Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

May the FARCE BE With ME

I notice that I have only posted three times since June, and two of them are movie reviews. This one is prompted by Michael Hiltzik's review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in the Times. His review is under the headline: Admit it: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' stinks -- and here's why.

Here's the irony. I was not a big fan of the original Star Wars, but at least I did go see the second film. I have not seen any of the other four sequel/prequels. Nevertheless, and knowing what I know of the original, unoriginal Star Wars, and despite Hiltzik's cogent attack, I will still probably go see this one in IMAX 3D because I like the format of the big screen, big sound, and these days I watch most of the "gotta' drive backwards at least once in the car chase" movies (in other words, nearly every movie that makes it to the IMAX action/adventure screen) if only for the nostalgic glimpse of Harrison Ford in the "Chewie, we're home," scene that has already played 20,000 times in the previews and ads over the last year.

In 2014, I saw 55 movies in the theater. This year, I saw only 40 although Star Wars will make it 41. I didn't venture out to any of the "art house" movies this year. We didn't even see the Woody Allen movie this year which we used to go to every time one opened, but it didn't play close enough to home, and we were busy enough that we didn't get out to see his latest.

I give ratings to all the movies that I see at AMC (where I see 99% of my movies), and these are the ones that got "5 stars" from me this year (in the order in which I saw them): "Selma," "Birdman," "Spy," "Love and Mercy," "Mr. Holmes," "The Intern," and "The Martian." I wanted to see "The Walk," but I was busy those couple of weeks.

The ones that I gave top marks to were simply because they were fully satisfying films within their genres. The docudramas on a period in the lives of Martin Luther King and Brian Wilson focused on interesting and well-told aspects of those lives, though quite different in presentation. Except for those two, I noticed that each of the movies is in a different genre. "Birdman" is a quirky flight of fantasy comedy and gritty realism intertwined. "Spy" is a funny spoof of the genre, far more satisfying than "The Kingsmen" or "The Man from Uncle" because of much greater wit and humor, while balanced with a star turn for Melissa McCarthy. This is the first time that I truly enjoyed her because they allowed her to be other characters than the brash, crude, slovenly, obnoxious character that has been her stock and trade.

"The Intern" was a modest "non-rom com" casting DeNiro against type, and exploring the vagaries of today's corporate world against the questions of life and home (something that we are exploring with a political vs. business twist as we are binge-watching the Danish series "Borgen" with which we were gifted as a Christmas present). Whereas "Borgen" is gritty and dark, but enjoyable, "The Intern" was very light, but very enjoyable. "The Martian" is the only big "blockbuster" on the list, and despite being somewhat predictable, it was carried off with the right amount of humor, drama, action, and "McGyveresque" ingenuity to offer a satisfying theater experience.

I have saved "Mr. Holmes" for last because, for me, it was the best. It was perhaps the gentlest of the seven films (and the other 40 films that I saw), but it had fine character development, it had marvelous performances from the three principal actors (the child actor was terrific), and it was intriguing, powerful, and touching in a very nice combination of those emotions. "Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation" got a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes; "Inside Out" got a 98%; whereas, "Mr. Holmes" only got an 87% and only 75% of the audience liked it. Nevertheless, I rank it as my most enjoyable movie of the year. By the way, I did see both of those, and I gave them each 4 stars.

The worst on my list from this year are the remarkably story-less, character-less, "The Fantastic Four"; the mindless regurgitation with an alarmingly uninteresting protagonist and plot of "The Transporter" (the TV series is actually much more amusing, compelling, and interesting than any of the franchise movies); and my surprising number one entry for over two hours of mindless tedium was "Mad Max" which I already panned in great detail in earlier blog.

And if you haven't seen it, I still recommend my last year's top disagreement with the critics and the fans, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," for it's marvelous blend of humor, character, story, fantasy, and marvelous cinematography. I blogged about it last year in my negative reviews of "American Hustle" and "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Now, I'm gearing up to go see "Star Wars 7: The Marketing," in a couple of hours. May the farce be with me.