Kyra’s Movie Roundup (Catching Fire; Before Midnight; Gravity; 12 Years a Slave)

Buckeye has been writing such stellar movie reviews that I really don’t want to sully his work by putting my thoughts in. With that being said, I have seen a bunch of movies too! And I have opinions on them! So in this space I want to briefly cover a bunch of movies Buckeye has already reviewed. Hopefully we will turn this into a dialogue at some point, but I wanted to get some of my feelings down in the interim. In no particular order:

Catching Fire

This was a perfectly fine movie. I’ve seen a lot of commentary out there saying this blows the first one away, but I really didn’t see it that way. Full disclosure, after seeing the first movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was possessed to read the books, so unlike Buckeye my perspective is a little different.

Now that we’re 2/3 of the way through this story, I believe there’s enough evidence to argue these books/movies do not reach nearly the intellectual and creative level of, say, Harry Potter. First of all, is the story. Nothing about it is a brilliant insight. How many dystopian future movies are there where all the people are divided into groups or sectors or whatever, and slave away at the expense of the rich 1% overlords. Hell that was basically the concept in a great but terrible movie I saw with my buddy G-Ross called In Time. It also sounds similar to a movie I haven’t seen but seems similar: Elysium. And check out the trailer for the upcoming movie Divergent. It’s the same shit over and over again. I can guarantee one thing in all of them: a revolution is coming! But not until the last book! Nowadays, it seems like that revolution is being led by girls because it helps take a normally male-oriented action movie and make it more palatable for girls, which means it reaches a wider audience, which means $$$$$.

Secondly, and to me this is a sign of the lack of creativity, are the names in this movie. Maybe it’s the classics major in me, but it’s as if Suzanne Collins opened up a Roman history book and just picked names at random: Plutarch Heavensbee, Caesar Flickerman, Claudius Templesmith, Cinna, Flavius, Octavia, Brutus, ARE YOU KIDDING ME BRUTUS? It’s not even like these names have any association with who the actual people are. Caesar is a talk show host. God, for some reason this just really bothers me. When you compare this to the creative thinking that went into all the names in Harry Potter (for example, Dumbledore’s first name, Albus, is derived from whiteness and purity and yada yada) I just can’t see how you think this is intelligent writing.

Then there is the whole concept of the Quarter Quell. The people of Panem seemed blown away that past champions were being sent back into the arena, but if the Quarter Quell always represents a ‘special’ arena, then why was this so surprising? Furthermore, isn’t basically this whole story derivative of the first movie/book? It’s like Lost sending them back to the island AGAIN.

While I don’t think the books are great, they do contain a lot more nuance than the movie. For example, Finnick’s character in the movie is basically a good looking ally of Katniss. There are passing mentions of his lover/wife or whatever getting fucked up in the arena, and him trading in Capital secrets, but I bet most movie watchers didn’t even remember that stuff. In the book, he is much more fleshed out, as someone who’s lover was permanently scarred by her trip to the arena. Also, he essentially works as a prostitute in the Capital, but instead of being paid in money he wants to learn all their secrets. I do have to say that The Hunger Games as a whole has pretty dark themes for the YA genre, but many of those are whitewashed for the movie version (aside from the whole murdering kids thing).

With all that being said, what I agree with Buckeye about is that this is a supremely well-cast movie. I particularly thought Stanley Tucci was amazing as Caesar Flickerman. He was hilarious, and managed to entertain me even when I knew he was talking to people who were about to be killed in the arena. His giddy expressions over all things Hunger Games kept me very engaged. I also thought Elizabeth Banks did a great job. In the first movie, she is nothing but ebullient in her role, but here she scales back just a bit. She shows a little humanity and understanding that the Capital sends children to the arena to die, and I thought she played her minor role very well.

Finally, I agree with Buckeye that the main theme focused on is our relationship with the fame monster. I don’t need to go into it here, you can read Buckeye’s own review if you want my thoughts.

Before Midnight

Although this movie came out a while ago, I saw it just recently, and I must say, it’s my favorite movie of the year so far. I watched Before Sunset before going to see it, and I wasn’t impressed. Rather, I was bored. The 2nd in the now-trilogy is in some ways a rehash of the first, in the sense that Jesse and Celinne are seeing each other for the first time in 9 years, and really need to get to know each other all over again. Before Midnight switches up the format though, as the lovable couple has now been together for roughly a decade and have a pair of cute twins to boot. Maybe I related more to it because I’m in a long-term relationship myself, but I found much of their dialogue to be incredibly accurate and touching. As I discussed with Buckeye, truly the star of this film is the script. They discuss love, relationships, death, and really show that getting through life with one person is not easy, and it’s not a straight line. Many movies address this subject in cliches or overly dramatic events, but this movie felt simple and real.

I was particularly moved by an early scene where they are having dinner with their Greek friends. An elderly woman talks about how when her husband died it was incredibly painful to lose him. Now that some time has past, she finds herself forgetting bits and pieces about him, both memories and how he looked, which feels like losing him all over again. She discusses how we are all simply “passing through” life, and what’s important are the people you surround yourself with. It is a particularly poignant moment in a movie full of them, and I simply loved it. It was also special for me, since I saw Julie Delpy address this scene directly before I watched the movie (she was at the screening). She said she wrote this monologue, which was actually about losing her mother, and she broke down in tears while discussing it. Suffice to say, it was powerful.

If I have any nits to pick, it’s that some of their stories seem too accurate to me. What I mean by this is that they recall either childhood memories or dreams with such vivid detail that it sometimes took me out of the movie and made me think ‘oh come on, there’s no way she could remember all that.’ However this is a minor detail, and I don’t want to take away from what was a very enjoyable hour and a half.

Gravity

I was not impressed with this movie. Visually, it’s stunning. Probably the best visual movie since Avatar. I saw it in IMAX 3D, but I would argue at times it even felt 4D (like those things at Universal Studios where things come out and touch you and stuff). For example, when the rope between Sandra Bullock and George Clooney would stretch taut as they drifted apart in space I really felt like I was gonna be jerked around. That was an awesome experience. However, the movie’s plot did not inspire me. Maybe I went in with the wrong expectations (I thought she was gonna be lost in space essentially and just ponder the meaning of life*), but after the second or third time she escapes near-death, I figured the movie was just gonna be a series of almosts, which is exactly what it was. I didn’t think any individual scene was such a remarkable work of acting, and the whole time Clooney was there I was just thinking ‘this is Danny Ocean in space.’ Seriously, Clooney is good at what he does, but he doesn’t have much range as an actor. He’s the same debonair, smart-alecky, leader of the pack in like every movie.

*I’m wondering if this will essentially be what Robert Redford’s new movie All is Lost is about, which is garnering a solid amount of Oscar buzz.

Two other moments I’d like to discuss. The first is when she dreams that Clooney comes back into her escape pod. This just made no sense to me, as I was thinking when the pod door opens wouldn’t she instantly die? Obviously, this proved accurate as it was a dream, but it just seemed like a stupid sequence.

The other moment was when she’s on the radio with the Inuit. Since the movie came out, Alfonso Cuaron’s son released a companion piece from the perspective of the Inuit named Aningaaq. 1) I thought this was also boring. 2) How the fuck did Ryan Stone figure out this guy’s name was Aningaaq when I couldn’t tell anything he was fuckin saying? This was a bridge too far for me. I get that she’s smart because she’s an astronaut, but come on. No one knows how to speaking fucking Inuit.

12 Years a Slave

This movie was brutal and honest. Probably the most accurate depiction of slavery on film, and I thought Wesley Morris’ review was beautiful and said things I wish I could have thought of myself. Overall, I would give the movie an A-. It was very, very good, and I must admit I choked up at the end when you see how much older his children are compared to when he left. However, there were a couple things to me that kept it from true greatness.

First of all, I don’t understand why the movie started in medias res, only to back up to him being a free man. I assume I’m in the majority when I say I knew nothing of the story of Solomon Northup going into the movie, so when I saw him as a slave in the first scene I figured that he was a slave, became free, and then was kidnapped again. This obviously isn’t the case, and I don’t get what showing a scene you are going to see much later in the story added to the film. This was a bad choice in my opinion.

Secondly, I felt like there was a bit to much scenery watching. A scene would conclude, and the camera would turn upwards towards the sky and some birds flying or some shit. Maybe it was a little too artsy for me, but I didn’t get it. This was often counterbalanced with the camera appropriately remaining in place for longer than you would expect as a viewer, as it did when Northup was hanging in the noose while other slaves went about daily activities. These moments were great, and powerful, but sometimes I felt that McQueen aimed the camera where it shouldn’t have been.

Thirdly, a couple casting problems. I wasn’t a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance. It pains me to say it, because I bought stock in Cumberbatch very early after watching his great performance as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock, but I just didn’t buy his character. His accent was weird, and his eyes were too caring to believe he would, as a minister, own slaves. Then there was Brad Pitt. I get that he’s a producer of the movie and wanted to be a good guy in it, but his fame took away from the role. Now I’m assuming that there was a real person who came to work on Epps’ plantation and got a message to Northup’s friends back home, but in the movie it just felt like a plot device. Here’s a guy who doesn’t believe in slavery, stands up for himself to Epps (albeit in a scene where Michael Fassbender looks ridiculous like a fucking pirate), and magically enables Solomon to get home. I’m not sure if there is any way to rectify this, but seeing Brad Pitt just made me think ‘this is Brad Pitt’ the entire time he was on screen. This is the price of superstardom, something Wesley Morris and Alex Pappademas discuss recently on a Grantland podcast (in regard to Robert Redfor), but it’s on Steve McQueen to make sure these are characters and not actors on screen.

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