Monday, July 19, 2010

How Did I End Up With All of This?

Today I was planning to sleep in. But, as luck would have it, my phone (which is never on silent because I always forget to turn it off despite it going off every morning) decided to wake me up. And somehow, instead of wasting my time, I ended up cleaning a good deal of my room. It turns out I own a lot of things I don't really care about.

For example, somehow, despite talking about for years how the "Twilight" books aren't well-written at all I own all four of them. And they're actually placed somewhat neatly on my shelf. It's not that they're horrible, or anything. I just realized many of my favorite books ("Wuthering Heights," "David Copperfield," "13 Reasons Why" and "Jurassic Park," to name a few) aren't in my house. Do I really want to own escapist fantasy I'll never read again instead of books I've checked out of the library so many times it's slightly embarrassing?

But I get points back for owning all of the "Harry Potter" books, right? Because they will be known as classics just like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Watership Down" are one day.

Even when I went through my movies I discovered I don't even want to watch half of the DVDs in my collection ever again. In high school, when most of these were purchased, I apparently really liked romantic comedies and superheroes. And, for the record, "Spiderman 2" and "The Dark Knight" are probably the greatest comic book movies ever made and are simply good in general. But the fact remains that in twenty years I probably won't care about "Night at the Museum" or "Fool's Gold." In fact, I never really cared about "Fool's Gold" because it was just ... bad.

Despite "Saving Private Ryan," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Toy Story 2" and "The Princess Bride" being some of my favorite movies since I first saw them, I've never bothered to buy them. And it's probably because I've just impulsively bought things that I felt like reading or watching at the moment.

But that's why we have the library and Netflix. So I can borrow fluff books and movies instead of turning my room into a hoard of "entertainment." It's too bad I didn't figure this out five years ago and saved myself the trouble of trying to decide what to do with all of my junk.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Supporting Characters: The Real Reason Brilliant Movies Work

Author's Note: The following post contains some slight spoilers for "Inception," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Spiderman."

"Inception" is a brilliant movie. It was worth going at midnight and is worth seeing again — which is a good thing because apparently sometime next week I'm taking my little sister and her friend to go see it. You can read my review of it here. This morning at 2 a.m., I was excited about the intricate plot and the mysteries Christopher Nolan left unsolved. Today, however, when I considered my favorite parts of the movie I realized I loved the character development of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) — the man Dom Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio's character, is hired to target.

Most of the film rightfully focused on Cobb and his family history and why he became a fugitive. However, I was more interested in Fischer and his broken relationship with his father. Murphy's performance was captivating, and it was emotional to watch the young man come to terms with how his father viewed him and how he could become his own man. The final scene Fischer had before he woke up from his dream was the most gratifying part of the movie for me as an audience member — it brought his character full circle and almost moved me to tears. But not quite.

Supporting characters stealing the show is nothing new — I remember watching "Saving Private Ryan" for the first time. While I cared about John Miller (Tom Hanks) and came to admire Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the one character I connected with was Upham (Jeremy Davies).

His struggle to deal with being thrown into the harsh reality of war and combat was affecting and real. Though many people I have discussed the movie with have called Upham a coward, I never saw him as one. I simply saw the consequences a gritty, hopeless reality can have on one's soul. Upham was a scholar, a philosopher who was never built for war. His compassion for Steamboat Willie in the middle of the movie showed someone struggling to be different and break away from the endless killing cycle. And, finally, when Upham reached his turning point in the climax, it's easy to see turmoil and a rush of emotions cross his face. Through his performance, Davies helped make "Saving Private Ryan" one of the most emotional, if not the most emotional, war movies of all time.

Even in straightforward superhero movies sympathetic supporting stars strengthen the overall plot. Throughout the entire Sam Raimi "Spiderman" franchise, James Franco's Harry Osborne was the character whose story arc was the most unpredictable and compelling. As Harry struggled with who to trust and what to do, the audience empathized — even when he knowingly turned on Peter momentarily. Though some (like my friend April, for example) were only upset at the end of the third movie when they realized they could no longer stare at James Franco were a sequel to be made, I cried for the loss of a great character.

I don't think I'm alone — I mean, how many people's favorite character from "Harry Potter" is Harry? Or Bella from "Twilight?" While main characters usually make or break a movie, book or television show, it's the supporting roles that give some of the best surprises and depth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Instant Gratification Entertainment

Tonight, or rather tomorrow morning, I am going to see Christopher Nolan's new movie "Inception" at midnight. This is nothing new for me; I've been to eight midnight movie premieres — mostly just so I could experience the thrill of seeing the films before most of the viewing public. It's also rather amusing to watch "Twilight" fan girls hyperventilate over the fact that two fictional characters are about to kiss. Yes, despite not being a big fan of Stephenie Meyer's vampire stories, I attended the midnight showings of the first two movies. They're more enjoyable that way, anyway.

It doesn't matter what I have going on next day when there's a movie out I want to go see at midnight. When "Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was released I had an AP US History final exam the next day, but I showed up to the theater all the same and made it through school on three hours of sleep.

I was even convinced to dress up for the midnight premiere of the film version of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." Ten of us dressed up. My friend Katie even made a Golden Snitch costume. It was a very fun night and a great adrenaline rush.

I've even gone to two midnight book releases: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn." I was excited to be apart of history as the seventh "Harry Potter" book was released and read to from cover to cover after my friends and I bought copies. I agreed to go to the midnight release of "Breaking Dawn" for my friends' birthday celebrations. It was the most boring four hours of my life — we even bought coloring books so we'd have something to do. The wait was made worse by the fact that I didn't care. At all.

Even though television shows do not have special releases, I still insist upon watching my favorite programs live. I even watch the Oscars, possibly the biggest waste of a Sunday night, instead of waiting for internet updates so I can see who wins.

It's not really an obsession, I just like knowing and experiencing things before everyone else does. I don't want to be spoiled — especially when it comes to movies like "Inception" whose plot hinges on secrecy or cultural tent poles like the final "Harry Potter" book. With the internet, the potential to have plot summaries spoiled has increased exponentially. I just want my entertainment experience to be as pure as possible. Because, really, would being spoiled lessens the emotional impact and surprise. It's just not the same. Besides, it's entertaining to watch fangirls and fanboys get worked up to the point of crazy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Limited Release: The Bane of a Cultured Mississippian

Today, the first trailer for a new comedy "It's Kind of a Funny Story" was released online. You can watch it below. The film is based on a novel of the same name and revolves around 16 year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a mental hospital to deal with his depression. Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and Emma Roberts (Valentine's Day) play Craig's fellow patients.

And guess who also stars in the movie? Jeremy Davies who played Daniel Faraday from "Lost" and is one of the greatest character actors of his generation (in my opinion). So, still hoping to hold onto anything to do with "Lost" in anyway possible, I was understandably excited to go see the film when it comes out September 24th. Besides, even without Jeremy Davies, the film looks like it will be really good and seems to have the same originality "(500) Days of Summer" carried.

However, I became disappointed when I learned the film would only open in limited release and then may not expand to any theaters near me. Because I live in Starkville, Miss. for the bulk of the year. It's a place where the one cinema we do have doesn't give viewers an option between 2-D and 3-D experiences, and one is forced to pay a higher ticket price.

In September people who live in New York City will be able go see "It's Kind of a Funny Story," while I'm stuck with the Kristen Bell comedy "You Again" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Even though "Wall Street" has gotten good reviews, it's still a sequel starring Shia LaBeouf (something new for Hollywood — not). And even though smaller films like "Slumdog Millionaire" have done well once theaters actually start showing them, it still takes months from the original release for the movies to make their way to states that aren't New York or California.

It's just not fair that it took three months for "Slumdog Millionaire" to make its way to Mississippi from its original release. And "(500) Days of Summer" took from July to August to receive a wide release. I know that offbeat films don't have tested audiences like sequels to big blockbusters or famous directors to bank on but when given the chance, many arise to the occasion.

Because audiences, believe or not corporate Hollywood, do like a change of pace. And if a film is good people will continue to buy tickets. It wouldn't hurt to send a film that isn't a sequel or a movie full of $100 million explosions to Mississippi. Just every once in a while. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Animated Film: The Last Creative Haven

For the past year, I have received some flack for loving animated films more than live action movies. I am, after all, going into my second year of college and hold the position as the entertainment editor for Mississippi State University's student newspaper. I should, logically, like movies that grapple with serious adult issues or little known indie dramas. And I do. I just like good movies, no matter what medium is used to create them.

Last year, mainstream Hollywood released a bunch of stinker horror movies that were either remakes like "The Stepfather" or were so full of cliches it would be impossible for anyone in the audience to become scared. But the stop motion film "Coraline," which is based on a eerie children's novel, was full of thrilling twists and gruesome images. While "New Moon" and "The Ugly Truth" gave viewers unrealistic pictures of romance, "The Princess and the Frog" delivered characters whose love story truly works. And while there were many dramas like "Up in the Air" last year that connected with the audience, none were able to bring as many people to tears as "Up" did in the first five minutes.

That isn't to say every animated film is perfect; "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" was one sloppy mess. And 2009 also brought an inventive take on "Star Trek," the offbeat romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

However, Hollywood has, for the most part, begun green lighting things from the same, tired formula. From "G.I. Joe" to "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" summer blockbusters have become full of explosions, tired crude jokes and stale dialogue.

This year, most of the "big" movies have been disappointing. While "Alice in Wonderland" was creatively structured, it was no masterpiece. And the summer blockbuster season has been full of box office disappointments like "Prince of Persia" and critically dismissed films like "Sex and the City 2." So far, "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Toy Story 3" have been both two of the biggest box office successes of the year and two of the films garnering the highest acclaim for their inventive plot lines and character development. It's pretty sad that "kid's movies" have become the one generally reliable place for a good, thought provoking time.

Last Friday, "Despicable Me," an animated comedy about a super villain who adopts three girls in an attempt to use them for his nefarious plan to steal the moon, earned almost $60 million during its opening weekend — more than double the amount a blockbuster like "The A-Team" made during its opening.

I saw "Despicable Me" yesterday, expecting it to be full of retired jokes and flat moments. But I was wrong. Even though the movie was cute and full of familial bonding between the super villain Gru (Steve Carrell) and the three orphans, it was intelligently written, and it actually had jokes that were original. The plot was actually something new and different. Sure, it had moments where anyone over the age of six knew what would happen — but doesn't almost every film?

With "Inception" coming out on Friday perhaps the summer streak of stinker films aimed specifically to an older audience will end. But it's no wonder everyone was in line for "Toy Story 3" instead of the other cinema options. I mean was anyone really clamoring for another "Robin Hood" movie?