigot and racist Tom Buchanan. Newcomer Elizabeth Debicki is also great as Daisy’s pal Jordan Baker. Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway did nothing for me. I find him too weak to really make an impact on me. Even as he yelled and raged at the end, I just found him wanting.

So should you see Gatsby in the theaters? If you were interested in seeing it at all, and of course answered yes to any of those Moulin Rouge questions, then go see it and definitely see it in the theaters – if for nothing else than the amazing sequence in which we are actually introduced to Gatsby himself, pomposity at its greatest. But if you were on the fence and weren’t really all that motivated in the first place, I wouldn’t rush. 

In the end, this version of The Great Gatsby is a 2 hr 20 minute movie that feel like a 2 hr 30 minute movie.

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Dr. Tobias Fünke’s Audition Reel

Actor, analrapist, Blue Man, Tobias Fünke has done it all.

I blue myself

Now, thanks to Vulture, we have his audition reel for Ron Howard.

It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect from Tobias, but my favorite grace notes include his obvious attempt to create a catchphrase (“Yippy dippy dippy”), the repetition of “Insert me anywhere” which utilizes Tobias’s great ability to be unaware of exactly what he’s saying, and the omnipresent Tobias in leather-daddy outfit.

With less than 11 days left until Netflix releases the new Arrested Development episodes, it’s little tidbits like this that whet my appetite.

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It’s here! The Arrested Development Trailer

Final Countdown

The stair-car

Kitty

Unlimited juice

This return of this show is going to be off the hook!

While I have been very guarded in my enthusiasm for the return of Arrested Development, this trailer has me as happy as a spring breaker at Senor Tadpoles! Everyone seems back in full force and right back in character, some even with a bedazzled hook hand.

Though I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, this might just be the greatest thing ever.

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