When Too Much is Just Right

Hello, old friends. It’s been a while. My reviews have clearly been on hiatus, but honestly, there haven’t been many films worth reviewing. Until NOW. The Great Gatsby. The movie we’ve all been waiting for…or, well, all English majors have been waiting for. And I can truthfully and emphatically attest: it was worth the wait.

Carey Mulligan's accent was spot-on. The Brits do it again!

Carey Mulligan’s accent was spot-on. The Brits do it again!

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the director, Baz Luhrmann. He’s put forth a number of interesting projects including Romeo + Juliet (you know, the one with little Leo and Claire Danes – and Michael from Lost as a drag queen). And of course there’s Moulin Rouge, a film I always found sour. It’s just TOO much. Too much color, too much dazzle, too much can-can. But that’s Luhrmann in a nutshell. He strives for excess. He exhausts your senses. He does no less in Gatsby. However, for a story like Gatsby, one set in an excessive era and filled with excessive people, a story that ultimately condemns both – well, Luhrmann found his masterpiece.

It’s almost my bedtime, so I have to make this brief, but Leonard DiCaprio shined, both literally and figuratively. He exceeded all expectations I set for Gatsby, and for the first time, the character actually lived on screen (sorry Robert Redford). Carey Mulligan was equally charming, forcing the audience to sympathize with her Daisy, a feat not easily achieved. Tobey Maguire was good, but I could only see Spiderman, so perhaps not quite as effective.

As for Jay-Z’s ensemble of tunes, it worked for me. The music is as anachronistic as one would expect from a Luhrmann film, a blend of Lana del Ray, Andre 3000, and Florence Welch. A match for the glitz-and-glamour visuals.

This movie will be polarizing, there’s no doubt about that, but for the first time in my life, I’m on Luhrmann’s side. If you’re a Fitzgerald purist, perhaps skip this time around, but if you’re in for a spectacle, grab those 3D glasses and hold on.

For The Great Gatsby, I’d pay a total of $9. That’s the average price of a suburban movie ticket!

The Croods: A Prehistoric Concept

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Family photo!

Hey everyone. This is definitely a delayed post, but my life has been a bit hectic the past week or so. Not that you care – you just want to hear about The Croods! I have to say, I went into this film expecting a great deal. Dreamworks has been shoving our faces in promos, billboards, and merchandise for half a year. Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, and Nicolas Cage are headlining. It’s a great premise – cavemen during the peak of human evolution. And for the cherry on top – it’s a family friendly, animated movie, packed with quips that kids will LOVE. A perfect recipe for a box office smash, right? Well, granted, it might still be a box-office smash, but it certainly won’t be a critical darling. Perhaps I should chalk it up to my inflated expectations, but The Croods left me flat.

Let me first address what I liked. The animation is beautiful. It really does take you to another world, or- well -our world circa one million years ago. I saw the film in 3D and although I’m not a huge proponent for this gimmick, the filmmakers incorporate it well. However, it’s no Life of Pi (if you haven’t seen Pi in 3D, DO IT), so I wouldn’t shell out the extra cash for it. But, to each his own.

The plotline is simple, but clever. During the dismantling of Pangaea, a family of cavemen runs into a modern man (Ryan Reynolds) – one who wears pants, eats daintily, and even “thinks”. The father (Nicolas Cage) feels threatened by the newcomer, who is particularly smitten with the daughter (Emma Stone), but must learn to co-exist as they make their way to safety. Imagine a Paleolithic blend of Father of the Bride and Road Trip, and you’ll have it. However, everything is a bit too much – the jokes, the schmaltz, even the cute animals (and I LOVE cute animals). The film screams “love me” but instead of heartwarming, I found it trite.

Chris Rock once joked that being a voice actor was the easiest job in Hollywood, but he clearly never counseled Nicolas Cage. Cage just doesn’t work. His voice is too soft for the rugged Grug, his acting too forced. Grug wasn’t sympathetic – more pathetic. Cage dropped the ball on this one. However, Emma Stone rocked it as Eep, the heroine with a refreshingly real body image (something Disney never managed). Girl’s biggest fan right here.

As I sat down in the theatre, I heard the guy behind me say “Dreamworks better succeed with this one. After the failure of Rise of the Guardians one more disaster could send them packing.” The Croods won’t save Dreamworks, but it will definitely keep them afloat as they pray for the next Madagascar.

For The Croods, I would pay $3 tops. 

The Place Beyond the 3rd Row (i.e. Those Farther from Bradley Cooper)

This never happens – really – but last night I faced an impossible decision. I had tickets to TWO movie screenings, and there was no frontrunner. In the past, I might have had the occasional double night, but it’d be a no-brainer (Silver Linings Playbook vs. Parental Guidance, for example), but THIS time, well, not so easy. My two choices: 1) The Place Beyond the Pines (an upcoming Ryan Gosling movie) or 2) Royal Wedding. Ok, ok, I do realize that the latter is a 1951 Fred Astaire movie, so for some of you maybe this WAS a no-brainer, but you so rarely see classic films on big screens AND there were two special guests: co-star Jane Powell and famed film historian Leonard Maltin. However,  the screening of Pines also boasted a special guest, director Derek Cianfrance (of Blue Valentine fame). See the predicament?! Well, in the end I chose Pines with a heavy heart. But then I remember Ryan Gosling and I felt a bit better.

Gosling looks like a cowboy, doesn't he?

Gosling looks like a cowboy, doesn’t he?

Ok, on to the real post. As I mentioned, the director was accompanying this screening of The Place Beyond the Pines, so the theatre was packed. Jam packed. Maeve was feeling a bit sick, so I flew solo – that person who sees movies alone who you simultaneously pity and respect (Shout-out, Aunt Laurie). I was also busy preparing myself for the inevitable emotional turmoil because after Blue Valentine I spent a week ringing tears from my Puffs plus.

For those who don’t know, Pines is a “triptych” film starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes. Ray Liotta also makes a small appearance as a crooked cop (type-casting!). Apparently it is NOT a western, which I assumed from the poster, but rather three interwoven tales of father-son relationships, spanning 15 years. And it all takes place in Schenectedy, NY. I won’t say much more about the plot, because although unusual, it is satisfyingly surprising and fresh. All I can say is that Cianfrance did an excellent job of building three separate storylines and merging them seamlessly.

As expected, this film ripped out my heart and broke it in a million pieces. I will never watch it again. I will also never forget it. It’s a beautiful narrative on familial relationships – how each action has consequences bigger than yourself, consequences that pass to your children. Nearing 2.5 hours, it’s a long movie, and certainly feels it. Cianfrance has over a decade of experience as a documentary filmmaker, and these talents shine forth in the raw, unstylized directing. It’s a brutally “real” film, but as one who loves to escape, not my cup of tea.

The acting is phenomenal, as you might expect. Gosling exudes a charming, introverted persona, as per usual. Bradley Cooper plays outside of his comfort zone, offering a refreshing and unexpected performance. The breakout stars are the two sons – I expect to see a great deal more from them. Especially Dane DeHaan.

So the credits roll, and the theatre staff screams that we should stay seated, that there’s a special guest. Yeah yeah. Then Derek Cianfrance walks out. Oh wait. Then Bradley Cooper walks out. It was madness – screaming, applause, fainting. When I finally came to, they had begun the Q&A. Cianfrance was charming and fascinating and brilliant. Cooper had funny moments, but was mostly bland. I didn’t mind much.

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Bottom line: I’m glad I skipped out on Royal Wedding. And that I was forced to sit in the 3rd row…so close. And that I wasn’t Maeve.

For The Place Beyond the Pines, I would pay a solid $7. For another Q&A with Cooper, significantly more.

 

P.S. – Don’t click on the embedded ads. I can’t get rid of them!

The Inside Scoop

I imagine that by this point there are several readers who are looking for a little more info about the advance movie screening experience. I’m sure there are those of you out there who are thinking “Megan and Maeve must be extraordinarily glamorous to be invited to advance screenings” or “Golly, I wish I had the totally awesome connections they must have to get such special treatment.” Well my envious audience, today I will be sharing with you what you’ve all been waiting for…..a rundown of what it’s like to be part of such a prestigious event with absolutely no insight into how one gets tickets of their own!!

Normally these high profile advance screening events take place on a weekday evening at my favorite movie theater, the Boston Common AMC/Loews/I’m not sure why these names are interchangeable. The Kendall Square Cinema and the Fenway Regal have also shown up on the circuit, but there is something about the over memorabilia-ized AMC that gets the movie watchin’ blood pumping. Megan is wholly in charge of the ticket acquisition process, so luckily all I am responsible for is showing up at the theater about an hour before the film is slated to start. There is usually an uneventful half hour wait, but if we’re lucky we’ll be patronized by whatever unqualified usher is running the queue, or Megan will be harangued by an old man*.

Once we’re let past the elusive red velvet rope, we are shepherded into the theater for a seat finding free for all. Inevitably Megan and I end up in the first five rows. For many, this would be a turn off, but I truly believe our necks are all the stronger for it. After another half hour, just about long enough for us to mow down whatever food we’ve smuggled in, the lights dim and the magic starts….minus previews (LAME).

So there it is folks…..all the glamour, intrigue, and celebrity of the prescreening events. It may not sound like much, but there’s definitely something to be said for getting the in. Seeing the seats reserved for the press, not paying the exorbitant $10+ admission charge, and making your boyfriend jealous because you got to see The Hobbit before he could are all perks that I’m not willing to give up anytime soon.

cost of admision: I would pay the price of a full movie ticket for Megan to talk to that old guy again. I would also pay about $2 a screening if it meant there were previews.

*TRUE STORY: One time at a screening Megan went to solo, she offered her extra pass to an elderly man. At the very next screening, the old man sought her out and solicited her for another pass. After she gave it to him, he rambled on at her nonstop for about the next fourteen minutes about how he planned to use this pass to sneak into Skyfall, and how he had in fact abused the last pass to see a different movie than it was meant for, too. Like a true friend, I pretended not to know Megan and provided her with no form of rescue.

Ralph, My Main Man

After a long night of watching the Oscars I was generally pleased with the outcome of the awards.  JLaw won a much-deserved statue (you go, girl) and Daniel Day-Lewis broke records with his third win (we all knew it). All in all, it went as I hoped, BUT there were two instances where I was a bit shocked. 1) Tony Kushner was robbed of his win for Best Adapted Screenplay for Lincoln (please say someone agrees?), and 2) Brave won Best Animated Film.  I am a huge Pixar fan, and while I enjoyed Brave, it was not the best animated film of 2012. That distinction belongs to Wreck-it-Ralph.

I know, I know. This blog is supposed to be about my experiences with advanced movie screenings, but the problem is that there were no screenings this week. Well, if I had a car I could go see Oz, but alas…

ANYWAY, I thought I’d review a movie that I’ve already seen. One that I also saw for free. And since Wreck-it-Ralph comes out on DVD TODAY, it’s the perfect solution, right?!

Wreck-it-Ralph is the story of a tiger who wants to change his stripes, or in this case a video game villain who wants to be the hero. It may seem like a simple premise, but the film is packed with so many clever pop culture references, puns, and gaming allusions, you can’t help but be swept away. Admittedly, I am no gamer. I played Mario and Ecco the Dolphin as a kid, but neither is even in the film (apparently, Nintendo gave the filmmakers quite a headache when they asked to borrow Mario. They should have gone for Luigi.). I still don’t get the little orange blob, but I expect my brother does. No matter, I enjoyed it all the same!

Who remembers Ecco?! i Never passed the second level. Ecco can’t breathe underwater!!

The world that director Rich Moore created is so completely original that I couldn’t help but wonder why it hadn’t been done before.  Arcade game characters coming alive after hours: GENIUS.  It smells a little of Toy Story, but these characters aren’t confined to the human world. They jump through a myriad of gaming worlds – from candyland to a post-apocalyptic earth – in a variety of pixel counts.  Despite the change in scenery, the plot moves along seamlessly.

As for the voice acting: I love when John C Reilly takes on great projects. It reminds you there’s more to him than Will Ferrell’s other half in Step Brothers. Sarah Silverman breathes life into little Vanellope, a success that prompted me to Google her sketch comedy for hours. As for Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch, they did what they do best. Picture Sue Sylvester and Kenneth as lovers – my biggest complaint of the film.

There’s that little orange guy again…

 Wreck-it-Ralph accomplished what I wish more Disney movies could and would, and what Brave ultimately failed to do – I laughed, I cried (granted my crying threshold could use a boost), and I left the theatre satisfied.  It won’t change your life, but it’ll make you happy, and ask anyone, there’s nothing I love more than a happy ending.

For Wreck-it-Ralph, I would pay a total of $8 (hey big spender)!

Jack the Vampire Slayer (I mean Buffy the Giant Slayer)…something like that.

I got tickets to Jack the Giant Slayer last night and decided to chance it. It stars that cute kid from About a Boy, but (surprise!) he’s all grown up. It also stars Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci. What’s not to love? Well, as it turns out, there’s plenty to not love, but there’s also plenty to like, and I left the theatre generally satisfied.

To give a brief summary: Jack is a great family film, showcasing a young David battling a team of Goliaths, a true rags-to-riches story, and cliché cliché cliché. It really is everything you would expect. The plot follows a poor farm boy who accidentally sells his horse for beans. MAGIC beans. Then there’s a princess, some giants, and the happiest of endings. It draws direct inspiration from the famed fable of Jack and the beanstalk, but instead of imparting a useful moral like “If you’re greedy and steal the golden egg, a giant lady will attack you,” the movie leads with “Dream big and you’ll get all of your heart’s desires”. Not a bad moral, but one you’ve seen a million times.

However, I really did enjoy the movie, and I think kids will love it. There’s a good deal of action, a smattering of quotable lines, and a dash of romance. To make it simple, let me just list the worst and the best.

WORST: The plot. It’s a bit too contrived. Not bad, but not great, and the middle ground can often be the worst place to be. ALSO, the bathroom jokes. I never enjoy them, but I suspect that kids will love them.

BEST: Ewan McGregor’s hair. Really, it’s fantastic. And so is he. As a whole, the cast does well. Nicholas Hoult as Jack also further cements his standing as Hollywood’s new “It” boy.

Really. Look at that hair.

Really. Look at that hair. Fantastic.

The clever ending (mini-twist, if you will) is also interesting. It doesn’t quite make up for how obvious the rest of the film plays, but you leave the theatre in a fun spirit.

So kudos to filmmakers for making a fun, family movie. Don’t spend money on the 3D version –the extra dimension doesn’t add much. Take your little cousins, siblings, children as an outing (not TOO little – maybe 9 and above). If you’re a grown-up yourself, wait till the DVD.

For Jack, I would pay a total of $4. Interpret as you will.

Free Movies for Those Who Seek Them

I’ve been meaning to do it. I really have! But every time I think about it, something stands in my way – usually my procrastination. I wanted to wait for the right time or the right movie. Or I wanted to wait until I perfected the design of this blog (HA – like I would every get around to that). So tonight, I’m pulling through. I’m going to write my first blog post.

I guess this is just a “hello!” post. I don’t know if anyone will read this.  But if no one does, perhaps that’s for the better. I’m happy to have an excuse to write more regularly, especially about film, since I love it all.

What you need to know about me: I live in Boston, and I go see a ton of free movies. A TON.  I guess I can no longer claim the title of “recent” grad, but I’m recent enough to get paid very little, and free movies are my catnip.  In another post I’ll talk about how I get tickets to these movies, but today let’s focus on the purpose of this blog.

I started attending these free screenings last May. Most of them I see with my pal, Maeve, and we created the idea of this blog together, so she should be posting regularly, too! (if we get our act together). Something important to note is that these screenings are also advance screenings. In other words, we get to see the movie before it opens to the general public. We’re not particularly special – there are often hundreds of people sharing the theatre with us. We’re just thrifty and film savvy!

So like I mentioned earlier, we’ve been seeing these movies for months, and since I see them before opening night, I’ve had plenty of friends ask for my opinion.  And finally, I get to the point of the blog – we’re here to share our reviews. And perhaps we’ll share some friendly advice on whether or not it’s worth spending your money, since we didn’t spend any.

So to all of you (if “you” do exist) thanks for reading so far! Feel free to leave any and all comments. I encourage you to voice contrary opinions. Be critical but not insensitive. If you’re mean, I’ll erase you. I swear I’ll do it. Just you watch me.

Cinephilia,

Megan

IMPORTANT NOTE: We have a nontraditional rating system. Since we’re not paying anything to see the movie, we’re rating it on how much we’d be willing to pay!