My 2013 Movies: The Vow (2012, on DVD via Netflix)
Cheese. Fun cheese. Like Swiss. Swiss cheese. Not high-end Swiss cheese you’d order special at the deli. Regular Swiss cheese, pre-packaged.
The movie suggests: "love conquers all". I’d suggest the same could be said of a good Swiss cheese.
And that’s it for my 2013 movies! Sorry to back-load all of these onto the last few days, but it was important for me to achieve my silly, self-imposed goal that likely 2% of you might have cared about.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, YOU WONDERFUL BUNCH OF FOLLOWER-LOONIES!
My 2013 Movies: Waitress (2007, on DVD, home collection)
There are a handful of good reasons to own this movie, not the least of which is that it inspires my extraordinarily clever and beautiful wife to new heights of the bakery arts, and this is a thing that should never not be encouraged.
It’s also a very decent, good-hearted movie with an unconventional ending - even though watching it, one can’t help but be reminded of the sad, terrifying death of its writer/director/costar Adrienne Shelly.
My 2013 Movies: A Christmas Story (1983, on DVD, home collection)
Of COURSE we had our annual viewing before Christmas, and of COURSE it was just as delightful and wonderful and many other -fuls as it always has been and always will be. Once again this year I was struck by what a fantastic young actor Billingsley was, how natural and comedic and just overall amazing.
THAT’s the way to create a cinematic legacy. One iconic role and let history do the rest.
My 2013 Movies: Get Shorty (1995, on Blu-ray, home collection)
See, this is what happens when I don’t watch these movies and write about them right away: people die. I rewatched Get Shorty earlier this summer when my wife had picked up a $5 Blu-ray for me, and before I could lazily think “yep, I’ll put that on my blog any day now, ” both Elmore Leonard and Dennis Farina were dead.*
Which also reminds me that I don’t own Midnight Run. Need to remedy that.
I won’t go too deeply into this wonderful, fun movie except to observe what a mixed bag of talent and subsequent disappointment it is:
SEE: Barry Sonnenfeld’s non-GS career of such insane highs and lows!
WATCH: Post-Pulp Fiction Travolta at his most assured, possibly in the role he was born to play, never to reach such acting or believability strengths again!
CRY: As you realize that Shorty represents Gene Hackman’s career-pivot into comedy roles (with brilliant results!) - and he would more or less never play a great dramatic role again!
That’s all pretty heady stuff to contemplate for a fun little movie like this one.
My 2013 Movies: The Great Gatsby (2013, on DVD via Redbox)
With just days left in 2013, I finally caught up with this over the weekend. It was never a must-see for me, primarily because I have little love for Baz Luhrmann’s crazed, Michael-Bay-with-pretensions shooting and editing style. Moulin Rougegave me a long headache, but my wife and I had meant to see this over the summer and still were intrigued enough to watch it.
Here’s the thing: there are filmmakers who believe that every frame has to be a composition. The more visual information, the better. Every trick, metaphor, swirl and juxtaposition has to flash before your eyes, maybe multiple times.
And really, I’d rather each frame just deliver character and plot moments in them, artfully. With some subtlety. Not hammered.
In Gatsby when Nick narrates that distractions are beckoning to him, a woman literally beckons to him. When he tells us that he longed to be a writer, he picks up Ulysses and sadly puts it down. Does Gatsby seem to be reaching out for that green light? Nope, he’s actually reaching for it in such a way that no human, regardless of their level of commitment and longing, has ever really done. And when Nick imagines that Gatsby might be watching him, guess what? There’s Gatsby, actually and literally watching him.
(I just realized that just about all of those moments in the previous paragraph take place in roughly the movie’s first 40 minutes!)
And yes, I understand that these things are all in the book - but in print, their ability to be metaphor or actuality is left to your imagination. In Luhrmann’s hands, there’s virtually no imagination.
Does it look and sound spectacular? Does it feel vital and amazing and visually feasty? Sure. What it never feels like is deep or thoughtful or impactful. It’s all up there on the screen and gives you little to think about or reflect upon. The spectacle is the thing and the thing is the spectacle.
My 2013 Movies: World War Z (2013, at the theatre)
It shouldn’t be construed as a negative that I saw this movie during the summer but never got around to writing about it here until - goodness - the last few days of 2013. It’s not that I didn’t like it or dragged my feet; in fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit and found it to be a pretty exciting and well-realized movie.
I’d read the book earlier in the year and I found it curious that people who didn’t like the movie felt that it had too little in common with the book, including the fact that the movie jetisons the book’s oral history-style, multiple POVs narrative.
But really, how could it not have done so? Movies - generally speaking - need to have a strong narrative throughline; we need to experience a single character move from A to Z - and if the movie is an action/horror/goal-based story, then streamlining the story is more than important; it’s essential.
The movie WWZ accomplishes this pretty terrifically in a way that the book can’t, and isn’t meant to. Different media require different narratives, and it seems to me that in our post-Harry Potter movie-adapting-with-utmost-accuracy mentality, we get a bit too worked up when movies divert from their source material. The truth is that it’s often necessary to do so, and makes for a more artful cinematic experience. And it’s not as if the other work of art - the book - still isn’t available for consumption. Only in extreme cases does one work to cancel the other out.
So to me it matters little to me that the movie misses out on a number of key passages and exciting bits from the book; personally, I would’ve loved to have seen the book’s water-logged zombies rising from the sea, or the dangers of an on-fire zombie. That’s great stuff that couldn’t make it into the movie, but oh well. Go read the book and get the entire experience if you like.
But with all that the movie doesn’t include, what it does get across like no other zombie movie before it is the global pandemic nature of what’s happened - which is also the core beauty and epic scope of the book.
I will say that I’m still not crazy about Marc Foster as an action director. The scenes in WWZ that depended on tension - like the airbase escape or the entire final sequence in the lab - these were great. But scenes dependent on visual orientation and fast cutting - the staircase-to-roof escape being a particularly egregious one - were pretty awful.
My 2013 Movies - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2/The Smurfs 2 Double Feature (2013, at the drive-in)
Yeah, I know. Allow me to explain.
My family makes it a point to get out to the drive-in at least once every summer. Pittsburgh is an oddball city in that we’ve still got two working drive-ins with multiple screens. The price is great, it’s a double feature, and it’s a fun night out because we go early, bring lots of food, throw a baseball around before the shows begin and generally have a spectacular time.
The problem, sometimes, is the choice of movies. Or the lack of one.
We sort of wanted to see Cloudy because we’d seen the first one, and I truly never thought we’d sit through Smurfs afterwards - it was late, I assumed my boys wouldn’t be interested and really, when you get right down to it: Smurfs. How could I sit through it and still tell people that I loved movies?
But watch them both completely we did, and these are my 2013 movies so I have to stay honest.
Both movies feature Neil Patrick Harris, so that’s random and swell.
Cloudy is sporadically funny, cleverly designed and animated and really completely forgettable. It commits that non-Pixar animated movie sin where they broadcast every joke seventeen times just to make sure you get it, and they stack the story with 1) stunt voice casting but 2) loads of visual mayhem so that the voice talent ends up having very little to do.
I spent about 40 minutes during Cloudy searching through the darkness around the dirt, rocks and dead grass for one of my son’s retainers which he dropped while snacking.
We found it.
But any investment I had in the movie pretty much evaporated after that.
Hank Azaria seemed to be having a good time shooting Smurfs.
My 2013 Movies - The Adventures of Tintin (2011, on DVD, home collection)
I hadn’t seen this previously; my boys saw it when it was in the theatre and then received it as a gift at some point - but still I hadn’t sat down to watch it until recently.
Ultimately I enjoyed it quite a bit and thought the technology and music and spectacle were all pretty amazing. The story was a bit scattershot and the way that Haddock’s backstory was conveyed was, I thought, confounding and problematic.
Still, it’s a fun watch and truly a gorgeous movie.
(I’m frantically trying to catch up with all the 2013 movies I watched but didn’t write about before the end of the year! Still got seven to go!)