Monday, August 25, 2014

What If

Can you handle seeing Daniel Radcliffe play a romantic lead without thinking of Harry Potter?  Did you feel like (500) Days of Summer was lacking in real connection?  Are you intimately familiar with the "friend-zone"?  Do you have a grasp on what it feels like when you have an unreciprocated 'crush'? If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, then there's a solid chance that What If will work a sly bit of magic on you.  The film is essentially a rehashing of territory made familiar by When Harry Met Sally, exploring the question so many romantic comedies rely on: can men and women really be just friends?  Whatever your actual opinion on this may be (I vote yes), in the world of the Hollywood ending the answer is almost always no. It's a convention of the genre, and the success of the film stems from its ability to play with our expectations, make us question what it is we're asking for, and to make us love (and perhaps, see ourselves in) the characters.  In that, What If succeeds where so many have failed.  Though flawed, it's smarter than the average, willing to explore uncomfortable complications, and aware of the damage the viewer's wish-fulfillment brings.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

There are some movies that you expect to be so god awful that when you actually see them, anything remotely palatable comes as a pleasant shock.  We know this.  We have all experienced the phenomenon of our lowest expectations reversing halfway in the wake of something awful, but, well, not entirely.  I'm not saying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of those occasions - it doesn't carry nearly the 'dread'-weight of something like, say, Transformers - but I am owning up to a possible blast of overcompensating happy-chemicals triggered by my enjoyment of it.  I kinda liked the latest Turtles reboot, guys.  I kinda liked it. Sure, in some sense I'm part of a built-in target market.  TMNT is riding high on a wave of 90s nostalgia, and I'm a kid who grew up proudly wearing my turtle-printed t-shirts to preschool and treasuring the trading cards.  For those of us who loved the friendlier, softer lines of those TV turtles, though, the franchise has been dead for ages.  We've suffered the leaner, meaner animated reboots, the evil-eye redesign, and the bastardization of our beloved mutants.  Our childhoods have been destroyed time and again, so by the time a Michael Bay-produced resurrection rolled around? Let's face it: there was little anyone could do to make things worse.       

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey

On the spectrum of lightweight cinema, there are ebullient trifles like Magic in the Moonlight, where charm occurs without demand and then there are films like The Hundred-Foot Journey.  Journey is light, but conflicted about it.  It carries with its frothiness a desire to be something deeper and more affecting.  Labeling a film like this under a genre doesn't work, as it hits all the necessary marks of a particular kind of "nice" "feelgood" type of movie that serves as a corrective cultural balm to audiences who want the illusion of meaning without any of the deeper woes that may come with it.  So, on the one hand, Journey is designed to be airy and semi-inspirational, a Cinderella story by way of Michelin stars.  On the other, it's a type of "problem" picture that uses haute cuisine to speak to differences of class and racial intolerance.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

If it's anything, Magic in the Moonlight is a trifle. It's a frothy, lightweight bit of comedy not meant to withstand anything beyond its run-time. As it plays, it works like a charm. The cinematography is a dream, the costumes dazzling, and the actors run through their dialogue as though they'd been playing their roles on stage for ages.  The punchlines are rambled off as quickly as the scenes seem to turn, and the story is one tried and true: a case of false identities, wealthy aristocrats, marriage plans, and infidelity.  It's our yearly dose of Woody Allen run through generations of screwball influence.  Most of Magic keeps things at a surface level and leaves us with almost nothing to digest.  The film is something like bubblegum or cotton candy. Depending on a viewer's temperament you'll either chew on it until it loses flavor or enjoy its sugar sweetness until it evaporates on your tongue.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

If we run through a superficial description of Guardians of the Galaxy, it sounds a hell of a lot like The Lego Movie. Chris Pratt plays a likable nobody who acquires an artifact that makes him the target of a manhunt.  He accidentally assembles a team of misfits and they embark on an epic battle upon which they learn the relative merits of teamwork, the strengths of their own unique brands of weird, and the importance of a good pop song.  Throw in a love interest, a raspy bit of extra muscle, and a talking animal (heeeyy, Unikitty!) and you're even closer.  

Of course, The Lego Movie is built to play off of the tropes of so many action movie origin stories, and I don't mean to suggest that Guardians necessarily follows those rules. It's more of a misfit piece in the Marvel canon, pulled from a relatively recent comic book iteration of an already obscure team.  Though the origin story patterns may repeat a bit, Guardians plays fast and loose with formula.  Where we've become used to muscle-bound dudes battling out political issues and repping masculinity, for example, the origin story here is one that doesn't fit the stock Avengers-style construct.  There's no real ascension to power or acquiring of mutation, and the only characters to come out of a mad science experiment gone wrong aren't all-powerful super-soldiers...they're a jabbering raccoon and a magical walking tree. The buff white guy at the group's center is less a leader by any display of skill or power and much more so the type who simply brings folks together accidentally. He's just an affable dude, and -weirdly- there's something unique about this.  
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