Sunday, February 28, 2016

AMC Oscar Movie Showcase 2016 Recap


        It’s the Sunday after the AMC Best Picture Showcase. Which means, among other things, I’ll be spending the rest of my day in a cocoon, unable to hear the word “popcorn” without having terrible flashbacks to midnight and some desperate moves to stay awake. Like hitting that fourth bag of popcorn at midnight.

But we had to do what we had to do.

The Marathon my friends and I attended once again was at AMC Georgetown, where the crew goes out of their way to provide a spectacular event, not just a bunch of movies shown back to back. We get a real show, from a red carpet to pictures in front of a marquee, to prizes and a continental breakfast. They even went out of their way this year to remind people to not use their phones, and to kindly shut the hell up while the movies were playing.

As i do with every year, I’m going to give a brief rundown of the movies and my thoughts on them. Keep in mind, I’m not a professional film critic in that… well, the only real qualification I can see for being a film critic is to watch movies and give opinions on them, so many be I am a film critic, in that I give opinions on movies. But keep in mind, these are my opinions, and just that. If you don’t like them, as a man much smarter than me said… well, that’s just like your opinion, man. This year, I’m using a grading scale for my scores.

As another wise man once told me, all grades are subjective. It’s just an easy guide. Also, I grade these a lot harsher, because they’re Oscar movies.

10:30 a.m. - Brooklyn

After getting settled in and shoving a few people out of the way to make sure we got the seats we really wanted, our first movie was Brookyln. It’s about an Irish woman who seeks a better life in America after escaping her Irish town. The movie itself was very well crafted and it it holds the distinction of having the only scene in all the Oscar movies in which the main character has to use the restroom in a bucket on a ship that is being tossed through the waves. If Leo doesn’t win this year, expect to see him do it next year, too.

I liked this film. It’s a sweet love story: Irish girl meets Italian Boy, goes back to her hometown after marrying Irish boy, gets sucked back in. It’s subtly nuanced in the idea that it is our attitude that can make what is around us. Or something like that. Here’s the thing though… Best Picture? Not really. It’s just that in the end, a sweet story. But it doesn’t innovate, or try to tell a story in a bigger picture. It’s a small story, and quite frankly, while it is still probably one of the best films of 2015, I’m wondering why it got picked over a lot of other movies out there.

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: B.

12:46 p.m. - The Big Short

Fun fact, I won a shirt with “The Big Short” on it after answering  trivia question about Will Ferrell correctly. Take THAT everyone who said that my knowledge of Will Ferrell was useless. 

Anyway, this is the movie about the people that predicted the financial collapse in the early 2000’s. As the movie puts it, “the series of oddballs and losers who figured it out.” Of course no one listened to them. What I really liked about this movie was the lengths it went to get you to care about material that is normally dryer than the toast that Elwood likes to eat in the Blues Brothers movie.

I shouldn’t have had to explain it that much. you should see Blues Brothers, too.

Anyway, it uses some interesting ways to explain how these bad deals work, such as Margot Robbie in a bubble bath (which I’m proposing everything be explained from here on out), Anthony Bourdain making stew, and Selna Gomez losing 10 million dollars at the Blackjack table. This is all done to the audience, breaking the fourth wall, including in other innovative ways, like explaining that this scene didn’t really happen, or it really happened that way. Which was bold, but for a movie with a subject matter that was apparently so boring no one cared bout when it took place, and people STILL aren’t caring about despite the fact that it could happen again, it’s pretty interesting.

Also, screw Babadook and It Follows. THIS is probably the scariest movie of the year. 

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: A

3:20 p.m. - Room

Whew, boy. I’m about to get attacked.

I didn’t like Room

Now, before you bring out the pitchforks and torches, let’s touch on a few things. Adapted from the book, Room tells the story of a young woman and her son who are trapped in a shed. Joy had been kidnapped as a teenager and repeatedly raped by a man only known as Old Nick, eventually resulting in her son who just turned five. 

My opinion of it had nothing to do with the subject matter or the performances. Quite frankly everyone involved in that movie should win some kind of Oscar for performances.

My problem is that it’s the safest possible way that you could play that movie. It was an episode of Law and Order: SVU without the moralizing from the detectives tacked on to the end.

What made Room, the book, so interesting was that it was told through the eyes of Jack, the young son of Joy who is the product of this relationship. The book was darker as it told the story through his eyes, forcing the reader to pick up on extra cues, learning how he views things. Room and Old Nick are just facts of life for him, and the terror and tension comes from this lack for understanding. The outside world, again, is presented through this lack of understanding. But the movie spoon feeds as much of the material as quickly as possible to get to the tense parts. Again, I felt that the performances should be lauded. The movie… just kind of took up space from other, better movies that should have been nominated. 

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: C+… for the acting.

After Room was dinner. Which was nice, because our group got burgers and let out our best Leonardo DiCaprio jokes because the next movie was…

6:25 p.m. - The Revenant

The movie tells the tale of pure hatred in the face of being mauled by a CGI bear, then someone killing your kid, then having Native Americans attack. Also something about pelts. There was a lot happening in this movie. I’d like to cover it all, but I don’t have the space (maybe I’ll revisit all of these later) But suffice it to say, Leonardio DiCaprio did act his hardest as Hugh Glass, a man betrayed and left for dead after the aforementioned CGI Bear attack. Which was graphic.

Also, if you play dead and the bear starts to walk away, maybe you play dead a little longer and not invite the bear to attack you again. Just a thought.

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: B

9:30 p.m. - Spotlight

Here’s where the watching gets tough. Not just because this was about a newspaper covering the Priest Abuse scandal that everyone only remembers through jokes and not a real problem, but because it’s getting late and we’re at the halfway point. The movies are good, but fortunately we have a varied list this year… from small town Irish Drama to post Apocalyptic Thriller. 

What was interesting about this movie was in the way it was filmed, I felt that everything was moving forward at all times, which again, isn’t easy with it’s subject matter. Its almost as if a movie like Room thought it could play it safer with the story being told because it was interesting, whereas The Big Short and Spotlight HAD to movie forward in ways that kept people engaged. It forced them to innovate, if forced the actors to work the script in different ways. I liked the risks it took… the way it portrayed the victims, the way it recalled the way people refused to believe this at the time, the subtle adversarial relationship the Cardinal had with the newspaper. It was really well done. So much could have gone wrong with this movie, but this, to me, was the first real contender of the night. 

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: A

Midnight - Mad Max: Fury Road.

Midnight is my favorite part of the movie marathon. The theater is emptying. they always step it up with something interesting... But there's magic right now. We've been watching films for 14 hours, with another 7 to go. I love movies. Marathons like this are a dream come true for me. People ask... How can you do it. I know it's not an endurance contest, or a great feat. They're referring to how I can sit passive for so long. But it's not passive. It's getting into the film, laughing or gasping with everyone. It's a shared experience, and once a year I get to live out for a full day with my friends and people I see only once a year. I love this. It is my magic.

I’ve analyzed this movie to death in another post. It’s a beautifully constructed film that deserves to be up in this spot, but too many snobs and critics who have long lost their joy refuse to admit it. I’d love to see this win for so many reasons. From the V-8 symbol of the hands, to the use of color and practical effects, to the film that never makes you feel like you’re stopping… a perfect movie that took risks. 

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: A+

2:25 a.m. - Bridge of Spies.

Spielberg and Hanks. It’s a combination as stable as Charlie Sheen and jokes about how hard Charlie Sheen parties. Sorry, I haven’t gotten much sleep. 

It’s a cold war thriller, based on a true story, about the guy that has to do the job no one else wanted, to defend a captured spy so he could be taken into basically a Kangaroo Court while showing everyone that American Justice is the best Justice. Its a job that no one would take today, because, as the film puts it, “[he was] seen as a traitor by the more ignorant part of the population.” I feel that’s too much these days. But it’s about a brave man doing brave things in the face of all opposition. As we all pointed out… Steve Spielberg knows how to tell a story. He knows how to construct and engage everyone from the first couple of scenes. It’s truly remarkable. 

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: A

5:10 a.m. - The Martian 

This is the other movie i’ve written about. (And I’ve seen.) I could write further about it, but basically it’s the same: It’s the Anti-Gravity, the movie that was supposed to be groundbreaking about Sandra Bullock being stuck in space. Except this time we get an uplifting story about a man who defies all the odds to survive on Mars, and makes jokes about it. Again, this movie took risks with the storytelling, giving us basically a one-man show of Matt Damon farming space potatoes to live. Worth it to watch him science the shit of of the situation.

Professor Bad Shakespeare’s Grade: A

So, that’s it. 22 hours of movies, endless buckets of popcorn, tons of Leo and bear jokes, and just a great time. What do I think is going to win tonight? I think the movie that the Academy votes for is going to win, which isn’t always the “best.” The Best is a matter of taste and perspective, and even if the Academy votes on 99% of the ballot you have in front of you, the one thing we’ll hear about is the one they got “wrong.” Despite the fact that this is an opinion contest, not a fact contest. 

Which one do I want to win? I’d love to see them give it to Mad Max: Fury Road which took real risks with its filmmaking. No adapted story, a large, sprawling epic wrapped up in a small story, a world built within seconds on the screen, no spoon-feeding to the audience, no reliance on pandering through CGI… When I think movies that deserve it, I think movies like this.

Who do I think it’s going to get it? Hell if I know. I’m just a guy who likes watching movies.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Go See Deadpool


             Let’s start out this analysis with a truth: The Deadpool movie, as we have it now should not exist. When the Deadpool character first showed up in the movies, he was played by Ryan Reynolds in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine as a character that sorta resembled the character but without everything that made him exciting. And then he got his head cut off.

            The End.

            Hollywood is not known really for second changes. Movie tanked? We’ll go ahead and reboot it. Actor doesn’t want to play the part anymore? Well, then, let’s cast a new one. It’s what’s given us three Spidermen in the past 10 years, and how many Batmen are we up to? 7? But Wolverine wasn’t exactly remembered fondly (except as a cautionary tale) and Deadpool from that movie is remembered even less fondly. The likelihood of a Ryan Reynolds-led Deadpool movie was slim.

            But we somehow got one. A proper one. And ladies and gentlemen… it is an incredible piece of cinema.

            For those who don’t know, Deadpool is an incredibly popular comic book character that has been deformed in an effort to cure his cancer, and is given the superpower of super-healing and a super-wicked sense of humor. He also frequently breaks the fourth wall and may or may not know he’s a comic book character.  He also isn’t 100% sure of his origins, which makes an origin story an interesting place to start. (And plays in nicely to the whole “at one point he had his mouth sewn shut and had swords coming out of his hands.”)

            Deadpool, the movie, is a violent, raunchy, profane, perfect adaption of the comic book. Ryan Reynolds plays the character (for the first time one might argue) of Wade Wilson, small time mercenary who finds out he’s been diagnosed with cancer after proposing to his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin). In an effort to cure it, he enlists the help of a super-secret organization headed up by Ajax (Ed Skrein) that promises to turn him into a superhero.

            Quick note: the super-secret organization never wants to turn you into a superhero. Sorry.

            Disfigured but with the ability to heal any injury, Deadpool goes off on a hilarious quest to get revenge on Ajax, occasionally aided by X-Men Colossus and the wonderfully named Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Oh, and eventually get back together with his girl.

            Let’s start out with what’s awesome with this movie. This is a film that is constructed in a way that is almost perfect. The opening credits set the mood immediately by being through the eyes of Deadpool himself. Over a frozen image of the carnage that Deadpool will later cause, while “Just Call me Angel” plays, we are told that this stars a CGI character, comic relief, and an overpaid tool. The writers are the real heroes.

            Normally, this would be the high point of any movie, but what it does is set the bar. It sets the bar high. The action flashes back just before that frozen image, to Deadpool hilariously making his way to the action sequence in a taxi, bored, without money, and willing to pay with only a crisp high-five. Immediately, we are dropped into the action with Deadpool offering up commentary, without the long slog of an origin story wondering “When are we going to get to the fireworks factory.”

            That doesn’t mean this movie glosses over his origin (which, as mentioned, is dubious) or that this is an incredibly complex character. In the comics, Deadpool is a wisecracking, fourth wall breaking, mercenary that started out as a parody of the ultra-violent vigilantes that popped up in the 1990’s.  It may seem out of place here, but over the years writers have given him more of a reason to be who he is. The secret of the character is that even with his popularity being based on his more funny and violent tendencies, they mask the fact that this is a very tragic character. He has superpowers, but at a terrible cost. He has to deal with the fact that he has little choice but to use his powers, constantly masked, because of the fact that he’s now disfigured. A disfigurement that is a result of his healing power, as it is constantly attacking the cancer that is riddling his body.

            And the movie doesn’t shy away from this. There are jokes – the movie never takes itself overly seriously, much like the character himself – but he is isolated because of his disfigurement. He can do all of these amazing things, but at the end of the day, people focus only on that. And he doesn’t fit in with the good guys – they’re too limiting. Colossus has some wonderful speeches about the meaning of being a hero while Deadpool generally doesn’t listen. 

            The movie captures the heart of Deadpool. He’s not a hero. He’s not a villain. He’s not even an anti-hero. He’s Deadpool.

            Most of this movie’s success is reliant on the Ryan Reynolds, who has done more than any other actor I can think of to sell a movie. There’s a lot o talk about and analyze here, including that of an actor primarily known for his looks (the movie plays off the fact that he’s the sexiest man alive) who is willing to remain masked for a large part of the movie. He’s introduced masked. The climax doesn’t involve a flimsy excuse like say, oh… Spiderman or Iron Man… to remove his mask or have it knocked off. A lot of the time we equate “dedication to the role” with “Oscar worthy performance” where Daniel Day Lewis lives as Abraham Lincoln for six months, or Leonardo Dicaprio builds a time machine so he can actually go visit the Titanic. But Ryan Reynolds dedicates himself to this role to the point that if it were a more prestigious movie, we’d be talking Oscar for him. Some say “This is the part he was born to play” but he’s dedicated so much for this movie its amazing.

            Of course, the success of Deadpool has lead to speculation as to why it was a success. (Which is sad in and of itself) A lot of people had this pegged to do well, but it ended up doubling every figure possible.  Everyone's running around trying to figure out why Deadpool was a critical and commercial success. Was it because it was rated R? Was it because of all the violence? It was a success because they took a character everyone wanted to see, cast an actor that was not only enthusiastic for the role but a perfect fit for it, and they didn't change or water down the character. They presented him as the character everyone loved, and did so unapologetically. There was no addition of a mystical cat force, or an explanation of the unexplainable. It was simply a character everyone loved, presented as how they loved him, without watering down the character for a specific audience.

Of course, that’s not without someone trying, wanting a PG-13 version for some reason. It should be noted that the way this was shot that a PG-13 version would be about 8 minutes long. 

The bottom line is that this is a fun film, and it shows in every frame. That’s what makes it work. It never takes it self so seriously that it can’t stop for a cheap joke (My favorite is still the idea that he go by the name “Captain Deadpool” at first.) It’s never tries to be so funny that it doesn’t take a moment for a dramatic pause, or to remind you that there are real people here that have real complex emotions. It uses its CGI, stars, and setting to the fullest extent it can. And mostly, it creates a world that feels lived in.

I stopped doing ratings here because at the end of the day, they’re pretty arbitrary. I give it a five out of five and what does that tell you? I liked it? I just gave you a write up that talks about it. I don’t think this needs a rating. What it needs is for you to go see it. What movies like this need are support from audiences that tell Hollywood that if you give us adaptions of things - good adaptions - we’ll go see it. This is one of the most faithful adaptions of source material I’ve ever seen. And the movie is better because of it in every way.

Go see Deadpool Now! 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bad Shakespeare's Guide to the Best Valentine's Day Movies

The Only Captain we need... for Love

               L’amour, amirite?

            Yes, it’s that time of year again in between the vast wasteland that is Christmas and the Ides of March the greeting card industry has made a holiday that forces us all to “love” each other, much like a skunk the second he sees a black cat that accidentally rubbed up against a freshly painted white fence. It compels us give out paper hearts and other assorted goodies that usually are candy. So, I can’t fault them for that part. I do enjoy candy. But what if you find yourself alone on this most sacred of invented holidays? Why, the best possible way is to settle down with a few movies.

            It’s important to note at this point that this is pretty much my solution to everything. Bad day at work? Movies. Best friend stabbed you in the back at the behest of your other best friend so he could take off with your girl? Movies. Went to go see a bad movie? Movies. It’s really the only solution.

            But which ones? It seems like the only real romance that America is producing lately is in the form of Nicolas Sparks latest fill in the blank masterpieces. Who’s going to die? Who’s going to end up in the hospital? Will you cry? It’s easy to make fun of Mr. Sparks because he’s gotten away with writing the same book over and over again, but he presumably has a Scrooge McDuck Style Moneybin in his backyard and whichever servant isn’t currently flossing his teeth will read him this blog as his Google Alerts. (Plus, I always kind of liked A Walk To Remember. That one was pretty sweet.) However, what Nicolas Sparks-free movies are good for you to watch on this Valentine’s Day?

Fortunately, Bad Shakespeare is here to help with my list of the best Valentine’s Day movies for any mood.

Best Bromance: The Emperor’s New Groove

This right here. This is Guy Love.
            Let’s start with a movie that doesn’t get a lot of love the rest of the year, and doesn’t feature a bunch of kissing with the exception of a little bit of John Goodman on Llama action at the midway point. The Emperor’s New Groove, about a spoiled Emperor who is turned in to a llama for hilarious reasons, is perhaps the goofiest Disney movie since A Goofy Movie, which legally is the only Disney movie that’s allowed to be called “Goofy.” I’m sure their lawyers would be on the phone with me in minutes if more than seven people read this blog. (Hi, mom! There may be swearing later.)

            Regardless, this underrated Disney Masterpiece on the surface is about a rich brat learning his lesson, but underneath is actually about the power of friendship, both in the characters of Kuzco and Pacha, the John Goodman-esque llama farmer who seeks to return his enemy to the throne, but also in the loyalty of Kronk and Izma, the people who ineptly turned Kuzco into a llama in the first place. At the end of the day, neither can really achieve their goals without the help of that friend in the first place, even if they manage to drive them crazy with their wacky antics. Don’t want love but want the unending power of friendship to guide you through the heart-shaped Twixts? Throw in the Emperor’s Groove.

(Which is an abomination. Everyone knows that Twixts should be candy bar shaped, and the left one tastes better which is why you save it for last.)

Best Tragic Romance: Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog

It's more romantic if you know he's planning on blowing up the world for her.

            Not really a movie as it first aired on something called “the internet” this is a tragic/fun romance that ends in death and much too soon, like every thing Joss Whedon does. The story of an evil scientist that just wants to get noticed by the Evil League of Evil and the cute girl he so longs to flirt with that he sees doing laundry from time to time. Wouldn’t you know it, though, as one of his evil schemes goes awry and he ends up introducing her to Captain Hammer, sparking up their romance.

            Yes, this entry was largely an excuse to get a Nathan Fillion movie on the list, and his work on Slither just wasn’t going to make it.

            No, this movie has all the makings of a wonderful Joss Whedon production, including catchy songs that are fun and lighthearted until they hit you with a twinge of longing and romance (“With my freeze ray I will stop… the pain.”) and a good story where you hope the bad guy is going to win long enough to get the girl, but in the end, he loses her to his own ambition. There’s a powerful lesson here about focusing on what’s important, and probably not being a character in a Joss Whedon anything.

            Also, where’s Doctor Horrible 2, Joss? And an Angel movie? (I like to pretend more than seven people read this. Hello, again, mom! No, no swearing yet.)

Best Romance, Tom Hanks Style: Joe Versus the Volcano.

            Some of you in the audience are too young to remember but there was a time when Tom Hanks was just a funny guy, unless you paid attention to the darkness he could portray in The ‘Burbs and Punchline. You’ve seen the former movie. I feel like I'm the only one who's seen the latter, but when you’re not binging on the list I’m giving you for Valentine’s Day, you should check it out. Anyway, he used to do a lot of comedies, especially romantic comedies, and while I could have thrown a dart at his IMDB page before 2001 and hit one, I chose one of his best, as a young man named Joe Banks who’s diagnosed with a terminal disease and is given only a few months to live. An insane billionaire gives him anything he wants, so long as he jumps into a volcano to appease the inhabitants of a tiny island, and so the billionaire can keep mining a precious resource he uses to make his special brand of Orange Soda.

            No. Really.

            Along the way he falls in love with Meg Ryan, three times.

            No, really… there are three women in this movie. All of them are Meg Ryan.

            This movie gets on the list for it’s uplifting message that you should live every day like you’re going to jump into a volcano. That is, Joe leaves his miserable life of hypochondria and eventually learns to love himself, which opens him up to the possibility of love with the most fleshed out, least depressing Meg Ryan that is available at the end of the film. This movie actually warrants a lot of analysis, but that’s another post where I’m not trying to cheer you up.

Best Romance, Disney Style: Hercules

How most people feel about Valentine's Day, summed up in one image.
            I have a confession to make.  Hercules is my favorite movie because it’s the one where the characters come the furthest from the beginning. Let’s face it: Hercules is a jerk who becomes a hero not to save all of the people he can save because he’s literally got the strength of a god, but because he wants to go home and live with the gods. Phil is a gluttonous, lustful, goat-man who wants to be known for training a hero. Hades… actually he’s pretty cool, I like him. And Meg just thinks everyone deserves misery, because she is. She spends a lot of time denying her feelings for Hercules. And even Hercules, who is in “love” with her to start, is just trying to reap the hero’s reward.

            But, this is actually one of my favorite Disney movies, because it’s actually about finding yourself to find love. Meg isn’t a redheaded mermaid who was secretly trying to overthrow the king. Hercules doesn’t have the aid of a magic carpet or wise-cracking monkey. And this story isn’t a highly romanticized tale taking from Victor Hugo or the darkest parts of American History. No, this is tale about real love. Hercules gets everything he wants in the end: not just learning that self-sacrifice makes you a hero, but he became an actual god. And he gives it up. Why? To be with the one he truly loves. Meg. Because she needed him, and the best part is, he needed her to remind him of what it meant to be an actual hero, not just a glory-hound because he can do more than the mortals.

            It’s a sweet story.

 Most Romantic Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

Denzel and Keanu! Together at last!

Joss Whedon. Kenneth Branagh. Either one is pretty great. Shakespeare’s classic tale about the battle of the sexes is pretty awesome. If you want laugh out loud funny, I’d recommend Joss Whedon’s black and white version that manages to firmly place itself in present times, but manages to remain timeless. If you want to watch Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves be brothers, I’d recommend Kenneth Branagh. That has the bonus of having the funnier version of Dogberry, the tragic hero of the entire play. Both are excellent, and worth your time.

Most Romantic Nicolas Cage: City of Angels

This happened.

            A movie list that doesn’t mention Nicolas Cage? The man has literally done every genre. Superhero? Indiana Jones ripoff? Die Hard in a…? Comedy? Academy Award Winning? (Hi, Leo! One of you seven, forward this to Leonardo DiCaprio.)  Of course he can do drama. In this case we return to the time when Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts were competing weekly in underground fight clubs to determine who would be America’s Sweetheart, and Meg Ryan got the chance to be the romantic lead in this tale of an angel who falls in love with a human. That angel is Nicolas Cage. Yes, the ending is tragic (Spoiler for an 18 year old movie) in that she dies, but the point is you get to see Nicolas Cage at his most romantic. And really, isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is about?

         Fun fact, I once took a date to this movie. It was our first. There was not a second. 

Most Romantic Movie: The Princess Bride

Don't hassle him. He's been mostly dead all day
             Seriously, this movie has literally everything… sword fighting, revenge, true love, rodents of unusual size, Carey Elwes, Andre the Giant, fire swamps… If you really know nothing about this movie, then go watch it now. Not even for Valentine’s Day. Just… go check it out. I can’t even be funny about it.

Best Valentine’s Day Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

pictured: True love
            I deliberated for a long time about what I felt the best movie for this, the holiday with the most love except for my Birthday. And I really had to settle on one: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

            It’s a tale as old as time itself: a young man falls in love with a woman, and together they grow up while dealing with each other’s baggage. In this case, the baggage happens to be Scott’s inability to grow up and take responsibility for himself, and in Romana’s case, her seven evil ex’s who are going to try to kill Scott in hilarious, video-game style combat. It’s heavier than it sounds.

            What makes this movie so spectacular is its ability to mix a dramatic subject like real love – the type of love that requires real work, not just a few “I love yous” or “you complete mes” or [insert Nicolas Sparks plot here] – And present it in a comedy format, one that is frantic and features a lot of people exploding into coins. Plus, Captain America fighting Michael Cera. I’m not really sure where else you’re going to find that.

            I could go on with others, but really, remember at the end of the day that Valentine’s Day… like any other holiday… was invented for some reason or another. Finding love isn’t the end-all/be-all of existence, and it’s definitely not worth Roses with a mildly severe markup for a day because the red heart on the calendar tells you so.  The best thing you can do with this day is what you do with every day… sit back, relax, and put on a good movie. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Movie Analysis: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

What is about zombies that continues to fascinate us? They don’t have a motivation like a vampire, and even if they’re driven by impulse they’re not agile like a Werewolf. They’re not articulate enemies, so they can’t really monologue before you kill them. They don’t have motivation. They just… are. One isn’t even particularly scary. Even on the Walking Dead we’ve gotten to the point where one or two is a nuisance. 

But they persist. We see them on TV in at least three TV shows, one where a zombie is working as a medical examiner and has the superpower to solve crimes by eating their brains. There’s the zany antics of Z-Nation which most recently killed a bunch of zombies with a block of cheese. And there’s the aforementioned The Walking Dead where the main theme seems to be bad decisions, sweat, not saying the word “zombie”, and trying to make parts of George look like the area around Washington, D.C. (Pro tip, there would be a lot more cars. Like… a lot.) We’ve seen them reinvented, Twilighted (Thanks, Warm Bodies for our requisite Romantic Zombie), hunted by Abraham Lincoln, parodies, and they’ll continue to remake Dawn of the Dead until sometime after the actual zombie apocalypse, in which case it will be a documentary.

Of course, all of this leads up to the most recent zombie film (Which I hope I can say since it came out on Friday, and there very well could have been seven more released between now and then) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

That’s right. We don’t just have zombies. We have literary zombies!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is pretty much all in the title. It’s Jane Austen’s classic tale, but with more zombies added in for good measure.

Ok, it’s more complicated than that.

It’s the tale of Lizzy Bennet and her sisters, all of whom her mother wishes to have married off at some point because back in that day apparently women were only good for marriage. Oh, and in this case, zombie slaying, because the movie is set in a world where zombie hoards are constantly attacking various places in England, and much of the culture has been changed to reflect that. For instance, Mr. Darcy, the eventual love of Lizzy (spoilers… I guess….) is now Col. Darcy, one of the generals in the war against zombies. He is called “Mr. Darcy” by Lizzy’s constant refusal to acknowledge him in his military rank. The girls are trained in the art of killing zombies, with some interesting moments I’ll mention when I get to the analysis. But the story is the same: Lizzy and her sisters lives are shaken up by the arrival of Col… um, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Jane falls for Bingley, they leave, Pastor Collins shows up, tries to marry one of his cousins, Darcy sends his letter. There’s the evil Wickham who is made less of a jerk and more of mustache twirling villain in this particular version. All of this in the backdrop that an minute a hoard of zombies will burst through the gates, destroying them all. 

And that’s what works about the movie. The movie itself is essentially “Pride and Prejudice”. There’s no post apocalyptic vibe to the movie. Lizzy and her family still lives on a lavish estate, and the zombies are more of a nuisance rather than a major threat for most of the movie. The love story: Lizzy, believing she doesn’t need love vs. Darcy, who is too shy to admit he is in love, plays out as usual, with the occasional break in the action for… well, zombie action.

What works about this movie is the world they created, one that honors the original book’s satirical look at aristocracy but adds in this additional threat level. I’d argue that the movie actually takes it to a different level. Early on, it’s mentioned that these aristocrats actually train and are expected to be able to fight off zombies on their own - no damseling for these ladies who, in the original book and this, are essentially hunting for husbands as well as zombie flesh. (They should have let me write the tagline.) But the movie goes a step further, the really rich are trained in special schools in Japan, while rich but not as rich as the others train in China. Lizzy and her family trains in China, and this becomes an actual plot point later, as Lizzy is mocked for her “poor” training, despite the fact that she and her sisters are seen mowing down a hoard of zombies early on.

Another note before I get back to the analysis, this is another part of the idea of zombies that fascinates me: the idea that one isn’t scary (as mentioned before) but a hoard of them is terrifying. But rather than having our methods of taking care of them: The most recent Walking Dead features a gentleman picking up a rocket launcher that better come into play pretty soon, here we have zombies attacking when weapons involved 20 minutes of reloading. That adds another level of terror, quite frankly, as they can’t just jump in their cars and run away. Being thrown off a horse spooked by a zombie is a major point for Jane. (Who does manage to kill the zombie.)

There’s even this level of aristocracy among the zombies as (spoiler again) there is introduced a level of aristocratic zombie, that being those bitten but those who haven’t consumed their first set of brains, so they decay, but they retain some humanity. So, essentially what is crafted is a movie that adds zombies to a classic, but retains much of what Jane Austen set to do in her satiric take on aristocracy and love: make fun of the hell out of it. What’s lost is that this is a largely satiric book to begin with, with most of the characters being parodies of what Jane Austen was observing at the time. This movie heightens that. 

The most pivotal scene to me, is the scene in the ball where Mrs. Bennet is discussing her joy at having Mr. Bingley show interest in Jane. This is the scene that ends up driving Mr. Darcy to tell Bingley to run away from this mess of a family. But during this scene Lizzy tries to stop her mother from talking in this way, and she playfully bites her. The filmmakers here are linking the two satires: in the biting of her daughter she is showing her one track mind of getting them married off, while linking to the humor of having zombies, and their one track mind for consuming flesh, now involved in this revered book. 

I will admit that it falls apart a little bit in the final act as it becomes a standard “rescue” story. Wickham still steals Lydia (essentially) and Darcy makes some questionable decisions under a forced timeline (Will Lizzy and Darcy make it to the bridge before it’s destroyed? Yes. Yes tehy will.) and it’s a little bit of a shame that it loses the brilliance introduced in the first two acts of the film to be a standard zombie film with the faceless hoards now descending upon our heroes. But its a small price to pay to see Matt Smith as Pastor Collins, marrying off the woman for whom he’d been pining for a large portion of the film. 

I do recommend this movie, yes, even for Austen Purists. It’s a fascinating look at Austen and the world she creates through the lens of the undead. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How Groundhog Day Taught Me The Meaning of Life

It’s obvious at this point, I love movies. They’ve been important to me since my father took me to a little movie called Ghostbusters and I can remember the first images of the lion statues appeared across from some scary music. It changed my life, actually.  And as an extreme lover of movies who regularly plans out what he’ll be seeing sometimes months in advance (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this weekend!) I often get asked, “What’s your favorite movie?” 

To me, that’s a very complicated question. 

My go-to is usually The Big Lebowski. How can anyone really not admire a movie so perfectly crafted around a guy who wants his rug back set in a noir world of fake kidnapping, evil Germans (one played by Flea), artists, con artists… the movie really has everything anyone could want in a movie. Endlessly quotable, set in the past when it was made so it never feels dated… just perfect.

It’s more complicated than that. I love that movie, but for terms of movie that is perfectly crafted while still managing to raise questions, I love Birdman. Is it all in his head? Was it real? Is Michael Keaton in love with fame, or is he showing how losing it can literally destroy you? Man. What a great movie. 

I could go on. I love the chemistry in the recent remake of Man from UNCLE. Mad Max: Fury Road is textbook how you make a character driven movie set against the back drop of a giant car chase. Young Frankenstein, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid shows that in order to parody your material, you must first love it. The Man Who Knew Too Little shows us that Bill Murray can elevate any movie, unless it largely features uber-redhead Emma Stone trying to play an asian. I digress.

But to me, there’s one movie that stand out above them all as the movie that explains just how life words. It’s a movie that’s extremely special to me. And that movie, appropriate for today, is Groundhog Day.

If you don’t know what Groundhog Day is about… seriously? You don’t know what one of the greatest movies of all time is about? It’s about life. That’s what it’s about. It’s about a weatherman named Phil Connors, played deftly by THE Bill Murray, who gets stuck in a time loop on Groundhog Day. There he learns to appreciate his life. I promise you if you turn on the television, today, it will be on.

On the surface the movie is pretty simple with a message that’s about as subtle as the monster in It Follows. You have to learn to appreciate your surroundings, you have to learn to be a better person, etc. It’s a loud message, and one I wouldn’t normally appreciate in a movie because the message is so loud and in your face. By the time Phil is bringing pastries to everyone and playing the piano at a random couple’s wedding, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a changed man. And, according to the script, it only took 10,000 years. (The script had a lot that wasn’t in the movie. He was in the loop for 10,000 years, and he was there because of a witch’s curse. Again, this is how you make a movie: You know why it happened, you just don’t tell everything. You don’t, for instance, pan your camera across a bunch of people trying to have sex, then a happy family that’s out of danger, then back to a couple have sex. I apparently still have some issues with It Follows, and how it managed to fool everyone into people thinking it’s good. Another post for another day, I suppose…)

The big message of Groundhog Day is not in the giant flashing billboard at the end: Be a better person. The big message of the classic Groundhog Day is this: It’s ok to get things wrong.

Yes, the movie is about Phil Connor, a weatherman so despicable but just redeemable enough that you like him. It also helps that he’s played by Bill Murray, who’s got a charisma that everyone should love. Now. If you don’t love his charisma, what is wrong with you? But the entire movie is about how he gets it wrong, for so long. When he first realizes he’s stuck in a loop and that “tomorrow doesn't matter”, he ends up in prison. He uses his abilities to rob, to mess with people… at one point to hork all the pastries in a diner like the end of the world was just around the corner. (Again, he had no tomorrow.) He even enters an existential despair and ends up killing himself, repeatedly. Because he keeps getting it wrong.

It’s that wrongness that is at the heart of the movie. Even as he moves into the idea of getting things right - romancing Andi McDowell in a way that doesn’t end in a hilarious slap montage - he’s still stuck in the loop, because it’s not about the one thing in his life that he needs to change. It’s never about accepting love into his heart, it’s about accepting himself. And it’s only through accepting himself and learning to enjoy his life that he’s able to change anything. But he can’t get there if he just learns his lesson, because the movie would be about 20 minutes long. And 20 minutes of Bill Murray is better than 20 minutes of no Bill Murray, it’s not what we’re supposed to focus on. We need to focus on those mistakes. We need to focus on what we’re doing wrong, but mostly…we have to allow ourselves to be wrong. We have to allow ourselves to make those mistakes that end up changing us. It’s not even about focusing on doing things wrong, it’s allowing ourselves to fail.

We live in a world where failure has bigger stakes than ever before. We live in a world where too many people are looking for our failures, and are rooting for them in an effort to destroy us in some way. We live in a world where it’s scarier than ever to fail… it gets broadcast everywhere! But we have to let ourselves fail. That’s the true message to Groundhog Day. The movie. No, the lesson of the day itself is that we listen to rodents who predict the weather because why not. But failure… failure is still the beautiful thing I keep telling everyone. If you want a movie about the real meaning of life, this is the movie to go to. We need to accept our failures, then get up the next day to “I Got You Babe” and keep moving on. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to let a setback hurt you for a bit. But at some point you have to put on those slippers, grab that rodent from the hole, and learn to love what’s going on around you. 

For that, we thank Bill Murray. A teacher of all lessons. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

By Grapthar's Hammer, You Will Be Missed


“I do take my work seriously and the way to do that is not to take yourself too seriously” 

         Did you know that Galaxy Quest was voted the 7th Best Star Trek movie of all time, which is impressive since it has the handicap of not being a Star Trek movie, and being a parody of the series, fans, and actors? I say parody, but what I mean is a loving tribute to the Star Trek series, by someone who has obviously been a fan for years. It’s about a group of actors who were on a popular science fiction show that was cancelled and developed a cult following. They soon discover that a group of Aliens have been using the show as a guide to build their civilization, and soon get those actors to help save their galaxy.

            One of those actors is their version of Leonard Nimoy, in this movie called Alexander Dane. Alexander is a Shakespearean actor who can’t believe he took ths part as the alien Doctor Lazarus who’s catchphrase is “By Grapthar’s Hammer, you shall be avenged.” He hates this line. He vows to never say it, despite the number of nerds who gleefully say it to him. One of those nerds being one of the aliens who lived his life as Doctor Lazarus, and annoys him by spouting this phrase.

            It’s a funny recurring gag. Alan Rickman sells it with his exasperation each time it’s uttered to him.

            Late in the movie that alien is killed, and lays dying in Alexander Dane’s arms. Alexander looks at the alien and tells him that line. This time it’s with a gravity and emotion that is unlike anything we’ve seen in the movie so far. It’s a devastating scene that could have easily been cheesy or overplayed. It could have been a big laugh line, but instead it’s one of the serious moments in an otherwise light movie.

            That’s how I’m going to remember Alan Rickman.

            I was saddened to hear of his passing on January 14th. As with any actor I admire, I have to process what it means that he’s gone. This was the man who brought so many great characters to life. This was the man that JK Rowling had in mind when writing the iconic character of Severus Snape, going so far as to tell him how the book series ended to get him to play the part.

            I, like many people, will remember him as one of the only people to actually get close to stopping Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Or as the voice of the depressed robot Marvin in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Or as the hand-picked voice of God himself in Dogma.

            The thing about Alan Rickman is that he could do high class British Drama, then turn around and hang out with Kevin Smith and his stoner buddies and never once feel like he’s “slumming it”. He was an actor that always did his best, whether he was facing off against Bruce Willis, or if he was trying to get Rowan Atkinson to tie a package faster so his wife can’t see what he’s doing.  He was Alan Rickman. He was a reminder to put your best into everything, even if the actor you’re going up against is playing the world’s most famous English outlaw, and can’t be bothered to speak in an English accent.

            So, today we say goodbye to another great. As the man influenced me and how I watch movies, I felt it appropriate to eulogize him on Bad Shakespeare.  His roles always delighted me, and even if I saw a bad movie starring Alan Rickman, I never saw a bad Alan Rickman performance.  His was a lesson to put your all into every role, and to make your mark.

            Goodbye, Alan Rickman. Your presence will be missed.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bless Us, Oh Cage for a Wonderful Good Bad Movie Season

           Well, it’s that time of year. The Christmas Decorations are either down or staying up until they become a glorious reminder of Easter. Holiday Sales are slowly morphing into a reminder that Valentine’s Day is the next Holiday you have to look forward to, and that doesn’t come with days off.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens has blessed our screens and will continue to do so up until Episode VIII at this point. And sadly, movies switch from their high profile Oscar bait to… well, let’s just say, “the rest.”

            Yes, it’s time for Good Bad Movie Season, and our Protector over this particular season, St. Nicolas Cage. For who knows better than how to make a bad movie better than the King of all bad movies, Nicolas Cage. And I say that affectionately. He is the King, in so many ways.

            Prestige Season is always a little bittersweet for me. On the one hand, a lot of good movies come out. On the other, I tend to avoid them so I can give you a fresh perspective during the Oscar Movie Marathon coming up in February, and yes, Bad Shakespeare and Crew will be there in all of our glory. So I don’t have a lot of superlatives. Hunger Games was a little disappointing. Star Wars was amazing. So was Creed. Spectre was pretty cool, if you like throwbacks and thought experiments where the movie that was being parodied stole from the parody. Crimson Peak was chock full of Tom Hiddleston and ghostly goodness. And Jessica Chastain totally nailed the fourteen or so movies she was in.

            Anyway, it is time once again for us to bow our heads and say a little prayer to St. Nicolas Cage so he blesses us with a good Good Bad Movie season, and I have to tell you, it looks awesome, between Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and Kung Fu Panda. But, time will tell, as it holds us over between our last awesome movie, and Captain America: Civil War.

            Let’s begin.

Bless us oh, Cage,
For these they gifts we are about to receive
Including straight from the page
Of Pride and Prejudice… and Zombies

Let us not forget about Pandas so Jolly
That will be hilarious and you
Will help us laugh at his folly
As we enjoy the antics of a Panda doing Kung Fu

After his last movie
In which he was replaced with a fool
Ryan Reynolds will gift us
With the character of Deadpool

One is faster than a speeding bullet
The other is dressed like a bat
But together they’ll fight
Batman v. Superman is where it’s at

We’re also gifted with a few Oscar Holdovers
Leo fights bears in the Revenant
The Finest Hours has us looking for cover
With those Ride Along 2 can join us--- Cage sent

Let us not forget the other movies that have been dumped
Zac Effron and Robert DeNiro
The theater we will jump
And Jane Got a Gun… moved from twenty one zero

There will be movies for Adults Young
With the Allegiant and Fifth Wave
And London will Fall in a sequel to be hung
And with a new city for Gerard Butler to save

There’s also Zootopia
But don’t ask Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
It’s an animated hoopla
The other is with Tina Fey – she’s hot.

Tom Hiddleston will sing with a country twang
The Huntsman will war, without Snow White
The Rings will scare us with tooth and fang
And Melissa McCarthy is the Boss – A comedy out of sight

There are so many others, I can’t fit in here
But Cage bless those with the power you send
As I go off to get more beer
And may this Good Bad Movie Season can wrap up… Amen.

            There you go! Your thrice annual reminder that I’m not really a poet, but I enjoy myself. How many of those movies will I end up getting to? Hopefully a good chunk, so I can report back before… SUMMER MOVIE SEASON gets into full swing! We’re only four months away!