Thursday, August 08, 2013

What I Watched in July

I made it out to see five different Summer offerings last month! They were a mixed bag but with the much anticipated PACIFIC RIM I now have my favorite film of the year so far. I am an unabashed fan of Guillermo del Toro and have enjoyed each of his movies so far and have hopes for him to finally produce his much talked about Lovecraft adaptation THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS as well as one more HELLBOY just to make me smile.

I loved almost everything about PACIFIC RIM from its amazing designs to its stunning action scenes to its heroic sweep. Del Toro knows how to tell an emotionally involving story that also delivers the thrills. Topping this achievement is that he is able to make a great popcorn movie that isn't insulting to your intelligence and or retrograde in its attitude toward women, minorities or anyone else. The humor in this film comes from the characters and doesn't degrade them- it illuminates their nature and shows us how they relate to the world around them. What an idea- use the dialog  in your big monsters versus robots story to make the audience care about the humans being menaced by the world shaking violence being depicted.

I could ramble on and on about how terrible the TRANSFORMERS movies were but I also know that the only reason PACIFIC RIM got Green Lit was because of the massive success of those awful monstrosities. I think that the upshot of this is that those movies now have a reason to have existed- they gave us a GOOD giant robot film!

My dear girlfriend and I caught THE HEAT just to see a comedy and it turned out to be pretty good. The story is nothing more exciting than a standard miss-matched buddy cop tale but the performance of Melissa McCarthy elevates the film. She is the 'slob' cop character more interested in getting scum off the streets than in following the rules while Sandra Bullock is the OCD by-the-book cop forced to deal with this unruly mess. These two clash from the beginning and if you are expecting plot surprises from this sucker you will be disappointed, but if you want some good, R-rated laughs the film really delivers. My major complaint is that director Paul Feig is an incredibly sloppy filmmaker not just in his camera set-ups and blocking but he has a hard time maintaining an energy level. This wasn't too distracting with his last movie, BRIDESMAIDS, but that film had a much better script and it didn't feel like the comedy was added after the fact. THE HEAT is a little too long and unfocused but McCarthy's seemingly improv-ed humor makes it worth watching.

WORLD WAR Z was better than I feared it would be but still only a passable movies. I find the directorial style of the film to be far too chaotic and the action too spastically edited to be engaging most of the time. The lack of establishing shots in the action scenes coupled with rapid-fire chop & spin editing made things far too difficult to understand and had the overall effect of irritating me. By the time the story slows down for the famously re-shot ending things are calmer and more comprehensible so I found that section solid, but it was such a tonal shift it felt like it was from a different film. Much like with the same director's mess of a Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE I feel there is a good movie lurking in there somewhere but its currently lost in the editing room. Of course, I'd love to see the original epic ending and I hope it turns up on the Blu-Ray release as an extra. I won't be buying it but I would rent it out of curiosity.

THE CONJURING continues director James Wan's string of excellent low budget horror films. He has found a way to mine classic styles of ghost movies from years past while bringing a freshness to the material. This time out he and his collaborators have very loosely based their tale on real people and real events. Of course, the truth of a film this fantastic is silly to contemplate but I love that the old 'Based on Facts' trope is used to add chills to the spines of the younger viewers and give veteran horror fans a sly wink. This is a supernatural, ghostly tale much in the vein of Wan's DEAD SILENCE and INSIDIOUS. Its not as successful as those two very scary movies - at least not for me- but it is very effective and well worth seeing. I like the structure of the story and that they set it in a very accurate 1970's America. The 70's was an odd time for the collective imagination in this nation with Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle and a host of other unexplained phenomenon being regularly discussed. I remember reading countless books on the stranger things in the world and catching every episode of 'In Search Of' to see what other bizarre things lurked out there to fire my imagination and scare me just a little. Having this film set in that era added to my enjoyment and made the willingness of characters to accept things all the easier to understand.

I also caught the disappointing LONE RANGER film but I want to wait to dig into that one. I have a few things to say. 

THE HEAT (2013) - 6 (sloppy but funny female buddy cop story)
THE LAST EXORCISM (2010)- 7 (rewatch)
LIFEFORCE (1985)- 9 (rewatch)
WORLD WAR Z (2013)- 5
HEAD (1968)- 8 (the mad Monkee movie!)
TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL (1935)- 7 (fascinating early SF)
TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945)- 6 (standard but entertaining)
CHERRY FALLS (2000)- 5 (not bad slasher film- good cast)
CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011)- 9 (very well done comedy/drama)
IDENTITY THIEF (2013)- 7 (very funny and well played)
THE CALL (2013)- 8 (excellent thriller)
DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)- 7
PACIFIC RIM (2013)- 9
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013)- 9 (fantastic tale of Liberace and his lover)
THE LONE RANGER (2013) - 4

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