Five Memorable Film-Going Experiences

Sometimes, it’s not the film itself that makes a film-going experience memorable… sometimes, it’s the circumstances surrounding it. And I’ve had a handful of these experiences during my years as a film “buff”…

1.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2 (2011)
I made it to the front page of the paper for this one, so it’s probably going to be on the most memorable list for a while. My group of friends and I had to line up for this one four hours ahead of time, since this was before the launch of the assigned seating era. One friend dressed as Bellatrix, my best friend made Potter Puppet Pals masks for us to wear, I wore my “Particularly Good Finder” homemade shirt (Hufflepuffs represent!) and we re-enacted the “Mysterious Ticking Noise” while waiting behind the stantions. Needless to say, we were the most spirited and entertaining group in line, which is why a reporter took our picture to platdter on the front page the following day. This film was the end of an era for Potterheads everywhere, and even though I had to be at work at 7AM the morning after, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of that night.

2.) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters (2013)
I did not like this film (though I loved the books) but had a rip-snorting good time watching this movie because my best friend and I were completely alone in the theater, so we were free to be as obnoxious as we wanted and we took total advantage of it. We loudly called out the inaccuracies, speculated on the plot changes, and made jokes throughout the entire thing, so even though the film wasn’t  quite up to snuff, it was a great and memorable film-going experience for the sheer enjoy-ability of it all.

3.) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
TDKR was the final movie I saw as a midnight premiere, before my local theater started doing showings earlier on the night before a film’s release. The Dark Knight actually sparked my love for film, and I was eager to see a conclusion to the Bale/Nolan trilogy. The theater was mobbed, because this was also in the days before assigned seating so you couldn’t roll up to the show five minutes ahead of time and get a primo spot, plus this was the first and only time I ever had to park in the upper parking lot of the theater. Anticipation was thick in the air as folks lined up and waited outside the individual theaters, and I remember getting into my seat in between my mom and my best friend and tapping my foot on the floor, waiting for the film to start. This experience was most memorable because it gave a definitive ending to the film series that sparked my love and appreciation for film. Aaaand I sobbed like an infant at the end.

4.) Iron Man (2008)
Way back before the MCU was as huge as it is now, I had absolutely 0% interest in seeing Iron Man. My dad and I eventually struck a deal; he would go and see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with me, if I would go to see Iron Man with him. And the arrangement worked out quite well for both of us! My dad actually enjoyed Prince Caspian, with it’s chatty badgers, triumphant music, and rightful heirs ascending the throne, and I fell in love with superheroes and garnered an appreciation for the then-fledgling MCU, which continues to this day. I remember sitting in that theater, watching RDJ sell the role of Tony Stark like he was born to play it, and being absolutely blown away. There hasn’t been a Narnia movie since 2010, but 10 years later, my dad and I still see almost every Marvel movie together, and I have a 2008 bargain to thank for that.

5.) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
I wish I could say this experience was memorable for a good reason, but actually, this post is ending on a sour note. After studying film in college and expanding my cinematic horizons, my mom and I made the trek across town to see Birdman after we heard a bit of Oscar buzz about it. In total, when the film began, there were five people in the theater… by the end, there were three. And I’m pretty certain only two of us were awake. I totally get why folks didn’t like this film, and I love “average joe” films just as much as the next film-goer, but it’s still a huge bummer when more “artsy” films don’t get recognized by general audiences. In Birdman, the cinematography was gorgeous (I mean, that tracking shot in the beginning is a stunner) and the acting was phenomenal, yet still, two folks walked out midway through. And the film won Best Picture.

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Film Review: Home Again (2017)

Dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Candice Bergen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr37m
Spoiler level: Light

This past Tuesday, for the first time in ages, I went into a film without looking at the RT score. I saw the trailer a couple of times, chuckled a bit, and decided that I wanted to see it based on that, and it turned out to be a wise move; the RT score is currently at 35%, but I still loved the film!

Home_Again_poster
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54570184

Home Again follows newly-separated and newly-40-year-old mother of two Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), the daughter of a renowned filmmaker, who, while attempting to rebuild her life, ends up offering her guest house to 3 aspiring 20-something filmmakers. Naturally, as the boys lives become entangled with her own, Alice learns how to let go, move on from the past, and embrace the future.

The story is straightforward and solid, but many plot points are predictable; Alice striking up a romance with Harry (Pico Alexander), her ex-husband Austin (Michael Sheen) re-entering the picture and stirring up a whole bunch of tension, the boys negotiating with producers and directors on their dream project, etc, but don’t let the familiar premise fool you; the narrative does contain a few (mostly pleasant) surprises. While there’s shades of tales told many times before, there are a couple of fresh twists to keep the viewers guessing or hoping for a particular outcome. There’s a smooth balance of humor and drama, though perhaps less romance than a traditional rom-com, as the film takes the time to explore a variety of real-life issues, such as ambition versus reality, turning a new page, and taking risks.

The exploration of numerous ideas is both a boon and a bane, as there are times where the film feels as though it is stretched too thin and tries to do too much, so certain plot-lines don’t get as much resolution or attention as they deserve. Issues get resolved in a “last minute” fashion, almost like an afterthought. For example, there’s a plot device about Alice’s deceased father being a filmmaker that is intriguing, and is a stepping stone for Alice connecting to her three unlikely house guests, but sort of gets discarded in the latter half of the film. The music and montages seem to aim for an old Hollywood type feel, but at the same time, the tone doesn’t remain consistent. When the boys get into an argument, it gets resolved in a disproportionately swift manner compared to the set-up. As such, the pacing suffers a bit, as resolutions don’t live up to the set-ups, but regardless of this, the film doesn’t drag – I found myself engaged throughout.

The cast also delivers; Witherspoon carries the film with a charming performance that reflects both strength and vulnerability as a woman dealing with a new start at 40 years old. The 20-something trio (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander) all shine in a unique way, particularly Rudnitsky as George. Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen are also great in their roles, despite having less screen time, and both of the children (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) were delightful in their supporting roles, and looked like they could be the actual children of Witherspoon and Sheen.

Honestly, the film is not awards fodder, but it provided me with a fair amount of laughs, and even if it treads familiar ground, it conveys a message that doesn’t get old despite multiple re-tellings. If you need an enjoyable way to pass a rainy afternoon or have a couple of hours free in the evening with nothing else to do, and you enjoy a decent rom-com for a bit of light-hearted fun, this film is a treat. Or, you know, if all the showings of It are sold out, this is a nice, if not comparable, alternative.

Overall rating: 7/10

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Unexpected and Underrated

Before I became a frequent movie-goer, one whiff of a bad review would be enough to convince me to avoid a film. I’d go to the theater to see the “hits,” the usual popcorn flicks, but that was more or less it. Now, over the past few years, my film taste palette has expanded considerably. Since this shift in my habits, I have seen a slew of movies that I found enjoyable despite a poor performance at the box office, as well as movies that I loved against my expectations. So, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “underrated” films and “unexpected” films.

The Grey (2011)
Whenever I am tasked with thinking of an underrated movie (which is almost never) my automatic answer is The Grey. I only ended up seeing it when some friends recommended it to me during my second year at college. It’s a survival/thriller about an oil-drilling team stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash in Alaska, and their efforts to survive both the harsh weather and being stalked by a pack of grey wolves. Plus, it stars Liam Neeson, which should have been enough to drive throngs of people to see it. It’s a sort of “subtle” thriller, in a way – it’s not super fast-paced, nor does it feature nonstop action, but I was completely engrossed throughout the film; especially as details of the character’s lives start to trickle through the narrative. The colors/imagery/cinematography of the film are also excellent, as is the tension/suspense woven throughout. I can still picture the ending of this movie in vivid detail, complete with Liam Neeson’s closing narration – the film really stayed with me, like a grey wolf on my periphery, and it made me think. It’s easily one of my favorite Liam Neeson performances (besides Schindler’s List, obv) and a seriously underrated and unexpected hit. Even if you aren’t a fan of survival thrillers, complete with seemingly hopeless situations and increasing feelings of despair among the characters, I recommend giving it a try. AND SPEAKING OF UNDERRATED, Dermot Mulroney also stars in the film and he is consistently great.

Tron: Legacy (2010)
Tron: Legacy is a movie that I did not expect to love as much as I do, to the point where words cannot accurately convey my adoration for this movie. I like the original Tron just fine, despite the fact that it has not exactly aged well, but the sequel is one of my all-time favorites. The story follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and his journey into the digital frontier of The Grid in order to rescue his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who has been missing for two decades. It’s not groundbreaking in terms of plot or character development, but the story is compelling enough and the acting is superb on all fronts, though it does take some time to get used to CLU and Kevin (both played by Jeff Bridges, though John Reardon was the body double for CLU) being onscreen at the same time. Bruce Boxleitner is also back as Tron/Alan, though Rinzler is physically portrayed by the talented Anis Cheurfa. The cinematography and stylistic elements are amazing, and the symbolism, while overt at times, contains more subtle allusions that I didn’t notice until my 2nd or 3rd time watching – and yes, I did see it 3 times in theaters. The 3D was phenomenal, and the film is a visual and auditory feast. I love this movie so much I even wrote a 20+ page paper on Tron Legacy in college, entitled Biodigital Jazz, Man: Simulation and Identity in Tron Legacy for my Video Games in Literature class. AlsoI still consider Daft Punk not getting at least nominated for Best Original Score one of the worst Oscar snubs of all time.

Crimson Peak (2015)
When I went to see Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak about a week or two after it was released, my mom and I were the only two people in the theater – though I attribute this mainly to the fact that it was a Wednesday afternoon and “Back to the Future Day,” so most folks were at the theater to see the one day re-release of “Back to the Future” – someone even had a flux capacitor with them in the concession line. I think Crimson Peak also suffered from a minor case of mis-marketing, because people seemed to think it was a horror film, when really, it was a gothic romance which contained elements of horror – but all the ads I saw seemed to encourage the “horror” aspects of the film. I enjoy period pieces and the like, but I went in with no expectations, so I was not disappointed. It’s a gorgeous film, though it doesn’t delve quite as deep as it could – the story is somewhat predictable, but that didn’t make me enjoy it any less. It has typical “horror” moments, and romance moments, and suspense, but, while it has so many components of a gothic romance, it never quite realizes a concrete identity. The film has an all-star cast in Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Charlie Hunnam as the leads – Chastain is especially and wonderfully creepy in her role, and the highlight of the film. It’s visually arresting, and I recommend seeing it solely for how beautiful it is, from the music to the sets to the costuming, especially for fans of del Toro’s style.

The Finest Hours (2016)
Though T.S. Eliot might disagree, I think January is the cruelest month – especially when it comes to film releases. I don’t know exactly what causes this to happen, but January seems to be the month where new movies go to die a slow and painful death, and I think 2016’s The Finest Hours was an unfortunate victim of this phenomenon. I actually saw it on opening night, so it was pretty busy in the theater – but attendance waned in the following weeks, and ultimately, the film bombed. I don’t think it should have crashed and burned, though – because it was a perfectly good movie. Following the true story of the 1952 Coast Guard rescue of the SS Pendleton during a vicious storm, The Finest Hours boasts a stellar cast (Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck,) an engaging story, and all of the elements to make a great movie; and, in my opinion, it is quite good. Certainly underrated, considering the poor performance at the box office; I came out of the theater impressed, and definitely expected it to do well in spite of an unfavorable release date. It just couldn’t rise above the January doldrums, and it’s a shame that it didn’t.

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
Although I just finished reading Johnathon Tropper’s 2009 novel This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks ago, I saw the movie adaptation when it was released in 2014 – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Following the colorful (and conflict-ridden) Altman family during their time sitting shiva in the wake of their father/husband’s death, the film has an excellent cast – Tina Fey, Timothy Olyphant, Adam Driver, Jason Bateman, among several others – and the chemistry between them gave off a very believable family vibe. It’s not the most fast-paced or exciting film, but it has its fair share of humorous moments and poignant moments, and never tries to do “too much” in either department, so the story is relatively balanced and the pacing is decent. While it doesn’t attempt “too much,” it also doesn’t do quite “enough,” especially with such a stacked, talented cast – though I did find the narrative more entertaining and engaging than the lukewarm reception implied. However, the real highlight of the film is the cast; I recommend seeing it solely for the sibling relationships portrayed onscreen, especially between Fey and Bateman.

Rise of the Guardians (2012)
This animated gem is a visual triumph and features a stellar voice cast (Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny is a stroke of genius, as is Alec Baldwin as Santa) but it failed to become a real “hit.” When my best friend and I saw it, the theater was almost empty; but I still remember how ensnared I was by the film’s trailer. The story, based partly on a book series by William Joyce, is unique – when the evil Pitch Black threatens the world, the four “Guardians” must band together with the enlisted help of Jack Frost to stop the rise of darkness – and though it contains familiar tropes, it’s plenty entertaining, and it features intriguing interpretations of well-known characters, from the Sandman to the Tooth Fairy. It had all the components of a great film, yet still resulted in a studio loss. For fans of animation who missed this film upon its initial release, I definitely recommend giving it a chance. It was likely hindered by being released around the same time as a few box-office giants from that year (a Twilight film, Skyfall, Lincoln) but I found it to be an unexpected delight, and I still think it didn’t quite get the recognition that it deserved.

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
My mother is my most frequent movie-going companion, because we share a similar appreciation for film, both as an art form and as entertainment. I like to think of it as being film snobs who simultaneously don’t take it too seriously. Regardless, The Hundred-Foot Journey is one such example of a “mom and me” film. It’s got a great cast, and engaging story about an Indian family who opens a restaurant after a tragedy forces them to relocate to France, and the subsequent rivalry with the Michelin-star restaurant 100 feet away. The film also focuses on Hassan (Manish Dayal), the son of the Kadam family, who strives to make a name for himself as a chef. It’s a story about love, compromise, competition, and acceptance; a great movie to see on a Friday night when you want to put the stress of the work week behind you. I mean, it’s about warring restaurants, and it stars Helen Mirren and Om Puri – what’s not to like? It’s a prime example of a great film that is entertaining and heartwarming, but doesn’t try too hard – resulting in an unexpected delight.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)
When people think of Studio Ghibli, they probably think of the landmark titles like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke, three memorable projects by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. Because Miyazaki’s works are consistently brilliant and are the most well-known of the Ghibli lore, some other works from the studio get overshadowed. Yoshifumi Kondo’s  Whisper of the Heart is one such film, and it is actually my favorite Ghibli production – plus, it features The Baron, my favorite Ghibli character. It’s a sweet and simple story about a young girl who dreams of being a writer and her interactions with a boy who aspires to make violins. It follows the trials and tribulations of adolescence, young love, and the struggle between making dreams come true and facing reality. The animation is gorgeous, the music is great, and the writing (provided by Miyazaki) is poignant. It might not carry a message as deep as Mononoke or feature the whimsical magic of Howl’s Moving Castle, but Whisper of the Heart is a subtle slice-of-life that hits the closest to home, and fans of Ghibli’s other projects shouldn’t miss out on this underrated gem. And semi-sequel The Cat Returns is a hilarious companion to the film that is well worth seeing – especially since Cary Elwes reprises his role as the Baron.

Oblivion (2013)
I didn’t hear much about Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion when it was first released, and, as such, I didn’t see it until it came to Red Box. The film is a post-apocalyptic scifi film about a tech named Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Vika (Andrea Riseborough) who are doing recon/repair work on Earth while the rest of Earth’s population has allegedly relocated to Titan; however, Jack is haunted by flashes of memory of a previous life, which leads him to question his purpose and his identity. While the film does rely on previously used scifi tropes (hey, if it works, it works, as long as it’s entertaining) and it’s somewhat predictable, I also think it did an excellent job of not making familiar material feel stale, and it does introduce some new, fresh ideas into a genre with so many possibilities. Also, the film is gorgeous – it’s sleek, like Tron Legacy, only with a different aesthetic. I just saw Arrival (2016) the other night and Oblivion’s setting/atmosphere was semi-reminiscent of that; futuristic, but subtle and not over the top. It allows the viewer to put the pieces of the story and characters later, and doesn’t rely on excess exposition and explanation, which scifi does tend to fall victim to. I know that many folks have grown weary of the “post-apocalyptic” style of scifi, but Oblivion breathes a whisper of new life into it.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
My parents and I ended up seeing this film after the film we wanted to see was sold out – and I ended up enjoying it so much that I don’t even remember what we originally intended to see. The story is about an employee of Life magazine named Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) who must embark on a search for a film negative and, subsequently, finds himself hunting the “meaning of life.” It’s definitely not a runaway box-office hit, but I found the premise of the film intriguing, and was definitely engrossed by the story as it was unfolding onscreen; as such, I was stunned when I found out that reception to the film was mixed, with some folks loving it and some hating it. If a ~50% Rotten Tomatoes score is enough to deter you from seeing I film, I recommend you reconsider that stance and give this film a shot. It’s a visually stunning film with a good story, amazing scenery, and a great cast. It might not be award-fodder and it doesn’t hit all the high notes, but it’s worth seeing simply for the fact that most people can likely find a bit of themselves in the character of Walter Mitty.