Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Unreasonable Movie Project (Vol. 2): Two Down, Many To Go

What have I done, you ask?

Saw two movies in two days, took notes, wrote blog posts, did research, found out what’s playing where (now), tried to guess what’s playing where in 3 weeks, or 6 weeks, e-mailed theaters for insider information, got nothing, created schedules, updated spreadsheet, worked, ate, thought about exercise as a concept, tried not to ignore the family, slept.

What have I done, I ask.

This has all become frighteningly real after seeing both Flight and Cloud Atlas in the last two days, and anticipating the real start of the movie award season as the BAFTA nominations are announced today (January 9), and the Oscar nominations are announced tomorrow (January 10). The Golden Globes are this Sunday too. It’s too late for me to speculate on potential nominees or Globe winners -  we’ll have our answers shortly.

Given the number of movies I’m seeing, it shouldn’t make a huge difference, but if the Academy voters throw me a few curveballs, it could change some of the movies I need to see. It might push a ‘charmingly imprecise’ operation across the line into ‘surprisingly ragged,’ but hopefully not as far as ‘idiotically spontaneous.’

I ended up seeing Flight with my sister. She’s single and 24, with time on her hands. Before we went in, she told me she was excited for an upcoming online date with a guy who worked for a local microbrewer. She seemed oddly excited about his line of work, and I wondered aloud if this guy ever thought being a brewer would get him chicks. I also couldn’t resist telling her that she would soon be telling her friends that “he brew my mind.” She did not think that was comedy gold.

Speaking of beer (and minor spoilers), Denzel Washington’s character drinks lots of beer in Flight, plus whatever else he can get his hands on, then snorts some cocaine to make himself functional so he can get on a plane to fly in bad weather. He’s the pilot.

It’s a frantic and intense first half hour as things go spectacularly wrong, but other than the drinking-and-drug-binge/plane crash sequence that starts the movie, it slows down to become a relatively understated, matter-of-fact addiction drama from Robert Zemeckis, who made the very grand Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

Zemeckis has his trademark classic rock soundtrack, but other than that, it’s really all about Denzel as an alcoholic in denial, who lands/crashes his plane in an amazing way, all the while having a blood alcohol content of 0.24 (3 times the legal limit in most states to operate a motor vehicle, six times the limit for an airline pilot). He does not deal well with the ensuing investigation.

My sister and I both noticed an unusual tick Denzel affected with his mouth, almost like he was chewing on the inside of his lip. I couldn’t tell if that’s a character thing or a Denzel thing - I’ll look for it next time I rewatch Training Day or another Denzel-as-drunk movie, Man On Fire. Other than that, he was great. Best Actor great? I have no idea how the politics work behind closed doors in Hollywood, but I bet he will have to get more than a few people liquored up to get an award for acting like an alcoholic. Only people with charisma can do that and he has it.

Oh, and there’s gratuitous, continuous, full-frontal, lingering nudity during the first five minutes, so heads up to parents who limit that for their kids, and/or parents who are into that.

Cloud Atlas has nudity too, but not as much, and it is not as straight-forward a movie. It’s a wonderful book, I'm told, because it's a book I haven’t read. Now that that’s out of the way, this is a movie with five sub-stories happening at different points in history, 1849, 1973, 2012, 2144, and about a hundred years after the apocalypse (2250?).

In order to help show the the interconnectedness of the stories, and the characters within the stories, the movie hops around quickly in a non-linear way. The actors also appear as different but related characters (perhaps reincarnated versions of themselves) in each story. Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant do a credible job of this; Tom Hanks less so, perhaps because he’s an award-winning leading man forced to play a number of very odd characters.

The great acting starts with Jim Broadbent, who is very funny in the only light-hearted vignette (2012) as a 60-ish book publisher who is tricked by his brother into admitting himself into a high-security “retirement home” for senior citizens. Young English actors Jim Sturgess and Ben Whishaw are also excellent in several roles. The star of the movie might be Bae Doo-na, a South Korean actress who appears in all the sub-stories, but shines as the genetically-engineered servant in 2144.

I know you’re expecting a rating system. I can respect that. Rating systems of 4 can’t be done anymore because people now expect that fifth star, or thumbs up, or tomato. Yes, you can’t have 5 thumbs, I get that. My point is that a 10-point scale would be better. It allows for some nuance, and I reserve the right to throw in a fraction or a decimal point. What’s the unit of measure though?

What about money? First run movies are about $10, right? A $10 movie is a movie you went to on opening weekend and loved it and never looked back. $10 well spent, however you define it. A $7 rating was a good movie, but you’d have rather paid $7 than the $10 you paid at the door. You’ve seen movies of this quality before, and there’s some doubt as to whether you’d get more enjoyment from other things with your $10, like a six-pack of good beer, or last year’s version of this movie on DVD.

A $4 rating is a movie that feels identical to the time you lost that $10 bill, the one you probably dropped on the street when you were fishing your phone or your keys out of your pocket. Lower than $4 is a movie that you might walk out on, or try to get your money back because you feel like you got robbed.

Flight is a $7.50 movie. It started great and ended up only good. Denzel will definitely be in the running for best actor. Cloud Atlas is a $6 movie. It’s not expected to win any awards, other than for make-up or some other technical awards, and that makes sense to me. While I enjoyed parts of it immensely, the story structure, and the actors playing multiple roles, didn’t allow interesting stories and characters to gain depth and become more interesting. The casting was distracting too. We’re all connected, I get it, blah blah blah, 2 hours and 40 minutes later, what else you got?

Next post: The Oscar and BAFTA nominations revealed; the upcoming Golden Globes; watching Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with my wife in the comfort of my own home, guaranteed to make us feel young again.

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