A rare thing happened these holidays, this TV addict went to the cinema -again and again. I’ve kinda been turned off movies for the past few years. This is not to say I’d given up watching them, but rather I wasn’t enjoying the ride as much as I felt I should. For me, I guess the formula had grown stale. The producers greedy little fingerprints seemed to be found everywhere. In my lifetime I may have seen one too many explosions. “I’m just getting too old for this sh*t.” So it came as a bit of surprise; that for the first time in a long time I wanted to go the movies. Not just one movie but several movies. On most occasions, it is rare to find one film you will brave the company of obnoxious cell phone addicts to go see, let alone five. It didn’t hurt that two of the films were middle installments to films I’d already seen, of books I’d read. Two of the films were by directors I love: Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers. Call me nostalgic, but the last movie in the list was a period piece centered around the late 70’s. I guess I’m going to the movies. (Spoiler alert)
The first movie on the list was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I’ve always thought the second book in Suzanne Collins trilogy was just a lazy re-hatch of the first book with very little extra thrown in to make it a unique story. Katniss and Peeta are once again sent into the arena to fight for their lives, shock and horror ensue, Peeta adds very little to the equation yet again and we’re left with a cliff hanger at the end. The plot I wanted to see was Katniss becoming a mentor and being emotionally invested in her pupil. We as readers could still relive the arena but now through the eyes of a surrogate parent watching her child go through hell. Alas, this was not the book I read or the movie I saw. Having said that, I would have to say I enjoyed the movie. More than the book anyway and more than any other dystopian future YA action flick of recent memory . Jennifer Lawrence is extremely watchable and the direction this time around felt more synchronized to the emotional turmoil of what was going-on on screen. The supporting cast are fun as well with Donald Sutherland, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson having a good time in their roles. After watching the Katniss- Peeta -Gale dynamic, I have one question: are love triangles going to be the new norm? As audience members, will we always be choosing teams? What’s wrong with the tried and true: boy meets girl, girl isn’t impressed with boy, boy does something uncharacteristically selfless, girl falls for boy, boy falls for girl, misunderstanding breaks up boy and girl, misunderstanding solved, boy and girl live happily ever after, throw in some blood sucking monkeys – the end? 3.5/5
Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street was next on the list. This is one bloated hot mess of a film. Clocking in at around three hours, it tells the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s ( Leonardo DiCaprio ) shameless rise to obnoxious decadence and the tidal wave he creates along the way. What are we to make of such a story? Scorsese titillates and repulses in equal measures but never sermonizes. I liked the fact we were shown a person for what they were and got to apply our own moral compass to the proceedings. The movie didn’t lay its own verdict in our laps. We’re conditioned for movie karma to kick in, but it never does. Watching someone abuse themselves as well as enabling everyone around them to abuse themselves for three hours is both exhausting and a little tiresome but the movie was never boring and at times, it was laugh out loud funny. The plot was minimal and the performances fun. I appreciated what Scorsese was going for ( or what I projected he was going for) but it falls short of some of his greater works. In the end it left me undecided, so I know I am going to have to revisit it again. This tends to be a good sign. 4/5
Next up The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I enjoy Middle Earth as much as the next guy and am always pleased when I’m there. The greatest thing about these movies for me is that they employ so many artists and creative types. That’s excellent work if you can get it. Spending a couple of years designing dragons and elfish architecture sounds like fun to me. The team Peter Jackson has working for him does a superb job. The world they’ve visualized is both magical and believable at the same time. I am by no means a Tolkein purist and wouldn’t know the difference between a Wood-Elf from a Noldor Elf and am quite OK with that. The fact that characters who were not in the book show up to add equal parts action and romance doesn’t bother me in the least. The hints of a love triangle are luckily underplayed. The action sequences are thrilling and there may even be the odd cough cough explosion like thing. In the end, Smaug steels the show and is riveting to look at. Like Catching Fire the movie ends right when your interest has peaked to what will happen next. 4/5
American Hustle has so much going for it, but falls just shy of greatness. It takes a while to hit its stride and never comes close to films it’s being compared to like Goodfellas or Boogie Nights. Don’t get me wrong, it is an enjoyable watch with a great soundtrack but gets too easily bogged down with needless dialogue when actions would have served it better. The story is about the art of the long con. The more you tell someone ‘no’ the more they want it. This philosophy serves our protagonist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) well. He and his girlfriend played by Amy Adams are pinched by the FBI (Bradley Cooper) and forced to apply their talents to help entrap other shady characters. Everyone puts in a wonderful performance with the stand outs for me being Jeremy Renner’s altruistic Mayor and Irving’s over the top wife played by Jennifer Lawrence; the film really doesn’t get going until she shows up. My other two favourite things in the film were the ice fishing story and the term ‘science oven’. Unfortunately David O’ Russell lets you taste the seventies but you never really get to feel it. 4/5
By the time I got to the Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis the tickle in my throat that started somewhere between the Wolf and the Hobbit had blossomed into a full blown cold and I was feeling miserable. But at the same time, so was Llewyn Davis. Oscar Isaac does a wonderful job playing the cantankerous title character. Llewyn is a 60’s folk singer who just can’t seem to catch a break, most of it by his own design. Every decision he is faced with, he makes the wrong one. The Coen’s have created a character that is all sorts of shades of gray. The palette of the film reflects this with all the bright colours being bleached away. It is not that Llewyn isn’t good at what he does. It seems he’s just as competent as everybody else in the film in the folk arena. (I know as much about folk music as I do about elves.) but some are succeeding at it and he is definitely not. This is a cold hard fact about art, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are at it, sometimes the world just isn’t interested. The film takes place over the span of a week where rich characters slip in and out of his life (John Goodman is especially brilliant), all along the way he is chasing an elusive orange tabby. Inside Llewyn Davis is a subtle meditation on art, conceit, compromise, responsibility and the fact that life happens while you’re making other plans. 4.5/5
I think I’m good for going to the movies for a while. All in all, a most enjoyable romp through the 80’s, 70’s, and 60’s book ended by the middle ages and a dystopian future. The three period pieces highlighted seriously flawed characters and their poor decision making skills. I’m not sure why we gravitate towards these types of people at this time in society. Are they meant to be cautionary tales or glimpses of bygone values? Our entertainment will always reflect our sociology, and at least for the time being it’s not vampires.