But as much fun as I had hopping back and forth from the Angelika to Landmark's Bethesda Row, my favorite theatrical experience of the week (and the best damn movie I watched) was the Alamo Drafthouse's Tough Guy Cinema screening of Streets of Fire. Nice to see a crowd show up for Walter Hill's hyper stylized rock & roll fable, and as many times as I've fallen in love with Diane Lane's Ellen Aim, this was the first time I was utterly hypnotized by her opening performance. Just wow. One of my regular cinematic rants is how Jessica Alba totally fails as Nancy in Sin City, and watching Lane own that crowd and that camera just absolutely accentuated Alba's Frank Miller failure. Diane Lane is astonishing in this movie. So great to see this 80s oddity again, and I really need to track down a high def copy cuz Streets of Fire is a Once-A-Year-Watch for sure. Easy to see why this is one of Matt's Favorite Films.
Jackass Presents - Bad Grandpa: Like other Jackassy productions, there are a few cheap laughs to be found here, but how many times can you watch an asshole get kicked in the balls before you've had enough? Somewhere Bob Saget is screaming, "NEVER!" I do not like the candid camera format, tricking simpletons into gross-out scenarios is the lowest form of humor. And I don't care how many dolts get fooled by Johnny Knoxville's latexed face, Bad Grampa has no business earning a Makeup & Hairstyle nomination. Under the scrutiny of HD cameras, Grampa's mug looks like fat, sweaty putty. It's not like the Oscars are free from W-T-F acknowledgements, but it hurts a little to see such a base concept receive encouragement. Am I just a middle aged fuddy duddy? Maybe. But I'd rather watch a million subpar South Park episodes than witness Knoxville's stretched-out scrotum.
All Is Lost: I very much enjoy watching the process of survival. I love how this film has the confidence to trap its audience on the boat, and reveal character only through the tiniest bits of detail. It's a great performance experiment, and All Is Lost succeeds with tension in ways that Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity stumbles about in cheap symbolism. However, as I watched this late at night (or far too early in the morning), I found myself drifting around the halfway mark. Not locked down in the theater seat, as each attempt at life fails, I lost interest in the hell this Old Man had created for himself. Maybe I do need a Wilson to talk to, or maybe an interior monologue. Such concepts would certainly weaken the craft on display, but I just never fully engaged with Redford's plight. Or I could have simply not been in the mood.
The Croods: This one surprised me a bit. Quest For Fire, but "For Kids!" Nicolas Cage certainly works as the chromag dad terrified to venture out beyond his cave. His voice lends an enthusiasm to his character in ways we haven't seen from him in a long, long time (about three or four Direct-to-DVDs ago). Continental Drift forces the clan to explore their backyard, and it's a beautiful nightmare of owl-wovles & piranha-birds. If you're at all familiar with the whacky, nonsensical design of the Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs films then you'll be happily equipped to handle the absurdity on display in the Land of the Lost. The themes of curiosity & fear are simple, but important to the young audience, and The Croods is easily the most inventive looking film of the Animated Feature nominations. A classic? Naw. But you know...fun for the whole family.
Despicable Me 2: I do not care about Steve Carrell's Gru or his Good Dad/Bad Guy routine. His story of romance and world domination holds zero interest. But those minions? They are just too cute for words. I hate myself for loving them so much, but a ten second dream sequence in which one yellow fella falls head over heels for Kristen Wiig is abso-freaking-dorable. And Isaac Washington Minion!!! I want that toy now. The rest of the movie? Whatever.
Frozen: This one suffered from the hype machine. After weeks of friends, family, and co-workers telling me this is the best film Disney has released in ages, I was bound to finish Frozen with a lackluster spirit. The film is pretty enough. I dig the sibling love story. The snowman character isn't even that annoying (shocker!). But the film felt rushed to me. Blinked and it was over. I was disappointed when the real villain revealed himself, and the songs were Broadway light. I should have seen this opening weekend, but with the world going ga-ga for Adele Dazeem, the contrarian in me wants to champion The Croods or The Wind Rises instead. Not terrible. It's on par with Tangled. Good enough.
The Wind Rises: "The Dream is Cursed." I am not a worshiper at the alter of Miyazaki. I've enjoyed a few of his films in the past (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), but I've always felt a little alienated by the anime aesthetic. Jingoism? I've always feared that. I like my cartoons Don Bluth. Gasping Characters, Big Eyes, and Speed Lines? No thanks. American animation certainly has its own batch of annoyances, but my mind has remained shut on Anime & Manga since my 12 year old self first encountered it with Vampire Hunter D. But I'm trying to grow. Thanks to books like Gon, Domu, Lone Wolf & Cub, I'm more willing then ever to embrace Japan's greatest export. Not to mention the sad fact that American Animation refuses to pull itself out of Mother Goose storytelling. The closest we've come to exploring mature stories in the medium are Pixar's Up & Wes Andreson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Utterly pathetic. The Wind Rises claims to be Miyazaki's farewell film, and I hope he sticks this landing as its a perfect sendoff. Not the magical fantasy we've come to expect from the filmmaker, this film is a pseudo biography of airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. Doing his best to ignore the moral quandary of selling beauty to the military, and witnessing his art transformed into killing machines, Jiro battles apocalyptic nightmares and a doomed romance. Filled with dread and sadness, I really enjoyed the dreamscape Jiro shares with Italian engineer Caproni; their conversations in regards to the airplanes military destiny contribute the film's greatest narrative meat. The not-so-rom-com that occurs halfway through never seems fully realized, but there is enough misery there to complement the film's gloomy inevitability. Not quite enough to make me a believer, as a fan of animation, it's obvious that I have to look outside my borders if I want to experience tales beyond fuzzy animals.
Streets of Fire: When Ellen Aim (the breathtakingly badass Diane Lane) returns to her hometown for a rock show extravaganza, she's targeted by Willem Dafoe's Black Leather Motorcycle Club. Kidnapped and dragged into the depths of retro 80s hell, Rick Moranis & Michael Pare assemble a squad of rock & roll weirdos (groupies! motowners! rockabilly bartenders, a lesbian, maybe!) to raid the biker bar and declare sledgehammer warfare. As ex soldier Tom Cody, Pare delivers his super sincere one-liners with all of his acting might, and follicaly challenged facial hair. He manages to bounce back & forth from the laughably ridiculous to the totally cool, something that only seems possible in that childhood decade. The out-of-time reality and skyscraper performances condemn Streets of Fire as a cult favorite, but it's a Kool-Aid I don't mind drinking. From the uber masculine mind that brought us 48 Hours, Southern Comfort, Extreme Prejudice, and The Warriors, director Walter Hill was the master of the generational gem. Streets of Fire is a rootin' tootin' crowd pleaser for stunted youth everywhere.
Rocky IV: When I came home from The Alamo, I wanted to continue that thrill of 1980s cinema, and in my mind no other movie sums up the Reagan Era better than Sylvester Stallone's bombastic franchise killer. Follow-up films were bound to fail after Rocky IV crushed communism's super science, resulting in the Berlin Wall's collapse. Using the power of Montage (30 minutes worth in a 90 minute movie!), Rocky trains faster, harder, and beardier than his Giant Evil Foreign counterpart, avengers the death of Apollo Creed, and secures the love of his family through staged violence. Plus, Paulie marries a robot!!! Did the 80s produce better movies? Raiders of the Lost Ark? Blade Runner? Raging Bull? NOOOO! It does not get better than "I Must Break You." Case closed.
Omar: Why are all "important" films so dang sad? Watching through this year's nominees it's obvious that The Academy only has room in its heart to mope. My quest for total Oscar domination brought me face-to-face with a lot of tragedies, and the Foreign Film category practically delivered me into a state of despair. Omar is the story of a Palestinian revolutionary caught between his freedom fighter responsibilities and the love of a comrade's sister. But as tensions build and plans result in death, imprisonment, more death, more imprisonment, and more death, I started to see Omar as less of a message movie, and more as a thrilling crime saga staged against the West Bank. Think Donnie Brasco with the added bonus of systemized hatred. I didn't leave the theater weepy as I did with Broken Circle Breakdown or The Hunt. Instead it was a sensation more akin to surviving a James Ellroy novel. A good time? Actually...yeah.
The Invisible Woman: After the boiling violence of Coriolanus, director Ralph Fiennes tackles the burdensome lust of every college professor's favorite novelist. Having produced a litter of children and grown tired of his wife, the wandering eye of Charles Dickens lands on a supposedly talentless young actress. They strike up an affair for some reason, causing a stir amongst the London press, and a not-so-secret shame for their family. The film looks nice. I suppose it earns its Wardrobe nomination. Screenwriter Abi Morgan certainly frames the story in an intriguing fashion, and Fiennes pulls fine melodrama from his actors. But the story left me cold. I never fully understood the actions of the characters, nor did I ever really care. The best I can say is that for thirty seconds or so while the film played I contemplated pulling the dusty Dickens off my book shelf. But the moment passed.
The Book Thief: I hated this movie. A Hallmark Holocaust Adventure brought to you by the voice of God and John Williams's token Oscar nomination. A young girl learns to read while Nazis burn books in the streets and hatred sweeps the nation in the most offensively banal depiction of World War II I have ever experienced. I think it's all well and good to remember the horrors of the past. In fact, it's deadly important. Our society needs films like Schindler's List & 12 Years A Slave every decade or so as a reminder of human nature's horrific capability. But The Book Thief delivers its message with about as much passion as an after school special. It feels like a checkmark in a high school history class. Infuriating.
Anchorman 2 - Supersized R Rated Edition: Simply fascinating. The narrative is the same. Ron Burgundy travels to the big city unleashing the hell of the 24 hour news cycle upon our hapless society. But half the jokes are different. Improvised comedy is both wonderful and terrible. You film one scene thirty different ways with thirty different lines, and suddenly you can cut thirty different films. Or at least two solidly different films. But I preferred the original Anchorman 2. Maybe because it's jokes were better, but probably because it was my first experience with the script. I still managed to laugh my ass of here, but the Supersized edition fascinated/perplexed me more than anything else. A great bonus feature, but was it worth the second price of admission? Still working it out.