Sunday, December 28, 2014

What I Thought About Stuff, 2014: Movies: They Still Exist!

We watched Guardians of the Galaxy on Xmas Eve. We traditionally watch a movie on Xmas Eve, going back nearly a decade now, which makes it a tradition, right? I wonder how old something has to be before it is officially a tradition? I would say at least five years.  Otherwise it's just a thing you do.

Guardians Of The Galaxy was one of only two "big" movies last year, in my estimation.  It's harder and harder to tell what a "big" movie is anymore, but I use the definition of "are people talking about it in a good way?"  You have to use that definition, because the standards by which we judge movies otherwise are meaningless.  A big movie used to be $100,000,000 or $200,000,000, but with movie ticket prices that only means about 1 in 8 Americans has to see a movie for it to hit $200,000,000.  (By comparison, nearly 1/2 of all Americans saw Gone With The Wind when it opened.)  More than 139 movies have made over $200,000,000 in their release, including The Love Bug (presumably not the Lindsay Lohan version).

On the other hand, you can't really count length of time in the theaters, anymore. In the past, we saw Titanic, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project and The Ring (among others) mostly because they'd been in theaters so long that we figured they were worth seeing.  But the average amount of time that a movie is in the theaters (as measured by how long until it's released on DVD) has dropped from about 6 months in 1998 to just under 4 months now.

So it's harder to tell if a movie is any good. A huge opening weekend may just mean a movie opened on 30 billion screens.  Leaving the theaters quickly may mean the same thing -- if everyone who wanted to see it could, that first weekend, it's going to have a huge dropoff and will be gone in a few weeks.

I don't trust reviews, much, either.  The key to a review is to find someone who thinks like you do and find out if they liked a movie.  That's tricky. I get 99% of my movie recommendations from The Boy, whose judgment is incredibly suspect, in that he thinks 21 Jump Street is the greatest movie of all time, equaled only by 22 Jump Street which honestly, that movie was made solely to make fun of people who wanted to see 22 Jump Street.  Everyone who saw that movie got trolled and paid for the privilege of it.  It's amazing.  The only thing that topped a studio taking advantage of stupidity like that is the incredibly fake "hack" Sony released to help promote The Interview.

I try to avoid conspiracy theories, and I have gone back and forth on this, but I am now convinced that Sony engineered the entire "hack" only to have it backfire and then get compelled to release the movie rather than make an insurance claim.  Here is my evidence:

1. The 'hacked' emails contained nothing truly damaging.  There was no financial information, no personal information, nothing that could actually get someone in trouble or cause financial harm to Sony.  Instead, the information 'leaked' was stuff we already know, like Channing Tatum is a bro-y fratboy, and everyone hates Angelina Jolie.
2. Sony has tried horrible 'viral' campaigns before and seen them backfire badly, like the time they tried to market Playstation Portables "virally" using fake blog posts and weird ads disguised as fan sites.
3. Sony announced on December 17 that it was pulling The Interview from theaters and that it would make an insurance claim.
4. Then, a day later, pn December 18, it was announced that Sony could likely not cash in the insurance it had against terrorism because the government wouldn't classify the hack as a terrorist action. 
5. Immediately after that weekend, Sony announced the movie would be released after all.
6. Sony made it available for purchased download with a laughable set of protection that meant people could freely copy the URL and share it with their friends for free.

Does that prove conspiracy? No. But I think it could demonstrate an awful marketing plan that spun out of control and backfired, with that bit about the downloading being intended to try to salvage some insurance proceeds for negligence rather than terrorism.

Also, Area 51 probably figures into it.

There's no doubt people were talking about The Interview this year, but nobody was talking about the movie; it wasn't the kind of movie that made people want to discuss the movie, or the kind of movie that made a person want to run out and tell someone they know "Hey, you've got to see this movie."  Or so I assume, because so far nobody has done any of those things, and those things are the standard I use to determine if I really want to see a movie.

Which is why Guardians Of The Galaxy was more or less what I expected, which was that it was like The Avengers, although that's like saying a high school football team is similar in tone and style to the Green Bay Packers.  The Avengers, I remember, had me sitting in the theater the way I sit in a roller coaster, and when I realized the movie was ending, I was a bit sad because I never wanted it to end.  It was a fun, exciting movie, probably one of the best popcorn movies I ever saw.
competent, reasonably enjoyable movie that didn't really do much to impress me one way or the other.  It's not that there was anything wrong with it, but there wasn't anything really right about it, either.  In style and tone it's closest probably to

Guardians was a popcorn movie, too, but didn't hit those heights.  I didn't feel like immediately tweeting about it, or making sure I remembered to mention it to people at the office or anything.  It was just okay, and when I realized it was ending I actually thought "Good, cause I'm a bit tired."

I watched a bunch of movies this year that were just that: competent.  If they were buildings, they'd be big glass rectangles that look kind of neat and house offices but overall don't leave a lasting impression.  Movies I saw that were good, solid movies but nothing that I'll likely remember much about five years from now included Captain America: Winter Soldier, Wreck It Ralph*, Deliver Us From Evil, Jack Reacher, Paranormal Activity 4, G.I. Joe Retaliation, Modern Problems**, and Devil's Pass.  Most of those were standard issue action movies, with varying degrees of superhero (Jack Reacher being kind of a Captain America without a shield, or an ex-GI Joe.)  Devil's Pass was perhaps a bit above "standard issue," as its story of kids recreating a hike in which everyone died was pretty good and had some chilling moments; I am downgrading it because as it turns out it was only the second best movie about people recreating a hike with horrifying results.

*I'm not sure all these movies were released in 2014, but I saw them in 2014, so I'm mentioning them. 
**Yes, the very old Chevy Chase movie. Viva Netflix! That's where I watched most of these. I went to the theater only about 2 or 3 times. 
Viva Netflix, indeed; we pay about $16 a month for unlimited movies and TV and I use it a lot, in part because the boys monopolize our televisions watching their shows over and over and it upsets them if we were to try to watch something else on the TV, and in part because I like watching stuff while I cook or clean and for the past several months I or Sweetie have had to sit up with Mr F while he tries to fall asleep, so I get a lot of movie watching in then.  If I'd had to go to the theater to see movies, I'd have not watched about half of that.  As it is, my average cost per movie or TV show is probably about twenty-five cents, I watch so much Netflix.

Before getting to the good movies, two movies I watched this year deserve a special mention.  The first is The Fifth Element, which wasn't really good, and wasn't really bad.  It was different, and while I can't really recommend it as a great movie to watch, I have to give it credit for trying something new.  The acting, the staging, the storyline, they all seem almost like someone was trying to do a serious version of a really bad movie, or trying to do a camp version of a really good movie. Or some mixture of those.  It wasn't a waste of time, but if you do watch it be forewarned that it's the kind of movie that is likely to make you shake your head and wonder.  Which isn't totally bad,

The other special mention is Scrooged, which I rewatched at Xmas out of nostalgia; I rewatched Planes, Trains & Automobiles at Thanksgiving, too, for the same reason, and in both cases I was underwhelmed.  I kind of remembered seeing Scrooged in theaters when I was a lot younger, and I have this memory of Bill Murray being funny, but the movie wasn't very funny at all, and wasn't very touching, either.  It was really no better than a made-for-TV Xmas movie.  Planes, Trains was a bit better, but got annoying with how often it had to manufacture Steve Martin's rage again, and he actually seemed quite unlikable by the end of the movie.  If I were Dell I might've given up on him.

I also rewatched Galaxyquest and Saving Silverman this year, two movies I enjoyed a lot the first time around, and they held up pretty well.  Maybe enough time has passed since the 1980s (1990s?) that the earlier movies haven't aged that well.  Comedy in general has a shelf life of about 10 years, tops.  I remember trying to get the kids to watch Beverly Hills Cop and realizing it wasn't that funny, after all.

Now, onto the good or great movies, the ones that got me or other people talking.  I finally got to see The Lego Movie, which we tried to go to a free screening of at Camp Randall Stadium, but we had to leave after about 10 minutes because it was hard on the boys. I loved the movie.  I thought the whole thing was superclever, I liked the storyline, and the jokes hit home about 90% of the time.  I think that one's going to be a classic.

Another one I didn't expect to be so fun was Sharknado.  Laugh all you want. That movie ought to live forever, too.  SPOILER ALERT! The actual sharknado doesn't show up until way at the end, but I liked the movie so much that Sweetie and I have saved Sharknado 2 for our New Year's Eve movie.

I'm obviously not alone in loving Gone Girl. I never read the book, but the movie was excellent. We saw it in the theater on one of our weekly dates.  There's nothing quite so cool as being at a movie theater on a Friday mid-morning while everyone else is working.  The movie worked for me because first, I am a sucker for unreliable narrators, and this one had two of them, and second, because while it ended up being completely ridiculously campy and unbelievable, the way the movie built to get there was done so incrementally that when it went over the top it was such a minor step that you really didn't resist suspending your disbelief just that little bit further.  Plus, this was a movie that Sweetie and I still talk about, about Ben Affleck's decision at the end and how weird the whole situation was and all.

Another excellent movie -- and a recommendation from The Boy-- was Blue Ruin, which is sort of what would happen if a regular guy decided to try to get revenge like they do in the movies, only he's not very good at it.  And against my better judgment I watched, and then really liked, Snowpiercer. It has the most ridiculous premise I've heard of since Looper, but about five minutes in it's possible to forget how dumb the idea of a train circling the ice planet is and just enjoy the movie, which has awesome fights and cool visuals and a couple of plot twists.  My only complaint, really, is that for about 20 minutes I thought Christian Bale was the star, until I asked Sweetie and she said it was Captain America, but now whenever I remember the movie I remember Christian Bale in it, so when they reboot Snowpiercer starring Christian Bale I guess I'll be ready.

PHEW THIS IS GETTING LONG.  I didn't think I had seen or wanted to discuss this many movies.  I'll whip through a couple quick ones: Parker (which gets elevated above Jack Reacher because I didn't expect it to be so good), Serenity (you should watch Firefly the series first for the most impact) Monsters (the guy who directed Godzilla did this one first as an indie movie and this is what got him the Godzilla job) I Think We're Alone Now (this was the year I got into documentaries, and this one is about two people obsessed with 80s pop star Tiffany. Sad but compelling) Talhotblond (another documentary, like Catfish but moreso), Please Subscribe (documentary about people who make their living putting videos on Youtube) and two standup shows, Chelsea Perettii's and Patton Oswalt's, both very good.

Now for the absolute best movies I saw all year.  Gone Girl is one of them, I'd agree, but two really stand out.

The first is Yellow Brick Road.  This is the other people-re-creating-a-walk horror movie. The plot is that a bunch of people in a town all walked into the woods and either disappeared or were found dead and mangled or something, sixty years ago, and now this group of hikers/documentarians is going to find out what happened.  WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER DO THAT? If you tell me something weird happened on a hiking trail and everyone was murdered, I am going to move out of the county that trail is in.  But this is a movie, so they go and try to walk along the trail and pretty soon things start going haywire: surveys aren't working out, compasses don't work, they start hearing this music playing all the time, and then things get really weird and really crazy and then they jump into absolutely bats--t terrifying.

There's not much gore, and no real NSFW parts, but this movie haunts me.  I am typing this in a dimly-lit corner of our dining room about 10 p.m. next to a dark window and I am kind of getting nervous just sitting here remembering the movie.  It took a couple of days to stop feeling unsettled by it.  The way the movie unfolds is just so... distressing.  That's possibly the best word for it.  There's horror, yeah, but it's a very subtle, psychological kind of horror.  I absolutely think people should see this, but it's definitely one to watch with someone and then afterwards put on the lights and put on something shiny and upbeat and happy.  (I watched SpongeBob afterwards, I believe, as a palate-cleanser.)

The other phenomenal movie I saw this year was Bellflower, and it's a hard movie to describe.  These two friends, sort of dropouts from society, are building a flamethrower.  They've already built a car that's kind of a post-apocalyptic survival machine, and that's how they spend their time: drinking beer and building things like this.  Then they meet two girls, and a guy and a girl fall in love and drive off to a barbecue place in another state on their first date, and events unfold from there.  It's a love story and a weird urban fantasy and a friendship story all wrapped in one, and it's not really like many other movies I've ever seen -- if it's like any of them.  I could see myself rewatching it every so often, just to experience it again and see if I learn something new from it, kind of how I re-read Catch 22 every five or ten years.

That's it for movies.  Next up will be TV shows or something probably.

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