Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cinema Babble: 'Sup in Your Naybe

The Flick: The Watch

The Peeps: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, I swear there is Billy Crudup in there as 'Paul', Rosemary DeWitt, Will Forte, etc.

The Dealio: When Costco manager Evan (Stiller) discovers his night security guy has been murdered on site, he decides to organise a neighborhood watch to figure out who dunnit. In response to his very public plea for recruits, three men respond: gadget-crazy Bob (Vaughn), police department reject (for cause) Franklin (Hill) and newcomer to the area, Jamarcus (Ayoade). After only a few hours together, Bob has co-oped the entire watch, Franklin is armed to the teeth and Jamarcus is...well, hoping for a connection with a gorgeous, scared Asian housewife. Then, (and this is not a spoiler, since it features hugely in the trailers), something decidedly off-planet occurs and the men are convinced they have to save their beloved town from peril at the hands of, well, planet-decimating Aliens. What to do, what to do? Well, what do you think they elect to do? First of all, they begin to look at everybody with suspicion and calculation. Next, they decide to arm themselves. Lastly, they decide they need to come up with some sort of plan. Naturally.

The Grading Session: 3.79 pengies out of 5. What did you think you were going to get with Vaughn, Stiller and Hill front and center? Well, that's exactly what you get here. The music is  a pretty apt match for the spirit of the thing. The tale, while familiar, is about right for this part of the summer, hammocked neatly between 'think and rethink about it' movies and 'what the aitch is this dreck?' movies.  One more thing- and I know you have heard this from me before- but, if movie-makers are going to repeat themselves, I feel I also have free rein to do this as well, no? Why, oh why must we have the archetypal Aliens- replete with spiny appendages that renders every casual swipe deadly, with poly alloy endo-skeleton, dripping green blood and KY jelly? OK. True, this iteration does have one anomaly, upon which a major plot development hinges, but...really? This is as far as we have evolved, Aliens-wise since the original Sigourney Weaver vehicle?  Which is to say, scarcely at all? Can we work on this, peeps?

Lessons Learned: Sometimes the creepy neighbors /townspeople are just that. Although them being Aliens, as well, would certainly explain a lot-  like  the group visits to your front porch to announce that water from your sprinkler is falling on their lawn. (Folks, what about all that nasty rain? Does that not also...oh, never mind).Next this: isn't it the job of the neighborhood welcoming committee to report...suspicions about  newcomers? I am pretty sure it is not all about the muffin baskets. Those are simply  a ploy to lull us into complacency, before we reveal our true selves. Lastly this: for all the talk of off-planet Aliens, don't we also tend to look at our nearest and dearest as Aliens as well: don't understand the way they dress, talk, think, their music and their enthusiasms. And we definitely do not get how to communicate with them. Your mileage may differ.

Notable Quotable: Evan(fingering some green glop): Wait a minute! I've seen this before. I saw it near Antonio...' Franklin: 'Had he just won a Kids' Choice Award?'

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cinema Babble: Why reboot, you may ask...

The Flick: The Amazing Spiderman

The Peeps: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Marin Sheen,  Sally Field, Campbell Scott, etc.

The Dealio: The back story: Teenager Peter Parker, (Garfield), is the  son of a pair of remarkably gifted parents who...just disappear one day, leaving him in the care of Aunt May (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen, aging with the help of a wardrobe of rugs that would turn Shatner green with envy). After the obligatory spider bite, he discovers a lot about both himself and his parents, before embarking on a one man crusade to right wrongs. Into this tsunami of change and revelation wanders Gwen Stacy (Stone), a fellow student at their high school, who has been on Parker's radar as a  sort of impossible crush for quite a while. Against the backdrop of the standard superhero exposition comes a wisp of fresh air in the form of life as a teenager coping, not only with high school life as one of the disenfranchised: the brainy nerd who snaps photos for the school paper, but is still the butt of scorn and ridicule from the king-jocks. Like being a teenager isn't enough of a challenge, right? And, then, he begins to exhibit some very impressive physical capabilities. As we fly (sorry, had to be done) towards the climactic cross-town web-swing-a-thon, we are left with several strands of plot we want to see resolved: will he thwart the grandiose and malignant machinations of the evil Lizard? Will he find out what happened to his dad and mom? Will he ever figure out what branzino is? And, most importantly of all: will he get the girl?

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5. I know, I know: why all the pengies? Well, I deliberately put off seeing this flick for a week or so, because I wasn't sure I wanted- or needed- a new Spiderman. Well, I did. Just didn't know it yet. I was especially impressed with the terrific chem between all the leads. I loved that there was a grounding in the science- as well as the violence- that led to Parker being sans parents. I appreciated the way he not only fully embraced his nerd-dom, but also used it as a springboard to place himself into the path of people who may have some 411 on his parents and their work. And, I vastly  admired the effort to make this a story told with emotion, ebullience (yep, I said it) and spirit, in a world that was not always, unremittingly, sepia-toned and dark, drear and dank. Even our villain was buffeted by  the wind-sheers of conscience, self-interest and megalomania.  This was a really well-balanced and engaging entry into the super-hero genre. Welcome, Amazing Spidey! Glad to meetcha.

Lessons Learned: First: Do not mess with Ma Nature. You will not like the results, even if, at first, the powers are pretty bitchin'. Next this: you can not have a super hero rise without a launching tragedy. It is only the superior stories which do not get bogged down here, but rather, use this as a springboard rather than an anvil around the neck of the story. Lastly this: if you see a guy's eyes turn lizard-like, and you have a few moments to decide between sticking around to see what happens next (out of, say, intellectual curiosity) or running like Hell...pick the latter. You can always catch up on the former in the paper.

Noteable Quotables: 'Thirty-eight of New York's finest versus...a guy in a unitard?!'
'We're having branzino.' 'Oh. Yeah. Branzino. Um...' 'It's a fish.' 'Riiight.'

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cinema Babble: Make Up Your Mind About What Kind of Flick You Want to Be

The Flick: Magic Mike

The Peeps: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Joe manganiello, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matt Bomer, etc.

The Dealio: Mike, (Tatum), does pick-up work, and hatches money-making schemes by day. But, by night, he is the star of an all-male stripper revue, run by Dallas, (McConaughey), himself an ex-stripper with schemes of his own. Into this pretty self-explanatory life comes The Kid, (Pettyfer),  an 19 year old ne'er-do-well who sleeps on his sister's, (Horn), sofa and bumps along from one  ill-fitting job to another, shedding each on the flimsiest of excuses. Mike takes the troubled Kid under his wing and, almost by accident, the younger man is soon part of the revue, albeit a extremely chaotic one. You begin to see that, sooner or later, cops- real cops- will be summoned. The Kid begins a downward slide that combines strange women, drugs, money problems and crimes. All of which makes it difficult for Mike to get as close as he would like to The Kid's older sister. Dangerous waters surround the whole lot of these folks.

The Grading Session: 4.08 pengies out of 5. First of all, this movie is about 20 minutes longer than it really needs be. Next: there is a schizoid quality to the entire enterprise, which first rears its ugly head about halfway through the movie; apparently, it is not enough to have a pretty entertaining comedy on the screen. Somehow, the writers decided to turn this into a cautionary tale, replete with falls from grace, unreasoning violence, and a total lack of understanding of consequences that grow like kudzu from off-the-wall actions.  This is a most unwelcome dash of reality in the midst of what is, face it, a fantasy/comedy summer movie. Make up your minds about what you want to accomplish- and be realistic about your goals, here. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Apparently the revue in Magic Mike belongs to the Flashdance school of staging: set in a small, rundown strip mall (sorry for that...had to be said) strip club, it cartainly looks like the sky's the limit, and all sorts of effects, props, outfits and routines can actually happen. Riiiiiight. Next: every golden opportunity has, beneath its surface, a huge vein of fools' gold. You would be wise to remember this before signing on the dotted. Lastly this: let no good deed go unpunished. This is the other possibility when lending a hand-up to someone you really do not know.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not Exactly What You Think

The Flick: Brave

The Peeps: Given that this is an animated film, the talent is all about the voices. And those are: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, John Ratzenberger, etc.

The Dealio: Merida, (Macdonald), is a free-spirited princess, from the tops of her sproingy red curls to the tips of her dainty, boot-wearing feet. This situation is viewed with much pride and indulgence by her da, the king, (Connolly), and wry despair  by her straight-as-an-arrow mum, (Thompson). But, as her birthday approaches, the entire cycle of change speeds up: she is now of marriageable age,  and it is the fond desire of her 'rents- especially mum-that she make a fine match. Except....that Merida is not at all sold on the idea. She would rather be off, bow in hand, tromping through the woods and honing her fightin', fishin' and frolickin' skills.
 In an ill-conceived brainstorm, Merida makes a really, really ill-conceived bargain with a witch:  a spell that will change her parents' ideas about her future. She wants them to really see her in a new light. Okay, she does get her wish. It's just not the one she thought she requested. Before you can say 'Rumplestiltskin', the entire kingdom is turned upside down. Now it really is time for Merida to show how truly brave she can be. 

The Grading Session: 4.59 pengies out of 5. Pixar has really come a long way from the days of the dead eyes and inhuman-looking skin. Merida, especially, is a riot of colors, textures and glorious red hair. But even the bears, hounds and horses get their time to shine, as well. The storyline gets bogged down towards the last third with some tiresome repetition, but, as a whole, this is a valiant effort. I am especially impressed by the outcome of the love story. It is definitely not what you think. But it  is definitely more than you might expect from a little, animated flick.

Lessons Learned: You may think that you know those around you down to the very tiniest eyelash, how they will react, what is on their minds and what they are really thinking. You would be so wrong. And, hopefully, you might be able to figure this out before it is too late. Lastly this: How is it possible that those we love the most have such power over us? Easy: re-read the beginning of that last sentence.

Notable Quotables: If you had the power to change your own fate...would you?