Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pullin' the Socks Up High for the Holiday Movie Review Extravaganza


Crazy Heart

Was it the exact same movie as The Wrestler, only with the profession changing from pro grappler to country singer? Yes. Exactly the same. Was it nearly as enjoyable or well done as The Wrestler? I don't think so. And I'm not sure it's close. Not to put Jeff Bridges down in any way, because he was, as per usual, tremendous. He always puts his heart and soul into his roles, and this was no exception. I've always liked the guy. (Especially in the underrated thriller Arlington Road.) But somehow, I found myself much more invested in the fate of Mickey Rourke's "Randy 'The Ram' Robinson" than I did with Bridges' "Bad Blake." It was hard to watch this movie and not compare it to The Wrestler throughout because they really are so similar. But Crazy Heart always seemed to be coming up short when the two were stacked against one another.

Each had an attractive young love interest trying to straighten their man out. And obviously, I'll take Marisa Tomei over Maggie Gyllenhaal every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Each had the main character battling various health ailments and addictions. And both guys were trying to repair past mistakes in raising a family by attempting to reconnect with a forgotten child. But like I said, The Wrestler was superior on all fronts. In that flick, we see Mickey Rourke actually going to visit his daughter...spending time with her...disappointing her again. We cared because we could actually see the relationship on-screen in various stages. In Crazy Heart, we get a couple vague mentions of a son, and then an awkward 30-second phone call that does very little to advance the story.

I didn't love the movie, I didn't hate the movie. I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Bridges ended up winning Best Actor at The Oscars (after winning at the Golden Globes), and I would be extremely happy for him if he did. But I thought the story could have moved along at a brisker pace, it could have delved a little deeper into the Bridges/Colin Farrell history, and they could have had about a half-dozen less shots of Bad Blake running for the nearest garbage can or toilet to let go of that night's alcoholic festivities. A terrific performance in an otherwise underwhelming story.

(Lowlight of the Experience: The lunch before the movie with my Dad and brother Mike. I have always been a big proponent of the cute little chain, "Noodles and Co.," and wanted to share the experience with my people. Unfortunately, they came away wildly unimpressed, and frankly, a bit angry with me for the selection. My Dad was upset that they force you to mix in the shredded cheese yourself with the Macaroni (an understandable beef), and lamented throughout the day that the meal was inferior to the Mac you get from a box of Kraft. I was shocked, to say the least. I know the place ain't any kind of 5-star gourmet joint, but I've always found it to be a pleasant experience and a quality bowl of pasta for the right price. They both said it would be their last time stepping foot in the place...it's their loss.)


The Hurt Locker

Maybe I should have seen it when it was playing on the big screen. Maybe I should have stuck with it for the entire 2-plus hours instead of bailing on the DVD after the first 65 minutes. Maybe I would have walked away with a different feeling about this flick. Maybe I would have been singing its praises along with every critic in America. But I highly doubt it.

It's weird to say that an intense movie revolving around a bomb squad in the Iraq War could not hold my attention, but that's exactly the case here. I just couldn't get on board. Every "action" sequence took about a week to unfold, and when it finally did, it was usually anticlimactic and disappointing. Even if you give the film credit for creating lifelike circumstances and accurate portrayals of the battle in Iraq, doesn't there still have to be some thought-provoking dialogue or interesting characters to qualify it as a Best Picture-type movie?? Apparently not. According to most pundits, The Hurt Locker is a virtual lock to be one of the flicks representing that prestigious category when the nominations are announced in a couple weeks, joining fellow undeserving entrants of the past like Lost in Translation and Babel (I still have never met anybody that has seen the movie Babel. Seriously, not a soul).


Chipmunks Squeakquel

Haven't seen it yet. Want to desperately. Can't find anybody to go with. Fear that going by myself might result in an arrest. I lay awake every night worrying that the next day will be the one that this gem leaves the theaters for good. Thankfully, it hasn't happened yet. The dream lives on...


The Road

Simply put, the least enjoyable film-going experience of my life. This movie is so dark and depressing that it makes the earthquake in Haiti look like Mardi Gras. It's a flick about the end of humanity, and they don't pull any punches. There's no laughs, there's no sunshine, there's no smiles. It's a chore of the highest order just to remain in your seat for the full 111 minutes without going completely insane and throwing your shoes in the direction of Viggo Mortensen's unsightly beard on-screen.

(Best Move of the Day: My Dad, with only about 90 seconds left in the torture, turned to me and said, "I refuse to stay for this entire movie. I'm leaving." And with that, he got up, walked out, and saved a little bit of face. At least now he can live with himself knowing that he did, in fact, walk out of this garbage before it concluded. He pulled the same move a few years back with about five minutes to go in Syriana, and that time I followed him right out the door. This time, I hung in for the duration, and not a day has gone by since that I haven't regretted it.)


Armored

My buddy Aubrey is notorious for his lack of desire to ever go check out a movie at the theater itself. You might get him out there once in a blue moon, but it's gotta be for something pretty special. So imagine my shock when I asked him what movies he'd seen over the holidays, and he replied with, "Just one. Armored." Heh?? You saw one movie, and that movie was Armored?!?? What, was every other movie sold out?? At every movie theater??? In the whole state???? Why else would this be the movie of choice when there were about 5-10 more intriguing movies rotating at the time? It's like going out for pizza one time a year, and that one trip being a visit to the local Hungry Howie's. Sure, it's a decent pie, and they had their gimmick going for a little while with the flavored crusts, but if you only had one chance at pizza glory for the whole year, I'm thinkin' old Howie wouldn't be making the cut. All we can do now is wonder what drove him to make such a bizarre selection, and offer him guidance and support in his movie-watching future.


Up in the Air

Still not getting it. What made this movie so great? What scenes were so memorable that made this thing a classic? Are we so weak-minded as a viewing public that when the critics tell us a movie is special, we have to simply join right along and follow suit like a flock of trained geese? Sorry, I don't roll like that. I'm willing to call a spade a spade, and I thought the movie was mediocre, at best. I'd love to hear what made it so memorable, beyond the fact that the critics told us that it should be.

(I addressed this movie at a little bit more length in this article from a couple weeks back.)


Avatar

By far the most fun I have had in a movie theater in the last year. The effects were second to none. The pictures occupying the giant IMAX screen were dazzling throughout. And the huge 3-D glasses they dish out make you feel like a superhuman cross between Kurt Rambis and Harry Caray. The movie really had it all. Good story, quality acting, and amazing visuals that you really should see on the big screen at some point before it drops from circulation. (Even though, judging by the ridiculous numbers this movie keeps getting, it will probably be available in theaters for the next 3-4 years.)

My only complaint to James Cameron would be that it was cruel to tease audiences with that five-second shot of the Na'vi creatures playing a little hoop out on the blacktop. These characters are 11-foot blue-skinned freaks...of course we want to see how they look when they're playin' ball!! There were so many questions that went unanswered. What height would they set the rim? How do they regulate goaltending? I say either show us a good 10-20 minute block of a spirited game of five-on-five, or don't show us anything at all. But to give us a little glimpse into what the game would be like and then rip it away was not cool. I was living in Frustration City for the next few minutes following that scene.

(Highlight of the Experience: My brother Gabe, a notoriously tough film critic, didn't seem to hate this one. I believe that would be the first new movie he has semi-enjoyed since the 2001 pseudo-animated Bill Murray romp, Osmosis Jones. The movie deserves Best Picture honors for this fact alone.)

(Lowlight of the Experience: The awkward romance between Sam Worthington's character and the main chick from the Na'vi tribe. I haven't been that uncomfortable in a movie since Mark Wahlberg and that female ape carried on that prolonged make-out session in Tim Burton's not-so-classic Planet of the Apes remake from a few years back. Still haven't quite gotten over that one.)


It's Complicated

One of those movies you get dragged to by a girl, only to wind up liking much more than she does when all is said and done. This phenomenon was also experienced by any male that saw The Devil Wears Prada, Miss Congeniality (secretly, my brother Sam's all-time favorite movie) or Music and Lyrics.


Precious

Disturbing story. Extremely well-acted and directed. Disturbing story. Interesting performances from a number of people you wouldn't expect, namely Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz. And yes, it was a very disturbing story. Oh, and I liked it better the first time I saw it...when it was called Antwone Fisher.

Do I regret seeing it? I think I would say no, but I would also say that me and my boy BK probably made a mistake opting for this one and not going for the brainless action jaunt, 2012, on that late Thanksgiving night. I'm not 100% sure, but I do believe we woulda had more fun watching John Cusack and Co. try and save California from drowning than watching a teenage girl get taken advantage of by every family member within a 12-block radius. Prittttay, prittttay, rough movie.

(Surprise Audience Member: Keep in mind, we saw this movie at 11:30 PM on Thanksgiving night. There were a few other people in the house, but not many. About a third of the way into the proceedings, I thought I heard a baby crying. I didn't make much of it, since obviously, there were numerous scenes in the movie where an infant was indeed crying. However, this was a scene with Precious trying to learn the alphabet at school...there were no toddlers presently on-screen. That meant the cries were actually coming from inside the theater. Wait, what?!?!? There is an actual baby here?? At the 11:30 showing?? Of quite possibly the most traumatizing film of the whole year? This can't be!! Oh, but it can. Apparently these parents were so adamant about seeing Precious on this very night at this very time that they decided to forgo the babysitter and just bring lil' fella along for the ride. When I whispered to BK how sick it was that someone brought an actual baby to the movie, he was completely oblivious. He rightfully assumed that all the cries we heard were coming from the theater's speakers...not the theater's 7th row. We left the Emagine Novi that night and promptly went to our respective homes, but something tells me we probably should have hung around for a minute and gotten in touch with Child Family Services. Hopefully that couple starts looking for a 2010 Halloween babysitter immediately. Saw 7 comes out that night...)


The Blind Side

I've heard nothing but good things, I've always been a fan of Sandy Bullock's work, and for the most part, I will see any movie revolving around sports. That being said, I never really had a desire to catch this flick, and I'll tell ya why. Because none of the sports movies nowadays are original. Think about it. Basically every single sports movie of the last ten years has been based on a true story. They just take a real-life event and adapt it to the big screen. Not to say that they don't do a nice job of telling the story and putting together a quality couple hours of film, but at some point, as a viewer, you crave originality.

Let's run down the list of true stories made into recent sports films (in no particular order). You have the aforementioned Blind Side, Cinderella Man, The Rookie, We Are Marshall, Glory Road, Miracle, Seabiscuit, Coach Carter, The Express, Friday Night Lights, Invincible, That movie about Bobby Jones with the guy from Frequency that nobody saw, Ali, Radio, and Invictus. And those were all within the last ten years!

It wasn't that long ago that quality original sports movies were being pumped out at a semi-regular rate. There was White Men Can't Jump, Major League, School Ties, The Mighty Ducks, The Cutting Edge, The Program, Blue Chips, Necessary Roughness, Little Giants, Diggstown, Bull Durham, The Sandlot, Little Big League, Above the Rim, Ladybugs...the list goes on and on. Hell, I'd even throw the underrated Woody Harrelson boxing flick Play it to the Bone in there. You can talk all you want how awkward it was seeing him and Antonio Banderas duke it out for a shot at the middleweight title, but at least it was original.

In almost all sports movies throughout time, you can usually make a pretty good guess how it's going to end. The underdog will win, the guy will get the girl, everybody goes home happy. I'm not saying this genre of flicks was ever shocking people when the final credits rolled. But at least with a story that was created out of sheer fiction, there is still some element of uncertainty as to how the story will end. With this recent crop of true-to-life sports movies that simply retell stories we already know, that suspense, however limited it may be in the first place, is eliminated completely. We knew Jim Morris was going to make it to the big leagues. We knew Vince Papale was gonna beat the odds and become a Philadelphia Eagle. And we knew that Michael Oher, in The Blind Side, was eventually going to be taken in by that nice family, leading to a glorious college career and NFL stardom down the line. The stories might be worth telling, and the various directors and film companies might do a great job delivering them, but at some point, don't you just want to see a movie where the events about to unfold on-screen haven't already unfolded in real life?!?!?

What was the best original sports film in the last few years?? (Thinking...thinking...) Sad as it sounds, I might have to say something like Beer League, and even that is a little less enjoyable now with the recent attempt by Artie Lange to stab himself to death. The Will Ferrell entries are becoming more nauseating with each attempt (Semi Pro was an insult to all of humanity.) Jack Black tried his hand with Nacho Libre, and it's safe to say that anybody who enjoyed that hour and a half has some problems that extend far beyond movies. At least the Bad News Bears remake with Billy Bob Thornton was not based on a true story, but it still was most definitely not an original piece of work. Nor will the upcoming Karate Kid atrocity with Will Smith's son in the starring role. There are even plans for Mark Wahlberg to play Irish Micky Ward in an upcoming boxing biopic. Ward was always a fun guy to watch, with his all-out brawling style, but a full-length motion picture? Is Hollywood that dried up for sports flick ideas? The well-done original sports movie has essentially become a thing of the past. And that's pretty sad, if you ask me.


Drop your thoughts on the flicks here, or pop me an E-mail at
highsockslegend@gmail.com

2 comments:

Aubrey said...

I thought I would be applauded by going to see a movie, instead I get ripped on?! What gives?! On a side note, go see it, it was a pretty solid flick!!!

BShoke said...

I'm pretty sure Mighty Ducks 1, 2, and 3 were all based on a true story. Might want to check your facts. I applaud Aubrey for rolling the dice.

Gordon Bombay for life!