See it Again – Jupiter Ascending

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What You Should Know

This film fits into many categories but “Space Opera” seems to work the best. How do we define “Space Opera”? Wikipedia gives us:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms “soap opera” and “horse opera“, the latter of which was coined during the heyday of silent movies to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and they continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, and video games.

This definition, as most definitions of genres, is fairly judgmental. Which is not to say it is incorrect. Jupiter Ascending features everything listed above. Does this have to be a negative? Jupiter Ascending is a – repeat after me – enjoyable film to watch. Feels weird doesn’t it? Especially in this age of superhero films that are often not enjoyable to watch.

The Wachowski’s once again made a science fiction film that delivers in terms of story and special effects. One of the things they do so well is to make special effect heavy movies that don’t call attention to the special effects (Not every time, I am aware!).

Case in point, Channing Tatum’s character wears special boots that effectively allow him to speed skate on air. This may not sound interesting or good to you, but it’s fun and if your inner child doesn’t stir while watching him glide on the air then your inner child is either stunted or boring.

Why You Should Reconsider

This film, much like Cloud Atlas suffered from negative press. I cannot point to specific example where it was obvious but I believe this was, in part,  because of the directors personal lives’. People were very quick to judge Jupiter Ascending based on the character’s names, the basic concept, a complicated (or convoluted) plot – without seeing the film. All of which could be leveled at “The Matrix” and yet upon watching the films you see that they are incorrect.

This film is enjoyable, it is interesting and it has a heart. Notable criticisms from the online group Screen Junkies with their “Honest Trailer” focused on how the story ends. I won’t spoil the ending but to dislike and take issue with the ending is to not understand the story and what it was trying to achieve.

The acting in the film is good, it is what it should be. Characters that are supposed to be somewhat larger than life are and the everyday “normal” people are just that. Mila Kunis’s extended family feels real, which given the material is very impressive.

Which brings us to two aspects of the film I do not normally discuss, costumes and special effects. “Jupiter Ascending” is lavish, it’s lush. They created worlds and cultures and races. The things that people praised Neil Blomkamp for regarding Elysium seemed to fly over everyone’s head regarding this film. The film has moments of gritty reality and overdone pomp and they all work. They are appropriate and do not pull the viewer out of the story. The effects sequences are as seamless and perfectly integrated as those in the first Matrix. In short (if Cloud Atlas hadn’t come first) this is a return to form for the directors.

Misconceptions

I’ve stopped reading reviews for the most part so all I can glean is that people thought this would be a more straightforward story. That it would be less “Space Opera” and more…space story? I don’t know. Channing Tatum’s character is strange as other other characters in the film but given that the film addresses other life in the universe it makes sense. If we can accept this idea with Star Trek can’t we do so with a film like Jupiter Ascending?

Back when we rented our films from video stores I recall a particular phrase was used often to promote new films. Either on the box or the poster or in the trailer for a film they would say, “If you loved _______, you’ll love ______”. Which if you think about it is a pretty great way to sell a film. If I were going to use that line to promote Jupiter Ascending I would say, “If you loved The Fifth Element, you’ll love Jupiter Ascending.”

See it Again – Inglourious Basterds

 

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What You Should Know

If, like me, you have been avoiding this film based on the following criteria:

1) It is a Tarantino film and the posters/things you heard have lead you to believe that this film is nothing more than “Jewish revenge porn” and/or

2) The trailer for the film gave you the sense that the movie largely consists of Brad Pitt and a group of men running around Europe killing Nazis, you need to reconsider.

Why You Should Reconsider

Aside from the last twenty minutes of the film if you were able to come across this movie knowing nothing about it you would never guess the director. The first section of the movie is unlike anything I have every seen from Mr. Tarantino (as an aside I have since seen Django Unchained and I expect The Hateful Eight fit neatly into this category as well). The locale, the pace, the dialog none of it feels like anything I have encountered from this director before.

This is due partly to the look of the film, which is very rich but subdued. The first section could be referred to as being pastoral. It’s partly due to the dialog which is much more “natural” and devoid of pop culture references and (aside from Brad Pitt) guys trying to talk tough. The pace is also quite slow so that even in sequences where there is tension concerning possible death and violence, the usual uncomfortable claustrophobic atmosphereI typically associate with Mr. Tarantino’s films is pleasantly absent.

Which is not to say that people do not die, or that the dialog isn’t snappy. Lots of people die and the dialog is certainly snappy at time. I would be hard pressed to put my finger on what, exactly, is different about this film from Mr. Tarantino’s previous efforts but there most certainly is something. Call it maturity, call it scope but what you get from this film is more rewarding and interesting than what has come before.

Misconceptions

As previously stated the trailer and reviews for this film gave the impression that this was Reservoir Dogs meets World War II. There are some wonderfully rich characters in this film, who I found myself genuinely caring for.

The sections containing Brad Pitt feel to me very much like the Tarantino we all know and love/hate/whatever you feel. Yet Mr. Pitt and his men are in very little of the film. Couple that with a significant portion of the movie not being in English – and that we spend time with some fantastic actors like Christof Waltz, Michael Fassbender and the true star of the film Melanie Laurent.

This would be a great film to show someone who has given up on Mr. Tarantino and I think for someone who has never seen one of his films. It builds on his previous works and adds new components to deliver an interesting, satisfying film. Give it a chance, I think you might like it.

See it Again – Bottle Shock

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In honor of Alan Rickman’s passing I am doing this “extra” See it Again. I have been meaning to write about Bottle Shock for some time and sadly it took his death to properly motivate me.

What You Should Know

This is a small film with an amazing cast telling a (mostly) true story. It is about wine, snobbery and growing up. I think Technically Chris Pine is the lead of the film but watching the film I think you would be hard pressed to agree with that statement. This is an ensemble film with a cast that plays their parts and does not try and outshine one another.

Why You Should Reconsider

My guess is you never heard of the film. Like so many smaller, comedy/somethings these get widely ignored. They don’t win awards or set the box office afire. What they do is provide interesting, satisfying stories with moments of levity.

Alan Rickman is perfection in this film (as always). Cast, I think, as an Englishman living in Paris who operates a wine store/school that is widely ignored. It is perfect casting as you get to experience all of the wonderful shades of Mr. Rickman – contempt, scorn, snobbery, weakness, compassion, loyalty and passion.

His friend, fellow business owner and advisor, played by Dennis Farina is yet another piece of perfect casting and their scenes together are terrific. Evenly matched, perfectly off-balance, like so much of this film, there is a never a sense of watching a formulated story.

I won’t go into detail about the rest of the cast but everyone delivers and they do so in unexpected and interesting ways. The casting is well done, as the familiar faces bring comfort to the viewer but to unfamiliar roles.

Misconceptions

I imagine the idea of a wine comedy does not appeal to many. The film, though portraying a rather snobbish character, is anything but. It is a centered, earthy movie that lacks pretension and strives for naturalism rather than being “artistic”.

Some of the actors involved come with their own baggage, especially now with people like Mr. Pine. I think this, along with the film Stretch, is a great film to see if you wish to change your perception of him. The characters in this film are not paper-thin, yet this is a comedy, so while there is some misery and drama the touch is light and confident.

I am writing about this today, as I said, because of Mr. Rickman’s passing. There are several films he is well known for and sadly this is not one of them. It is a shame because in this role he is allowed to present several different sides of this character and he does so brilliantly. There is something very human, touching and real in this performance that helps elevate this film without shifting the focus to land squarely on him.

If, like I imagine many people are right now, you find yourself wanting to watch something with Mr. Rickman in order to remember him I would recommend giving Bottle Shock a try. It is a rich, rewarding film filled with unexpected moments and ultimately a warm, full heart.

 

See it Again – Red Belt

 

What  You Should Know

When you watch the trailer or see some of the posters for Redbelt you get the impression that this is an action movie. It is, but not in the same sense that The Transporter is an action movie. The fighting is limited, the pace is somewhat slow and the focus is not on outwitting bad guys and fighting to the death. Redbelt is a film about integrity, opportunity, greed and choices. That the main character is a  Jujitsu instructor means that the conflict, ultimately, centers on fighting. It does not mean that the film moves from action sequence to action sequence.

Why You Should Reconsider

First the lead is Chiwetel Eijofor. The rest of the cast is quite exceptional as well. The film is written and directed by David Mamet, which is either a selling point for you or a reason to run and hide. This is an understated, reality-based film that is character-driven. 

Misconceptions

To be honest I would think most misconceptions concern the depth of the film because everyone is of the opinion that David Mamet is a really big deal. Or that he is subtle and nuanced and oh boy that dialog.  All of that clunky, “no one on the planet really speaks like that” dialog is in this film (spoken by a less well known Jake Johnson no less!). Ricky Jay, again is in this for no apparent reason. So for those that love all the usual Mamet-isms you got ’em. Enjoy! For those that find all of those to be terribly qualities in the film I give you Mr. Chiwetel who is by now a much better known actor.

He does wonders with his dialog and conveying the inner life of his character. His interactions with his wife, Alice Braga, are natural and believable. The plot is….something. I like the film and I think you will, too. Just don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the story, of they who’s and the whys of it all because that path leads to bad feelings.

Instead focus on your lead actor, his actions and interactions and enjoy the way he navigates his world.

See it Again – Tin Cup

 

What  You Should Know

This is a Kevin Costner sports movie. It is a a rather straight-forward, enjoyable film about golf, taking chances and spending time with your buddies.

Why You Should Reconsider

For some reason, be it The Postman, aspects of his personal life or the way his hair looked on Tuesday, Kevin Costner fell out of fashion. When you transpose your feelings about a film, because of an actor you liked in it, and let it bias other films they appear in, you make a mistake. You may have loved Bull Durham and hated Field of Dreams but none of that is relevant to For Love of the Game. Each film is its own animal, even if your leading man happens to be the same person (and they all deal with baseball).

With that being said Tin Cup is, for me, a film that plays to all of Kevin Costner’s strengths. He is at his best when he plays normal people, not the best or brightest, and when sports are involved. Usually films about golf are concerned with the metaphor of golf being life. A person could find that message within this film (much like you could in any sports film) but what is directly presented to you is not trying to intellectualize that point. This is not a serious film. It is not pretentious. This is a comedy, filled with mostly likable characters and centering on golf.

Where this films differs is that the drive of the main character, his “personal truth” concerning the sport he plays, is not about being the best. This is not a story about being the best or winning the championship so much as it is about realizing what it is you want.

Misconceptions

For the reason I just stated I think many people are confused by Tin Cup. A sports movie that is not centered on winning is weird. Sure, you have the typical trope of “It’s not whether you win or lose,” and that certainly applies here. Where this film will trip up viewers is that our hero already learned that lesson and may or may not remember that he knows it. What I mean to say is so much of the charm of this film is that it does not adhere to any of the strict formulas for sports films.

Kevin Costner is not the cocky golfer who has to lose in order to learn how to win. Or the veteran golfer who is being challenged by the young upstart and searches out a former mentor to reconnect why he plays the sport in the first place. No, he is a golf pro working at a driving range that does very little business. He is happy with this (maybe) but then he meets a woman and something clicks for him. I do not wish to go point by point here but I would like to state this is not paint by numbers sports film.

See it Again (reborn)

A few years ago I had the idea to try and create content specific for different social media sites. I had been paying attention to the online articles and advice columns that all said the same thing: if you want to be a successful X you have to use social media and use it well.

So here we are, a few years later, and I am not really using social media much, or well. The fault lies with me of course but also in the second, more important (and left unsaid) part of this advice – be yourself. I could quote Hamlet or 50 other well-known and somewhat pretentious sources to make my point but my guess is you already get it.

I have attempted to find people whose work I know and respect, filmmakers, writers, comedians, musicians, actresses and actors to follow on social media. By and large I have either quickly unfollowed these people because I dislike the way they use social media or I could not find them using these sites.

The reasons I stopped following people I am sure you are familiar with: either all they did was promote their work in a steady, uninteresting stream of posts or tweets or they shared personal information and images that I would have rather not seen.

What should they have been sharing? I am not sure. I follow Olivia Wilde on several sites and I generally likes what she posts, even though nearly everything fits into the two categories I listed above. Why do I still follow her?

I believe I still follow her because she is honest and truthful and (seemingly) not using social media to promote her “brand”. Perhaps she is and she is excellent at making self-marketing feel like personal interactions.

In either case, it works and that is what I wanted to get at here – authenticity. So much of what I have attempted to share has not been authentic, has not been me in most regards, because I don’t like the notion of sharing your personal life with strangers.

Have I posted pictures of my children on Instagram? I have and feel weird about it and writing it here makes me think I should take them down. Do I post one line movie reviews on Twitter? Yes and I feel dirty afterwords and often delete them.

Because what should I be sharing? This. Long, long posts where I share my thoughts and thought processes about things that interest and concern me. Or I write about things I love, or hate, in great detail. Because that is who I am, it is what I do and if it does not interest you then it would be best if we part ways.

I gave this post a title which most likely does not make sense. I created a category of posts called “See it Again” in which I write about a film that I feel people should give another chance despite poor reviews, low profits or just negative feelings overall. I added the reborn in parentheses because I want to start over with this category. Allow me to explain why.

I don’t care about box office returns and unless you stand to profit from a film, neither should you. This is some weird, oversharing, marketing technique to make people care or be interested in films simply because they are successful. It makes no sense. Just today I saw this article – How Avatar made $2.7 billion and garnered almost no fan base. Which I think sums up this point somewhat well.

Critics and their reviews of films I think are equally unimportant. They become exponentially less important when you lump them all together, give their scores a rating and then average these scores together. To not take into account who the critic is, what they like and dislike and what they actually said is to diminish an already marginally interesting and important activity into something of equal value with an infomercial. If a pretentious, literate, snobbish fop who only likes a fraction of high-brow art films reviews something like Mission Impossible and comes away with something positive to say, this is slightly interesting. To then take their B- grade and throw it in with the rest renders their review meaningless.

Finally I have no idea how you measure negative feelings, especially of the general population. As we are learning the Internet does not reflect the general attitude or mood of anything (other than the Internet). A strong online fan base for a filmmaker, who then creates a film based on their ravings and support does not mean that any of them will actually watch the finished product. The examples are endless and you know many yourself. So how do we measure this general attitude? We can’t. We can pay attention to the media, or advertising or the Internet or what people at work say. The truth is we don’t really know, which is why I am throwing this by the wayside.

So instead I will leave all of this off, the ratings and the earnings and the lack of awards (I forgot that one but then I think they are best forgotten) and just be using my own, strange internal criteria to determine the films I think you should give a chance (second or otherwise). And you, of course, are free to pay me no mind.

This strikes me as a much more rewarding system and one which I hope to make better, fuller use of.

See it Again – Meet Joe Black

Rotten Tomatoes Freshness Meter

Critics – 51%

Audience – 81%

What  You Should Know

It would seem most already know it: this is, in fact, a good movie. I had no idea that the audience score would be so high considering how widely dismissed this film is. If you have not seen Meet Joe Black what you need to know is Brad Pitt (despite his own comments to the contrary) gives one of his best performances. Anthony Hopkins is excellent (as usual) and the supporting cast (Jeffery Tambor, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber and Marcia Gay Harden) are excellent. This is a large scale film about interpersonal relationships.

Why You Should Reconsider

If you have not seen the film based on the nonsense flying about on the web let me try and persuade you otherwise. Brad Pitt delivers two performances in the film, one as a normal guy and one as Death. This is not a dark, brooding, cerebral film. Yes, the film centers on the inevitable death of the character played by Anthony Hopkins but there is no sense of dread hanging over every moment. Anthony Hopkins does an excellent job of conveying the confusion and calm that would come from knowing your time is almost up without being an insufferable bore. I cannot imagine this is easy to do.

Which is not to say this is a boring film or a film where nothing happens. What does happen is on a very small, personal scale. Yes, this is a big budget film with lavish sets and is shot in a film format that feels big. There is space everywhere. You should give this film another chance because you will, if you are able to get past whatever you have heard, connect with the very real, very human characters that populate this world.

Misconceptions

As stated I believe many people think this film is lacking because Brad Pitt has said many unkind things about it. This is unfortunate because his comments, damning his own performance no less, are completely wrong-headed. Rarely has he been so interesting in a film. He has claimed that he “flatlined” in the making of the film. I disagree. What he did was deliver a subtle, nuanced performance where he did not “do” much. It is interesting to watch (the peanut butter scene is exceptional).

Couple that with him playing opposite Anthony Hopkins who easily fills the space that is provided and there is a rewarding back-and-forth between the two actors. It is interesting to watch Mr. Hopkins having to defer to Mr. Pitt, due to the nature of the relationship between their characters. The tension this relationship creates, and the way the film handles how this tension ripples outwards, affecting the other characters, provides the film with most of its drama.

Other misconceptions may be that because of the director’s next film, Gigli, he is a director to avoid. It is hard to respond to such nonsense. Every director has made films that have failed to work and Martin Brest is no exception. Meet Joe Black succeeds at what it tries to achieve. Despite what you, the audience, know, you come to care for and about Death – embodied in Brad Pitt. This is no small feat.