Friday, January 4, 2013

Movies 2012 - The Final Commentary

As mentioned before, I watched and blogged movies 147 times, sort of.  Anyway, the point is, I watched John Carter 3 times, and never regretted it.  Process everything in the rest of this post* with that in mind.

So, the actual experience of deciding to blog every movie for a year was sort of in line with other "for a year I shall..." plans I've had.  Like the year I went vegetarian, just to be difficult. Yes, I did this.

Honestly, I think I was probably way down on number of movies viewed this past year.  I don't know how many movies people normally watch, but I know that for the first time in 5 years, my attendance at the Alamo and Paramount this summer was significantly lower than usual.

All that also took a financial toll in past years, and I've been cutting back on Alamo visits to try to better maintain our finances.  I'm guessing I still hit the movies more than the average bear, but it did feel like a down year for being at the theater, but maybe I made up for that in Cable viewership and watching home video.

If you're interested, you can read all the Movies 2012 posts here.

My Personal Journey

I'm not a critic.  So, you know, take this entire project with a grain of salt.

It's not like I haven't always talked about film over the past 10 years of blogging, but before 2012, I mostly said something about a movie because the movie inspired me to say something or by virtue of fitting within the general realm of discussion here at the blog.

The idea of doing this for a living now seems less like an ideal job now that I can see how writing up a few movies per week would absolutely change your fundamental relationship with movies.  Real reviewers have to wake up, get dressed and go see The Oogieloves, then try to put something in print that's fit to read at the breakfast table.

When the option to quit saying something is taken away (self-enforced or otherwise), you're left pulling every movie apart to some extent, even as you're watching it.  And I gave myself parameters and I planned to stick with them, hell or high water.

Once one hits "publish" on a post, challenging the movie by talking about it - and talking about it publicly - also puts you out there a bit, too.  For me, this meant I began to feel a lot more comfortable dropping any pretense of maintaining a distance between myself and my opinions and began reflecting upon the movies by including what I brought to the film with me.  Trying to be as honest as possible seemed to me a more fair expression to you people as readers, and I hope dropped any professorial posturing that my opinion was couched in some definitive and unshakable pretext.

In addition, like talking anything out, perhaps writing up each movie also taught me a bit about my own tastes and what worked well for me and what didn't and got me to evaluate or re-evaluate some of what I took for granted in my film consumption and preferences.

But, I'm also ready to move on.  I'll still post on movies, but not like the past year.

I've already watched a lot of movies the past few days, and I haven't blogged them (yet).  Some I loved, some I didn't, some created a timewarp back to 1992 for me.  So far this year I've watched:  Watch on the Rhine, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Rafifi, After Porn Ends, and The Queen of Versailles.  Didn't talk about them.  Good for me, I guess.

Honestly, I am looking forward to getting back some of the time I lost blogging all of those movies.

I know it takes you kids a minute or two to read a post (when you read them, which is not always), but it takes a while to write them.  I don't need the psychological hurdle of considering "do I want to write about this?" when selecting a movie for my personal enjoyment.


Apparently I like documentaries about geek culture.  Or, at least, my geek culture preferences have docs coming out that pique my curiosity.  I don't know that I'd want to watch any of them again, but I was willing to give them a shot.

But, I also got tired of watching docs that I felt didn't really tell a complete story or presented ideas but didn't follow up on them.  I watched two Star Trek documentaries this year, and neither really challenged the idea that Trek was something worthy of obsession.  The Rock-A-Fire Explosion doc honestly left me with more questions than I started with.  I sort of wonder if video has made it so easy to film a doc that producers just go out there, grab a few interviews, edit them together and just don't have the journalistic instincts to follow up on the questions that come up once the doc starts coming together.

I didn't watch much Sci-Fi last year, but maybe that has to do with the fact that Prometheus was about the best offering in a year that also brought us the Total Recall remake nobody was clamoring for and Hollywood money usually reserved for sci-fi movies may have gone to superhero films the past few years.  Honestly, I have 10 sci-fi films seen, and that includes 3 viewings of John Carter.  And I LIKE sci-fi.  I seek out sci-fi.  But I can't recall much in the way of the genre making it to theaters last year, and I guess I didn't watch much of it at home.

Likely, Hollywood's insistence that there must be pre-existing brand-awareness around a movie to justify a big budget is keeping me from showing up at the movies for remakes of movies I didn't need to see re-made, or tie-in's to products I didn't care about to begin with, or sequels to series I didn't like to begin with...  there are a lot of reasons that maybe I tuned out Sci-Fi this year.  But, I'm pleased that Pacific Rim is coming out in 2013.  That looks like a good Saturday afternoon movie if ever there was one.

I was aware I was watching Noir films in waves, so I'm not surprised it came out to 27 movies.  Of course, with 27 movies, there was a wide range of quality.  I also think it's fair to say that I went out of my way to watch Noir I hadn't seen before, and that led to some great movies and some really mediocre to downright bad movies.

Of course, "noir" is almost a frame of mind more than an actual genre, so there are a lot of kinds of movies that fall into this category.

Re-watching all those Avengers movies sure took up a lot of time.  Boy howdy.

The Technology

I should have broken down where I watched movies and how.  So I did here.

By types of presentation I've listed it here:

The Alamo - 26
BluRay - 18
Cable (live or DVR'd) - 41
DVD - 15
Film Noir Fest - 6
IMAX presentation - 2
Netflix DVD - 2
Netflix Streaming - 19
Paramount Theater - 6
RiffTrax - 4
Semi- Legal - 2
Chain movie theater - 2
Video on Demand - 3

The first thing I'd call out is that I'm cancelling my Netflix DVD subscription, which appears to be a waste of money.

I saw:  36 movies in the theater this year, so I feel like I'm holding up my end of the movie-going bargain.  Of course, it takes something pretty significant to get me to the movies outside the Alamo or Paramount, thus the low number at the IMAX.  And, it's worth noting, the only reason I saw anything at the chain theater was that they were showing Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein as a double-bill via Fathom Events.  That wasn't even a first run movie.

Most folks don't feel like they get much out of their cable subscription, but I saw 41 movies in their totality this way this year, which doesn't really add up to my cable bill, possibly, but given sports, news and TV shows I watch via cable,  it's still a decent investment.  The DVR is an immensely powerful tool for timeshifting both the capturing and viewing of movies, and I think that's worth noting as part of why I continue to enjoy cable.

Obviously my primary streaming service is Netflix, and I haven't tried Amazon or Hulu yet for movies, but that's because I have a 100+ movies in my streaming queue at any given moment.  It doesn't usually feel terribly necessary to fire up additional services.  And, btw, I view Netflix over my Roku, which still feels like a nice investment.

That's a wealth of channels through which I can watch movies, and I think that's worth noting.  I dabbled in Video on Demand this year, paying about $5- 6 for a screening of a movie at home in first run, and I like the format.  I don't necessarily want to pay $24 for Jamie and me to go try a movie that I'm not so sure about or that we're not treating like a social event with friends, so it's a great option.  Especially as Austin doesn't always get every movie that might play LA, NY or SF.

Of all these movies, I probably only saw 10 or fewer movies in a non-digital format.  The Film Noir Foundation is dedicated to preserving the celluloid elements of the original films, and that's a worthy cause.  But I do see 2012 as a fundamental tipping point for us as the audience and what it means to see a movie from actual film reels.

I may post on it, but I did see The Hobbit in Peter Jackson's intended 3D High Frame Rate format.  And it looked awful.  So, we'll see how that takes off.

My Least Favorite Movies of 2012

Action:  Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Plotless, unmemorable, and Tom Cruise doing what he always does - emulating what he thinks humans might act like.

Comedy:  Manhattan
Beautifully shot, yes.  Great musical score.  Grating characters with irritating problems and Woody Allen making an argument for statutory.  It wasn't the worst comedy, but it was the most disappointing.  Stardust Memories was far more satisfying as a "Woody Allenplaying Woody Allen in a Woody Allen comedy set in Woody Allen-land" film.

Documentary:  The Rock-a-Fire Explosion
So much potential, but the filmmakers didn't seem to know how to ask follow-up questions.  So much left unanswered felt amateurish and like we were watching a movie that wasn't even really finished.

Drama:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The "go to" in this category should have been Liz & Dick, but I so enjoyed the campiness (intended or otherwise) that I can't say I was disappointed.  Girl had a great director and cast, but it's hard to get around the fact I'd read the book and seen the Swedish version of the movie and the story just doesn't do much for me.  Some interesting set pieces, but the mystery itself resolves so lifelessly, the protagonist is such a middle-aged-male Mary Sue and "super hackers" so...  well, 90's - it just feels kind of goofy.

Horror:  The Phantom of the Opera (1943)
This remake lacks any teeth or mystery and fundamentally misunderstands why a chronological presentation of events isn't always a good idea.

Kids:  Santa Paws 2
Another cynical cash grab.  I'm sort of embarrassed for the dogs involved.

Noir:  Desperate
A terribly scripted movie in which nothing made sense and nobody seemed like that they really wanted to bother too much.  All I remember is feeling like the crooks' entire scheme was idiotic and our hero should have just called the cops.  Not terribly thrilling.

Sci-Fi:  Prometheus
If the trend here is "disappointment", Prometheus gets the grand-daddy prize for letting me down.  The script felt like it was leaning on creaky cliches for characterization to the point of absurdity, a non-factor of a protagonist in Noomi Rapace, and an utter lack of closure for any of the questions that the movie spends a lot of time establishing.  Ridley Scott can tut-tut the movie going audience for not being up on their Babylonian creation myths all he wants, but for a movie about hubris, you get the feeling Scott's hubris got in the way of making a satisfying - or even interesting - movie.  And if he wants to play some of the science cards, someone on that film might have wanted to take Bio 101 at the local junior college and find out how evolution, etc... actually works.

Superhero:  Iron Man 2
Mostly because this movie feels like filler.  There's a lot of good set pieces, but it doesn't dramatically push the Iron Man idea a whole lot further, it flirts with Tony's drinking problem but then pulls back, and sort of wastes Micky Rourke after the tedious set-up for his character.  (Hint:  More than one supervillain isn't a sure-fire solution to a better script, Marvel)  Still, this is my second favorite role for Gwyneth Paltrow, who I really like as Pepper Potts.

Favorite Movies of 2012

Action:  SkyFall
Yes, it lifted heavily from other movies and I still don't know why Bond didn't just call in the rest of Mi6 on his old homestead and have them waiting with snipers in the final 25 minutes.  If I complained about Ghost Protocol, it's because of the lack of plot or characterization and just cramming set piece after set piece into the movie.  SkyFall picked up the pieces of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and drove the character of James Bond forward, providing a satisfying arc and setting me up to want to see more of these movies for a reason that doesn't just end with "'splosions & stunts!".

Comedy:  Some Like it Hot!
The movie starts a bit dark, but once you get Lemmon and Curtis on the train and drop Monroe into the mix, one of the funniest movies I'd seen in a long, long time.  Monroe is thought of actually being the character from this movie, which speaks a lot about the level of her performance (and Wilder knew how to use her perfectly.)  It's a bizarre and hilarious movie, and I can't recommend it enough.

Documentary:  Transcendent Man
If a movie kept me thinking about the film in the days after I watched it more than this movie, or if it doesn't plant a seed in everyone's mind after watching it...  I sort of feel bad for you.  A complete look at a visionary, taking complex issues - mostly hypothetical - and looking at them from multiple angles.  Sometimes explicitly, often implicitly.  A portrait of a brilliant human glimpsing a better world and hoping for a better tomorrow against all odds - even while he seems consumed by his past.

Drama:  Too Many To Name
Do I pick Bonnie and Clyde?  Casino?  Or the surprise that was Test Pilot?
I'm choosing not to choose.

Horror:  Bride of Frankenstein/ Cabin in the Woods
It's no secret that Bride of Frankenstein is one of my favorite movies in general, and I have to call it out, but of other films I saw, I really enjoyed Cabin in the Woods.  After the first ten "people get murdered in a remote location" films you've seen, there's no real compelling reason to watch another one.  But the spin this movie put on the whole genre was pretty terrific, and had me laughing so hard I was crying during some scenes.  That didn't stop me from cringing and jumping at the traditional spots, but, man, I appreciated this as The Last Slasher Movie You Ever Need to See.

Noir:  The Third Man
A movie that lived up to the hype, The Third Man set me back on my heels and I will definitely be revisiting this movie as often as I want to re-watch Sunset Boulevard.  In a year of finding some amazing noir films, The Third Man steps up the whole genre in plot, character, cinematography, direction and performances.  Nothing about this movie I didn't like.  Taught, genius execution.  Very sorry I missed it until this year.

Sci-Fi:  John Carter
The movie that needed everyone to go see it to cover expenses was a movie that was only ever going to appeal to a select audience of folks who also thought The Beast Master or Krull are a really good idea.  For me, it gave me a protagonist who I thought actually had a compelling arc and for whom the consequences of the story worked on a personal level as well as a Mars-wide level.  The character of Dejah Thoris was fleshed out as more than just the sexually desirable maiden of the books, Tars Tarkas remained intact even as major parts of the book were changed, and the design of ships was beautifully realized.

The scene that still stands out for me, which is thrilling in the book, is the bat-shit crazy scene in which Carter makes the decision that he's going to stand for Dejah Thoris - and if you're working on a mythological scale - it works.  He begins fighting hundreds of gigantic, four-armed warriors, cutting his way through them while we get the flashback to what his last war cost him.  The back-story added for the movie, it's a strangely touching scene and my touchstone for an excellent character moment in a movie that could have been smart remarks, quips and some CGI.

I get that people didn't like it, and I kind of feel sorry for them.  I'll take my Planetary Romance movies and larger than life scenes that don't rely on literal interpretation.  And dog-faced aliens with way too many legs playing out world wide drama that ends in epic battles that require space ships, light shows and a royal wedding.

Deep down, I'll always be 13.

Worst of the Worst:

The most ineptly made film watched this year was, without a doubt, Curse of Bigfoot/ Teenagers Battle The Thing.  A 1950's super-cheap film re-released in the 70's to cash in on the Bigfoot craze of the time, it feels like a movie made by people who had never actually seen a movie before and one day to learn all the equipment.

Tedious and exhausting to the point of infuriating the audience, not since Monster-a-Go-Go has such ineptitude graced my screen.  The Rifftrax are, of course, hilarious.  But pour yourself a cocktail before staring this trainwreck.

I don't know which movie was actually the most disappointing.  But I would give a specific and honorable mention to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein as stupefyingly unfunny for a movie that's on a lot of critics' lists as a Halloween must-see.  I suspect most of them haven't seen the flick since they were kids.

My Favorite Movie of 2012:

The Dark Knight Rises

Operatic.  Literary.  Embracing and attempting to tackle something other than "aliens attacking Earth is a real downer" as a thread.  The culmination of a decade of storytelling by Christopher Nolan, this movie pushed the idea of superheroes as symbols into storytelling as symbolic shorthand for more universal issues of who can be seen as a criminal, who can be seen as a hero, and in desperate times, what we can become.

It's not a huge bunch of guesswork why the words read over Bruce Wayne's grave come from the final passages of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, a book that lays out the framework for much of how Dark Knight Rises works, with no small dash of The Scarlet Pimpernel thrown in for good measure.

The movie is too big and cumbersome for what it tries to do, and maybe, unlike a Twilight movie or The Hobbit, this should have been broken up into multiple parts.  Ultimately, though, I found the film hugely satisfying even when (or especially when) it wasn't really working and was still making its way by on grit and belief in the story they were telling.  Some of the audience's issues with, say, Bane as a character came less from that the movie did anything wrong, but more from the fact that it didn't match what they expected out of a cool, sexy villain.  Bane was something else entirely, a throwback to villains from a different era, but perfectly suited to the symbolic world of the movie.

Quibbling over comic book fan BS with this movie misses the point, and if you think Nolan really cared much about what a handful of Batman comics loyalists think - well, I'm sure he consoles himself every night by crying into his money-pillow.

The movie lacked the insane intensity of Dark Knight, but made up for it in having a vision that brought home not just the seeds planted in the first film (and I highly recommend watching all three films back-to-back), but striving for a world-breaking moment on a scale that even the Avenger's afternoon of alien mayhem couldn't conjure as anything but an obvious victory to set up future installments of a successful movie and toy franchise.

As seen with my comments throughout this post, I give movies a lot of credit just for trying.  Maybe what I find least excusable is when a movie sets it's sites too low, and maybe I give too much credit when a movie tries for something beyond the genre constrictions or simply plays to expectations.  Prometheus thought it was doing something new, but it was tapping into well worn sci-fi territory with it's "where did we come from" ideas and then failing to hold together as a movie at the basic level - then answered their question with a mix of more questions and a kind of silly non-answer with CGI grumpy people.

DKR gave a complete narrative, and maybe I love it all the more for being such an imperfect film in the face of everything it wanted to be - while still providing a satisfying conclusion to three movies rather than one.

Also, Anne Hathaway in a catsuit on a motorcycle and Marion Cotillard in one movie.  Nolan, you mad, wonderful genius.

*and every post at this blog and, in fact...  go ahead and evaluate every one of my life decisions with that fact somewhere in the back of your head.

1 comment:

Paul Toohey said...

Good luck getting me out to a movie again...I'm now terrified that I'll end up being 2000 movie a year guy...

Thanks for ruining movies...