Waxing [Cinematically]: Dallas Buyers’ Club

I snuck in a watching of Dallas Buyers’ Club just hours before the 2014 Academy Awards and I’m glad I did. It was worth it to see what film carried both the years Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

After the watch, it was apparent that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both put in performances worthy of the industry’s highest awards. It was also apparent that the movie itself was nowhere near that mark.

I was happy to see the actors’ take home dual Oscars. My belief is that the film really only deserved a Best Picture nomination because of those two’s work.

Here’s a few reasons why

  1. Jennifer Garner certainly didn’t help any. She was unconvincing as a doctor. Unaware of a strange and wavering southern accent. And, worst of all, just unable to keep up with the strong acting happening around here. She nearly derailed some scenes with both actors, but the one on ones with McConaughey almost blew the raw intensity of his performance (mostly, his charm).
  2. The direction was incredibly sloppy. The movie dragged its feet in some places, while skipping forward to fast in others. Scenes simply existed that didn’t need to. An example: McConaughey’s character is, well, having some alone time with himself when he’s interfered with by some pictures that Leto’s character put up on the wall. McConaughey’s character at this point had started his progression toward a better understanding (his character’s personal growth and achievement), yet still he tore down the pictures, muttered a few curses and the scene cut. It was a scene that neither advanced the plot nor the characters, and we just simply don’t need those.
  3. There were just simply too many plotholes. One big one is that Ron keeps mentioning research he has and has been a part of, but the movie never really shows us this avenue. To contextualize, DBC is far, far more of an Erin Brokovich type vigiliante quest than a movie about equality (a la Milk for instance). This is incongruent with Woodruff’s move as a more enlightened man while the movie takes more on about bureaucratic threatening the FDA brings than the coming together of a society around an issue of life and death.

These movies exist everywhere and in fact are probably what makes great movies great movies. 12 Years A Slave both won Best Picture and had each of its main cast members nominated for their respective awards. DBC just simply wasn’t a movie that would stand without the performances of its two leading men.

It was worth watching. Leto’s performance in particular will be one I cannot shake from the radar of great acting and won’t be able to for years to come. The movie gave him the vehicle and that has to mean something, right?

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Waxing [Cinematically]: “Gravity”

I had high expectations for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.

That’s an understatement.

I had almost laughably high expectations for it. After seeing the first trailer I said “there’s no way a studio would finance this unless it was going to be the move of the decade.” And then I went on predicting it would be.

There was just no one that a big studio would finance a movie with two characters floating in space. No way that Cuaron would spend the precious years following up Children of Men on anything of a lesser project. There was too much at stake in both those situations. Let alone the signing of big names like Clooney and Bullock (the latter who I was less than thrilled about the casting of before I saw the movie; and still not thrilled about after).

As I did with Blue Jasmine, I’ll assign a completely arbitrary score to this film. Let’s say that arbitrary score is an 8.8 out of 10.

 

Cuaron and his team did amazing things with space. That can’t be understated. If the Academy was as impressed with the work on Life of Pi as it seemed last year, there’s no way it’ll pass up the amazing shots of space shuttle AND a space station exploding into the abyss of Cuaron’s outer atmospheres. That was mind-blowing, yes.

But effects are never going to win my heart when it comes to cinema. Is it cool? Yes. It may be the coolest movie of the year. I learned from it, too, from what I’m hoping are somewhat realistic details, so have to give kudos on that front too. But I needed more. From someone who will always put a film like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind over Avatar, Gravity left a bit to be desired.

This was Hollywood’s first major isolationist film since the aforementioned Life of Pi, and maybe the most isolationist major film since Castaway. Bullock’s character has to deal with the existential nightmare of being all alone in a very, very lonely place. I don’t know that the film achieved the deep dive into nausea as it had the opportunity to do. Actually, I do know; it didn’t.

Even in the [spoilers] scene where Bullock hallucinates a conversation with Clooney, it missed a really opportune time to sail into Kubrick territory. Clearly, Bullock has lost her mind at this point. Oxygen-deprived, lost, lonely, forlorn, everything in between; Bullock’s hallucination should have been more surreal.

Maybe that’s not what Cuarón was going for. The movie, in its attempt to break new grounds, tried its best to be hyper real. To have the view feel within the realm of what Bullock was going through. Don’t know if that was needed. The effects, the floating, the adventuring with jet packs — all too surreal to feel the need to draw us in in a nonfictional atmosphere. Our beliefs were already suspended here, let them float, I say, float right into the starry abyss.

The movie had some great shots, some great scenes and some great reasons to be remembered. It just wasn’t the great I hoped for. Still just as after Children of Men I started immediately looking forward to Cuaron’s next film; so to does this get me ready for what may come next. Hopefully it won’t be eight years before it comes.

Did it meet expectations? No. Could it have? Probably not. Still worth the see. Still breaks ground by not needing solid ground.

Waxing [Cinematically] The Spectacular Now

Hollywood has gotten really, really good at retelling the same story. Going to see movies these days, I can’t help but shake the “I’ve seen this play out before” feeling, or predicting an ending, or being disappointed that a director/writer didn’t take a turn when they had an opportunity.

If there’s one thing to single out about The Spectacular Now, it would be its originality. The movie is a fresh dose of the non-cliche, which is all the more impressive as it drops you in the one the most cliche-laden scenes that movies love; high school.

The movie is based on a book, written by the guys who did 500 Days of Summer, and stars a new actor, Miles Teller, and an actress in Shailene Woodley that has now nailed two consecutive roles I’ve seen her in (her work in the Descendants demanded some serious attention). If these components were what brought the freshness, kudos to all involved.

Apparently, Michael Weber, one of the writers, described the film, and specifically the main character, Sutter, as “Ferris Bueller [who] gives bad advice”. That makes a lot of sense — only his advice isn’t all that bad. In fact, some of it is gold, particularly once he’s learned his lesson, it just takes him a while to get there. And, well, he’s drunk in every other scene.

If there were another thing to single out about The Spectacular Now it would be the gratuitous drunk driving scenes. It’s almost appalling, but it’s used to illustrate his character, and so you put it at ease. Still, once he involves Amy, the love interest, you start ot tense up a bit in the movie theater. You’ve seen this go down. Except he doesn’t get into an accident (well not really), and he doesn’t ruin his life drunk driving, he actually kind of gets away with it. Another turn away from cliche.

Sutter is a smart kid. He sees a serious truth in a lot of those people around him. He even sees it in himself but has some fear (one would assume of some abandonment) that prevents him from approaching his own growth. His dad left when he was young, and so we get a boy that doesn’t want to leave anything. Not his school, not his party life, not his ex-girlfriend, not his job, etc… It’s sad, but you can feel the truth in it.

And Woodley’s Amy, well gosh talk about a perfect portrayal of how pathetic we can be in our first love. She is obsessed with Sutter. Ignores his faults, loves him immediately and wants to change her life in any way that would please him. That’s first love. That’s what it’ll do to you.

Because it took pains to avoid cliche, it came off as raw as anything you’ll see these days — particularly from a pair of young actors. It tugged at the heart, though I have to admit I was expected a bit more of a tug (I blame it on the fucking excellent trailer). If it had a fault it was in some of the other actors around Teller and Woodley, or maybe even that the movie wasn’t that long (high school drama can feel like forever, they could’ve played with that) — but neither was 500 days….

Trying to be objective, I give it a 8.6. I’ll see it again. I’ll show some people. It didn’t bring on those wounds that some movies can, but it’s the closest one to come to that in a while.