Mediocre Start to 2014 at the movies

I know that I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks but I really haven’t had anything to get excited about. Okay here’s the thing. I’ve  been really disappointed about the recent fair at the movies in this first quarter of 2014. Here are the movies that I’ve seen so far this year and my some what flippant rating system.

47 RONIN: A trite American fantasy version of a Japanese classic; based on a real life tragedy, and a part of Japans cultural history. It would have worked better as a simple fantasy with out the disrespectful attachment to the actual story of the 47 RONIN. I rate this as a moderate disappointment.

I FRANKENSTEIN: A new take on an old story and yet another graphic novel screen adaptation. I hope that this wasn’t a career killer for Aaron Eckhart, who was great in Battle: Los Angeles. Disappointment moderate. I didn’t walk out on this one but I left the theater feeling empty.

AMERICAN HUSTLE:  I rated this one better than average, to very good with solid performances by the entire cast but it wasn’t great.

MONUMENTS MEN: My kind of movie intelligent, informative and based on historical events. I rated this one excellent.

THREE DAYS TO KILL: This was an adequate Kevin Costner vehicle in the action genre, with some sentimental hokum thrown in for good measure. I rated this one fair to middling in quality.

LONE SURVIVOR: Good action yarn based on a real life Navy seal’s fight for survival. As an ex GI I found this movie hard to watch because I feel for the families of the men that didn’t survive this doomed mission. I rated this one good.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE: This was for me the biggest disappointment of the year so far. In spite of all of the fancy CGI it lacked heart and pacing.  It was mostly mindless slaughter except this time it was on ships instead of on dry land. I didm’t root for the good guys or the bad guys. If you leave a movie with out an opinion on whether you like it or not then it’s probably a mediocre movie.  I rated this movie Blah.

NEED FOR SPEED: Movies based on video games usually don’t work and this movie was no exception. Poor Aaron Paul what a way to start a career as a leading man. I went to see this movie because I’m a fan of Breaking Bad and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman an awesome character. Unfortunately this movie lacked the depth of character and the intricate story line need to make it anything more than an adequate, but predictable popcorn movie.  I rate this move Okay I guess. 

NOTE: I purposely staid away from The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Twelve years a slave, because I am a thin-skinned old curmudgeon and I don’t go to movies that might raise my blood pressure, or rouse me to anger. So please take into account that my life has been hard enough and I really do get emotionally involved when watching well crafted movies about serious subjects. 

 

The Monuments Men (Movie Review)

Once again Actor/Director George  Clooney has raided the vault of history to bring  us another fine film. Unless you are a history buff, chances are you might not have heard of the pillaging of Europe’s art by Hitler’s SS organization. This is the story of the Monuments men, a small group of art experts appointed by FDR, to find and recover stolen art taken from the Nazi occupied countries. Even though the war is in the last stages, after the normandy Invasion, they are still in great danger. These are all middle-aged men who otherwise would be at home and not in harms way, doing their bit for America and the world at great cost. They get their name from the real life MFAA (Monuments Fine Arts and Archives) section of the United States Army. They aren’t stuck in the rear with the gear they enter some towns either on the heels of the Germans, or before the Germans are completely gone.

While the Monuments men are trying to recover the art, the germans are working to destroy it.The Russians who are fast approaching Berlin are busy trying to recapture as many priceless pieces as they can, for war reparations; that’s the official line anyway. It is literally a race against time to save the great art works of western civilization.

I found the movie to be very entertaining and chock full of character actor goodness. John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray are always interesting guys to watch and this was a great vehicle for all three. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett all put in respectable performances, as did Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin. This movie is not only informative but a welcome change from the usual mindless claptrap that spews forth from H-Wood. You can always count on intelligent works coming from Clooney, I’ve been a big fan ever since Good Night and Good luck (2005). The Monuments men is well worth the five dollars that I spent on the Matinee. If you haven’t already, go see it. If you want to know about the real monuments men check out this link http://www.monumentsmen.com

Oblivion

I’m no professional so unfortunately I don’t have the privilege of seeing early screenings of the newest flicks. So like everyone else I have to wait. So here is my belated review of the new Tom Cruise movie Oblivion. The movie takes place in a post apocalyptic world that was ravaged by the destruction of the moon and followed by an alien invasion. Blowing up the moon should have been enough, to pretty much destroy all humans. Well the earth men did what any group of Survivors of a horrendous cataclysm would do they dropped nukes on the offending Aliens, making the earth even more uninhabitable and thus winning a pyrrhic victory. This is the story that is revealed to us in the opening narration, by the main character Jack, a humble drone repairman. The drones were supposedly designed to take out pockets of alien invaders still roaming the planet.

Jack and his curvy tech support vicky, are biding their time while awaiting the end of their three year tour on earth. In two weeks they are due to join the rest of humanity on Triton, a totally unsuitable ice ball with Cryovolcanos and nitrogen spewing geysers. Why not Europa or Mars? This doesn’t seem to bother Jack or Vicky, nor does the fact that a decimated race that teeters on the edge of extinction, could muster the resources and manpower to build a giant space station.

Although the earth is supposedly too toxic for habitation Jack manages to find a hidey hole surrounded by mountains and greenery with his own private fishing pond out back. He goes there when he wants to get away and shoots baskets, reads books and listens to old albums on his phonograph.

Obviously the movie is called Oblivion, because Jack is totally oblivious to the evidence all around him, that suggest that Earth is not the unlivable radio active wasteland, that he has been led to believe. The rest of the movie after the intro focuses on Jacks journey of discovery, learning the truth and the meaning behind his recurring dreams about a beautiful mystery woman, (Olga Kurylenko). Poor Vicky doesn’t stand a chance. Jack is more or less an unquestioning tool of his masters; he doesn’t even question the reasons for his memory wipe, which is suspicious on every level. That’s all I’m going to reveal about the plot. You’ll have to see it for yourself if you haven’t already.

You can probably tell by the tone of my synopsis, that I didn’t find Oblivion as entertaining as the trailers had led me to believe it was. I can usually tell if a movie is going to be bad within the first fifteen minutes. However  the premise of this movie was interesting enough to make me believe that the best was yet to come. Oh, how wrong I was! It dragged on and on with the annoyingly perky Boss Sally, asking the same question in scene after scene, “Are we and effective team?” The answer should have been. “Are you an annoying jerk?”

There is some superfluous nudity and male female bonding and no backstory until toward the end of the movie. I found the pacing slow and the scenes in between the action boring, and the plot full of logic holes and inconsistencies. One of the biggest inconsistencies was the fact that in one scene the drones seemed fairly easy to take down; which was the reason for his constant repair jobs. while in others they were almost indestructible. The same could be said about Jack; he takes a forty foot fall onto a hard surface and doesn’t die or get knocked unconscious, but can’t take a hit from a rifle butt that wasn’t meant to kill. Why did they even need to hit him anyway? Actually either one should have killed him or at least given him a fractured skull.

When Jack finally comes face to face with his dream girl she is hesitant to tell him the purpose of the mission which he was a part of . Get real they were on the same mission! So why was she hesitant to tell him the truth? They should have been exchanging stories just out of curiosity,  and we would have gotten to the truth of the matter sooner rather than later. I hate it when movies try to be suspenseful and do it so awkwardly ; this was that kind of movie.

The best thing about this movie wasn’t Tom Cruise; it was Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Nicholaj Coster-Waldau, who should have had a bigger part, rather than wasting time watching Tom Cruise shoot baskets and look wistful, while listening to Procol Harum. I guess that it’s normal in Cruise land that everyone else is relegated to minor significance.

On the upside the movie was beautifully shot, and the special effects were excellent. The set designs were reminiscent  of the Jetsons but were very cool. Over all I’d give this movie a C- Since I didn’t get up and leave the theater grumbling to myself.

The Mysterians: and other matinee favs from the 50’s

THE MYSTERIANS 1957

The reason that I chose the IMDB  link instead of You Tube was that it has been remastered and has a higher quality.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050251/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

They’ve come to steal our women OH NO!

They’re here and it’s not to steal our resources, or our water, they  came  for our women. This is the premise of one of my favorite slices of Matinee cheese, The Mysterians (1957). I guess that the major fear for the Japanese in 1957 was aliens taking all of the cute chicks. Well in view of the American occupation, which had only ended five years earlier in 1952 I understand their anxiety. Movies reflect the hopes, dreams and anxieties of society and the 1950’s was full of all three, but the fear of the Red menace and the Atom bomb pervaded our lives down to a psychological level. All you have to do is watch the sci-fi movies of the 50’s and examine how many of them have themes of impending nuclear destruction, or threatened enemy invasion or doomsday to realize this. The other recurring theme was that of nature turning against mankind. So this week, I thought it would be fun, to show trailers of the movies that kept me out of my parents hair on those saturday afternoons long ago.

RODAN 1956

GODZILLA KING OFTHE MONSTERS 1954

GOJIRA (Godzilla) Original Japanese Trailer

THE ANGRY RED PLANET 1959

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL 1951

INVADERS FROM MARS 1953

THIS ISLAND EARTH 1955

FORBIDDEN PLANET 1956

THE BEGINNING OF THE END 1957

EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS 1956

THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

THEM

THE DEADLY MANTIS 1957

SPECIAL MENTION GOES TO MOTHRA 1961

I know that Mothra is not officially part of the fifties theme, but I thought that it was close enough to rate a special mention. Sorry folks I couldn’t help myself, the pretty japanese ladies made me do it. So here’s a treat for all of the MOTHRA fans, the Remix of the MOTHRA SONG, ENJOY

The Hunger games sequel: I’m so excited

I must admit that I didn’t go to see the original Hunger games movie at my local theater, because I thought that it would be some more Teeny BS like Bella & Jakeward.  I tried to stomach the first Twilight movie and left after only fifteen minutes in search of a barf bag. I was thinking the Lost Boys,, one of my favorite cult movies of all time, but what I got was a teen version of True Blood with corny CGI effects. I hated everything about the fifteen minutes of it that wasted my time and money.

Fortunately I decided to give The Hunger games a chance on Direct TV and ended up liking it. What I got for my $4.99 was not just a good flick, but a very compelling story with interesting and layered characters and heart. The world building was intricate and multi-faceted, the costumes were garishly fabulous and the acting was above par for the ages of the main characters. I enjoyed this movie so much that I went out and bought the DVD.

I loved everything about this movie and have re-watched it multiple times. So when I heard about the sequel, I was excited right down to my movie lover’s core. I’ve had a chance to view the Trailer of the sequel, and it looks great. If it’s even half as good as the first one I will definitely plan on viewing it on the Big screen. From the looks of it, it might even be better than the first one, no mean feat for a sequel. Too bad that I have to wait until the release date of November 22, 2013

Check out the trailer on this BLOG.

Zero Dark Thirty

The controversy about the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, was purely based on a misconception, at least in my opinion. Maybe the critics were watching a different version of the movie than I was, or maybe it’s just that each brain works differently. To me it was obvious that the protagonist got very little information from torture. The fact that they had tortured detainees for a decade, and never got any closer to Osama Bin Laden proves that it wasn’t  the violence that bore fruit, but the non violent types of interrogation, that actually proved useful. Proper and thorough  detective  work carried out by analyst who actually examined the mountains of information compiled, combined with humane treatment of prisoners and some bribery, yielded the final results that led to finding and killing Bin Laden.

The real controversy should be why did our government employ such archaic, brutal and ultimately useless methods to gather intelligence. Not everyone talks under torture some people just die. Others resist but more often, people will say whatever the torturer wants them to say just to stop the pain. Torture isn’t a reliable source of information. Another thing about the movie that bothered me, was that they received a vital lead from a minor al Qaeda operative, that he had seen Bin Laden in Pakistan, but then failed to investigate that lead. Ultimately Bin Laden was found in Pakistan. It wasn’t the first time that the intelligence service has screwed up and probably not the last; the movie clearly points out this fact.

The criticism that Kathryn Bigelow was some how crediting the discovery of the whereabouts of Bin Laden to torture methods, is in my opinion unfounded. What I saw on screen was an hours worth of horrible interrogation methods, that yielded few results. From an objective point of view the director did not seem to take one point of view over another, but much like a journalist was simply reporting what was happening. We  now know, that torture was used, but even the experts agree that none of the information obtained from torture led to the final results.

It was pointed out to me by an unnamed source, that some of the criticism may be gender bias. Women directors in Hollywood have always had a harder time than men, and Bigelow is infringing on typically male territory. the war/action/thriller. This is Kathryn Bigelow’s second foray into the Iraq war, her first being the Hurt locker (2008) about an EOD team. So there may be some  credence to this theory.

Politics aside, I found the movie’s opening disturbing. The 911 calls of the panic stricken victims of the World Trade center made me want to cry. It was emotional overkill for me, because the last time I was in New York, was on july fourth 2001, when the twin towers were still standing. If I had never actually seen those buildings in reality, the impact of their destruction might have been blunted. Any director worth their salt knows how push the right buttons to draw the audience into the story. The opening did just what it was supposed to do, even though it was a bit heavy handed.

Most of the rest of the movie was depictions of torture, or of the protagonist viewing torture on a monitor. I found it to be redundant and draining and on the verge of boring. The high spots in the movie were the scenes that depicted inter office politics and maneuvering, together with brainwork and investigation. I think the movie would have been more interesting, if more of the foot work of the intelligence community had been revealed to the audience.

The movie picks up again in the last forty-five minutes when the big boys finally decide to do something. After analyzing and agonizing over the information, Seal team Six is finally give the go ahead to conduct an operation, in the territory of another  sovereign nation, without their knowledge or consent. This in it self was not only dangerous, but could and did create an international incident. Bigelow created the perfect blend of  the tension and confusion that comes with the fog of war. By making everything so dark the viewer was stumbling around in the dark trying desperately to keep up with the action on the screen. She resisted the urge to shoot the entire scene through the eerie green light of a night vision scope, which made the situation even more tense.

All in all this was a fairly decent movie although I could have done without all of the torture. I don’t think that it added much to the movie beyond the first uncomfortable visit by the movie’s female protagonist.

The emotional toll: or when Art hurts or rewards us.

I don’t know why, but the amount of passion that I have  invested in art has increased with age. In my macho youth I would have never cried, at least not publicly, when listening to music; but the first time that I heard the Flower duet by Leo Delibes it brought tears to my eyes. It was really an unwanted emotional response at the time, but I couldn’t help myself so I suppressed my feelings. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that it wasn’t a matter of a lack of masculinity, it was a matter of being moved by a really beautiful work of art. I was once told by a teacher that the purpose of art was to elicit an emotional response. This happened to take place during a somewhat heated discussion about D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms and Birth of a Nation.

My argument was  that both movies were more propaganda than art, because they inspired such negative responses against a perceived enemy, i.e. the Yellow man and the Black man. His counter-argument was that I had just proved his point because the purpose of art was to elicit an emotional response, be it negative or positive.

He must have left a lasting impression on me because, this has been my yard stick for determining art good or bad ever since. This raises a problem for me. Does a neutral emotional response mean that something is not art? My primary examples of a neutral response to art, is the work of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. It’s not because I don’t understand the concept behind their work, it’s because to me, they are in  sort of an artistic limbo. Objectively I see them as art because they are on canvas, but subjectively I struggle with my own definition of art. I would have to study an entire library of books defining aesthetics to answer this question, are they or aren’t they art?

What I am positively sure of is my subjective opinion about what is good art and what is bad art and what separates  art from kitsch. Following the simple rule that art will always elicit an emotional response, is for me the best way to sort things out. This rule covers every medium and every genre.

Let me start with a very contentious subject that always gets people’s dander up; Heavy metal music. In my opinion what they refer to as metal or stadium rock is pure trash without any artistic merit or value whatsoever. The original genre was spawned by artist like Jimi Hendricks and Carlos Santana and the tradition branched off in the seventies to groups like Iron Butterfly, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Osibisa (which is now considered afro-fusion) and let’s not forget the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath and Iron maiden. That’s right boys and girls Heavy metal has its roots in the psychedelic movement of the late sixties and early seventies. No matter how much the hate rockers and the noise rockers deny it, it has a very culturally diverse and rich history. One of the reasons that it has become so mundane and redundant is its lack of diversity and growth. It has been in a state of stagnation since the early nineties. Modern metal groups depend on ear blasting music and scratchy vocals screamed at a mostly drug fueled audience that are already partially hearing impaired.

I’m not saying that my generation were angels, the phrase Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll was popularized by the Baby Boomers. What I am saying is that the music was evolving and had heart and meaning and every group had its own signature sound. You could actually discern one group from another and Identify them by there differences. There is no experimentation and therefore no growth in modern Metal. Most of it doesn’t even deserve to be called Metal. If you compare any of these oldsters and the crop of newbies out there, there is no comparison. One is art, the other is the musical equivalent of a plastic flamingo, as compared to a Frederic Remington sculpture.

The other point of contention with me is popular fiction and classic fiction. some titles that we consider as classic fiction today were once considered pop fiction. Stories like Silas Marner, the pickwick papers, oliver twist, Sherlock Holmes and little women were first published as serials in news papers. They were pure entertainment, akin to the pulp novels the 30s, 40s and 50s. Although series like Lester Dent’s Doc Savage, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series,which were very popular,they probably won’t go down in history as classics. All of these authors have written entertaining series that were enjoyed by their fans so subjectively they are good but in the context of history they could be considered mediocre, pulp or even bad. No matter how you look at it, the readers are to some extent emotionally invested in the story. The more powerful the story the more the reader is tied to the characters. we feel emotionally connected and care what happens to the protagonist.

Willard Motley’s 1947 novel Knock on any door was the first adult themed book that I had read as a 14 year old boy. I had found it hidden away in the attic; and when my father discovered that I had started to read it, he said that I shouldn’t be reading books like that. I wasn’t sure what he meant but soon discovered that it had sexual imagery and that the main character Nick Romano was a teenaged hustler (male prostitute). Suddenly the book became very real and personal for me. I had heard rumors about certain guys around the neighborhood like Nick Romano. They were always well dressed even though they came from dirt poor families and hung out on the street corner a lot.
Even though the novel was already old when I read it in 1964 it resonated with me because the same things were still happening. Poor boys and girls were still being sexually exploited and going to reform school and coming out with all of the wrong lessons. This was more than just a novel to me it was a slice of reality; so when Nick Romano and his young wife come to a bad end it was heart breaking.

On the other hand The demise of Catherine and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights seemed more like tragedy for tragedy’s sake; a melodramatic device more than anything else. As a literary classic it is haunting and atmospheric but it’s hero and heroine are non sympathetic and dysfunctional. There was no emotional toll paid although it was a good read. The character of Pip in Great Expectations is actually sympathetic even though Estella isn’t. people usually like to root for the underdog.Rooting for the underdog is also an emotional investment and if the hero doesn’t make it we tend to get upset.

As I mentioned in my opening statement the genre or medium doesn’t matter. You can be emotionally moved by any art form; but are movies really an art form or should they even try to be artistic or are they purely entertainment? Is Michael Bay a good director or merely a successful one; and the same question can be asked about Steven Spielberg. I chose these two directors because I believe that one is not only good but will long be remembered; while the other is merely a popular hack. If you haven’t already guessed My sympathies tend toward Spielberg as the good director and Bay as the hack. when you make a movie a like Empire of the sun you deserve all of the praise that is bestowed upon you. However when you make a live action cartoon with ear splitting decibel levels you don’t deserve anything including a paycheck. I know that the subject matter is not really serious in the Transformers movie, but that doesn’t matter because I was not drawn in. However I don’t know anyone who wasn’t pulled into the original Star wars saga, and cared wether or not Luke Skywalker Princess Leia and Han Solo made it out alive. This to me makes George Lucas a better film maker than Michael Bay. In the hierarchy of film makers Spielberg would be superior to both Lucas and Bay and not just because of subject matter, he has done his fair share of popcorn movies. I would love to see Bay flex his muscles and attempt anything serious.

Not all movies offer positive reinforcement or have rewarding endings. I tend to stay away from negative movies like the Anime classic Grave of the Fireflies, because of past experiences. I’m not saying that Grave of the fireflies is a bad movie; it was just so emotionally draining and heart wrenching, that the emotional toll paid was too much for me to bear. Children are always the most tragic victims of war.

Not all movies that have sad endings are a total loss. Some movies like saving Private Ryan have a sad ending that is palatable or like Sophie’s Choice, understandable. Other movies like Midnight Cowboy and Seven are heavy handed, wretched and depressingly vile. I don’t care if Midnight cowboy did win 3 academy awards I can’t think of any other movie that is less deserving of this award. It won best Director, best picture and best screen adaptation from another medium. Are you S#%&*ing me. 1969 was a year of such great films as Anne of a thousand days, Z, True Grit, The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, Hello Dolly, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid. All of these films are a thousand times more entertaining and enjoyable than Midnight cowboy. They are high on entertainment value and can be enjoyed again and again without leaving a disgusting aftertaste. I admit that this movie had so disturbed me that since its first viewing I have never watched more than five minutes of this film before turning the channel on my television. The negative emotions I harbor toward this movie negate any value that it might have as either art or entertainment.

Should art be painful just for the sake of shock value, like a Bret Easton Ellis novel; or should it have shock value for a purpose like Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. In the realm of entertainment, apathy or revulsion and melancholy are painful and alienate some of the audience that the art is aimed at. Any art that you can not get some emotional reward from, or at least some sort of understanding is intrinsically worthless as art.