Skip’s Quips: My Feelings About Cronenberg, Yuckiness and ‘Maps to the Stars’

Blog Sketch 082813David Cronenberg’s movies will rub you one way or another, there’s no doubt about that. I think his latest opus, Maps to the Stars, will be in that category, too.

The question is, will it be as strong as his previous efforts, from Scanners to Eastern Promises? I’m not so sure. In general, this director has been one of the strongest (and in my opinion, one of the most underrated) in the industry, with a talent for generating oodles of interesting plots amid creatively yucky violence, biological horror and strong performances. It’s hard to say whether he has been a favorite of mine, but his body of work is unique, and his talent is always apparent. Plus, he’s quite consistent, even when working with subpar material; you can generally find some kind of inspiration there, no matter what.

So why am I so skeptical about Maps to the Stars?

I guess the main reason is because it has one of my least-favorite actors in it: John Cusack. That, to me, is not a lure; I generally don’t care for Cusack’s performances and find most of the vehicles I’ve seen him in to be maudlin. Though his presence in the movie isn’t a deal-breaker, it doesn’t bode well for the picture. It’s not the type of casting that’ll make me want to see it.

Still, Cronenberg’s direction brings with it the possibility of surmounting any obstacles, and it’s possible that Maps to the Stars could offer quite a bit. If it’s anything like the filmmaker’s vintage movies, that would be a triumph.

Hopefully, that’ll be the case.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: The Long Cinematic Torture of ‘Inherent Vice’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I knew Inherent Vice was going to be a big, sloppy movie. I just didn’t know how much.

And I didn’t know it was going to be awful, either.

Boy, was this a plodding film. The Paul Thomas Anderson-directed (and -written, based in the novel by Thomas Pynchon) story of a dope-addled P.I. out to uncover various uninteresting mysteries in 1970 California, Inherent Vice isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. And it’s more pretentious, to boot. Plus, there’s the addition of some bland narration, which suggests that the film doesn’t trust its audience to make its own judgments.

That’s a problem. Good movies have faith in their viewers. They coax people along, encourage them. Bad movies hold their audiences at bay, alienate them. And that’s exactly how I felt while watching Inherent Vice.

Much of this movie should’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor; there are all kinds of little idiosyncratic bits that purportedly suggest character development but ultimately fail in providing solid context. What results is a tedious mess. Too bad, because it could’ve been so much better.

I like Pynchon, but I think Inherent Vice, as a movie, doesn’t succeed. There’s originality here, but it’s not enough to carry it. For such a tiresome picture, it feels strangely rushed. That’s just another reason not to like it. Oh, well.

Skip’s Quips: Why This Baseball Fan Liked ‘Million Dollar Arm’

Blog Sketch 082813OK, I’m a sucker for baseball – even in December. I’m a big fan of America’s pastime. I used to watch the New York Yankees every chance I got.

That said, I didn’t expect to like Million Dollar Arm. I thought it was going to be cheesy. Overly sentimental. Junk.

Wow, was I surprised. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but boy, was it enjoyable. And what a story: It’s the based-on-truth tale of a sports agent (expertly played by Jon Hamm) who journeys to India in a quest to find hard-throwing baseball pitchers from the subcontinent.

Oh, yeah: And Alan Arkin is in it, so what could be bad, right?

What impressed me was the quality of the script, as well as the skill of director Craig Gillespie in moving the film along. Then you had terrific ensemble performances, not only by Hamm and Arkin, but also by the excellent Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, who portray the new-to-baseball pitchers perfectly. You have some fun fish-out-of-water situations with Hamm, Sharma and Mittal all getting culture shock from the countries they travel to, along with more serious themes about the importance of family and ambition. It’s nothing profound, but it’s quality entertainment. And in this day and age, that’s important.

I don’t like all movies about baseball, despite my predilection for the game. Million Dollar Arm, however, is a good one. It was somewhat unsung this year; perhaps more viewers can rectify that. Whether it will be a sports classic in time is not known as yet. All I know is I had an enjoyable time watching it. Hopefully, you will, too.

Skip’s Quips: Not Getting Excited for ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’

Blog Sketch 082813Have I lost that lovin’ feeling for the characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth?

I just can’t seem to get too psyched over the prospect of seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in the theater today, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because the last film in the series, The Desolation of Smaug, has some sloppy filmmaking moments in it. To be sure, they are countered by strong sections and some terrific sequences, but overall, I feel like director Peter Jackson’s Hobbit installments don’t have the immediacy of his previous Lord of the Rings pictures.

I miss that. Yet there’s no way to go back and recover it.

The subject matter is part of the problem. The Hobbit is the precursor to the LOTR books, and so we already know what’s going to happen. I also think Jackson’s Hobbit films feel stretched out in being spread over three films … a quality his LOTR movies didn’t have.

I think I’ll have to be content with the fact that Jackson made three terrific LOTR flicks, and that they can’t be replicated. Not even with many of the same characters from Middle-earth. It’s sad to think about, but it’s also truthful. And in this case, I have to face the truth.

So it goes.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: When a Little Bit’s Enough

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I only got the chance to see the last 30 minutes or so of Make Way for Tomorrow last night on TV, but I didn’t need any more.

This melancholy tale, starring Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as a pair of married seniors, was quite well done … and I knew I didn’t need to watch it further to make that determination. There was part of me that didn’t want to view more anyway, as it was rather sniffle-inducing, and I was more in the mood for something lighthearted. This picture had lively moments, certainly, but it ended on a sad note. Not the kind of pick-me-up fare I was seeking.

Still, I’m wondering whether I’ll encounter it again in the future. It’ll probably be back on the telly at some point, though it’s hard to say whether I’ll be in front of it then. Maybe I’ll revisit it and start from the beginning. Or maybe I’ll just let it go. Sometimes the experience of a movie isn’t always a complete one. Sometimes it’s better to leave it unfinished.

Perhaps this is one of those times. A little bit was enough on this occasion. Whether it might do the trick for the rest of my life, I don’t know.

Skip’s Quips: Christmas Confessions of a Nice Jewish Boy

Blog Sketch 082813I love watching the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim during the holiday season.

Does it matter that I’m Jewish? I don’t think so. It’s a timeless story, with thrills, chills and a wonderful moral sensibility. Religion, methinks, is irrelevant when it comes to the cinema.

I do think it’s a shame that there aren’t that many films around that celebrate the Hanukkah holiday by telling the story of Judah Maccabee and his brethren. It’s a fascinating tale that would be most conducive to celluloid.

But I’m not at all against the trappings of Christmas on the telly. In fact, I welcome them. They bring a festive air to the season, which is much needed when the snow falls and the wind turns cold.

Viewing A Christmas Carol is one of my annual holiday traditions. I equate it to having turkey on Thanksgiving. You just can’t do without it.

And a great film is a great film, no matter what the subtext suggests. So I’m going to continue to watch Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge this season. And enjoy it. Until next year, of course. When the time for it comes around again.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Traveling Down a Not-So-Lost Highway With ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Oh, goody. We’re going to see dirty, dust-covered vehicles blow up again in Mad Max: Fury Road come 2015.

Pardon me, but I’m not going to get excited about this. I didn’t even care for the previous installments in director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series, including the original Mad Max and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. These may have been kinetic films, but they also presented a dreary, despondent vision of society that I wanted no part of … and didn’t enjoy watching.

Once again, I’m probably in the minority on this, though. Fury Road will likely be a hit.

It does depend, however, on whether people’s taste for such pictures remains the same. I think the Mad Max flicks of the past decades caught lightning in a bottle; fantasy films were big, and the vision of filthy cars, souped-up battling each other along never-ending highways at some point in the future was an original one.

Can Fury Road resurrect this franchise? It remains to be seen. The trailer promises the usual explosions and mayhem (hey, is that Verdi’s Requiem in there, too?), so I suspect there will be interest among fans of the original series.

That may be enough to propel this movie into successful territory. Next year, we’ll know for sure.

Skip’s Quips: Where Have All the Animal Movies Gone?

Blog Sketch 082813Doesn’t it seem like a long time has passed since Air Bud debuted?

Hey, it’s only been 17 years. Feels like an age, no?

I think there’s a reason for this. We’re not seeing a lot of live-action movies starring dogs, cats or other animals these days – certainly not as much as in previous years. Yes, there are plenty of CGI-flavored animated films portraying the beastie set. But the likes of Air Bud, Beethoven and Marley & Me seem to have gone to the dogs. We’re not getting as many of those kinds of flicks anymore. Why?

I wonder if it’s more economical for studios to develop animated pictures dealing with all creatures great and small than it is to do live-action ones requiring the onscreen talents of various stars. Or maybe the public has had its fill of Turner & Hooch and its ilk. That could be a possibility. Perhaps tastes have changed … though I’m not sure the taste for buddy films centering on the relationship between man and canine could ever be construed as being “good.”

To tell you the truth, I kind of miss these generally dreadful pieces of celluloid. I don’t know why. They almost always featured coarse slapstick comedy and schmaltzy sentimentality. Am I, at heart, a sucker for that?

Nah. I’ll give ya, maybe, Lassie Come Home and A Dog of Flanders. Air Bud? Nope.

Oh, that reminds me: Someone should do a film of Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. That’s at least a well-written story that’s cinematic. Unlike Beethoven.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Filling the Cinematic Gaps

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Gosh, do I have a lot of movies I need to see.

I was just reminded on Twitter today to watch Bad Day at Black Rock, a well-regarded picture with one of my least-favorite actors in it: Spencer Tracy. I’m told he was good in the film, and that intrigues me. But what interests me more is how many flicks I’ve never viewed.

I’ve either got a lot to enjoy from a cinematic perspective in the future or a tremendous number of gaps in my celluloid resume.

Sometimes I wish I’d seen all the movies ever made … or at least all the ones worth seeing. That would make conversing about them a lot easier, and I wouldn’t have to display my ignorance like a light bulb in a dark room.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing that I haven’t experienced certain pictures yet. Perhaps I’ll enjoy them more when I do. Still, I have to wonder if I can count flicks that I’ve “partially” watched. Like 8 1/2, which I have never been able to get through. I can still talk about them with authority, right?

Or no? Maybe just a little authority?

Humph.

Skip’s Quips: What Happened to ‘The Angriest Man in Brooklyn’?

Blog Sketch 082813Most movies that start viewers off with narration bother me.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is no exception, and I had to turn it off last night before getting past the first half hour or so.

Narration is a crutch frequently used, it seems, to offset the fact that a story somehow isn’t told traditionally through the action onscreen. The problem is, it usually winds up being tiresome and suspense-killing, which you don’t want in a movie. That’s what happened in TAMiB.

But what really happened there? A lot of talent was wasted in this film – including Robin Williams, Peter Dinklage and Mila Kunis – which had something to do with a very peeved lawyer (played by Williams) being told erroneously that he has 90 minutes to live. Oh, goody, that plot device. No wonder I couldn’t watch the picture.

The script was a mess, to say the least. It was hard to say what it was going for: a comedy or a drama. Or perhaps both. It didn’t matter; I lost interest. And I don’t expect to resume watching it soon.

If only there wasn’t any narration. Maybe things would’ve been a little better.

Maybe.