I watch so many movies I often get swept up in the effort to write about all of them in an effective and coherent way. Monday to Wednesday and I’m already behind, by Friday I’ll be right back here scrambling to write about writing about reviews instead of actually doing them. It’s a process, I separate them to begin with, the good and the bad are easy, then there’s the stack of ‘maybe‘ – those prove the hardest by far, I suppose that is why I’ve avoided a banner, that would be easy. ‘Maybe‘ is not quite one way or the other, story is there and hardly anything else, great characters and some good lines lost in the wasteland of a jumbled plot – hodgepodge seems to sum it right and proper, far from good and terrible but nowhere near re-watchable. That’s why I get swept up in the effort, how will I be certain – ‘see it’ or ‘miss it’, I don’t know.
I’m a big fan of Sci-Fi, long before we had a cable television station devoted to it, before the last 10 years of reimagined and reconstituted, sequels and prequels and more nonsense – you can’t reboot a worn out shoe, leave it alone, find your own way to memorable, to the canon of pop culture fandom. If originality and copy enter the Thunderdome, one comes out and the other you do your best to forget, certainly you avoid writing about it. What about Tom Cruise and “Oblivion” – another lost Sci-Fi expedition? It got the shaft in general but that’s pretty much expected, choosing refined quiet like “Running Silent” and most recently “Moon“, sadly this is why it got chewed to pieces. Right now we’re drowning in excessiveness, more is better even when it’s too much by all rights. The big name reviewers bit down hardest, then bloggers and stragglers, what’s worse is the deadened maul of unquenchable mass appetites, strung out on all the wrong flicks, too much seems like the new crunchy ice – how can we ever reach a happy balance of sugar and spices if we’re mired in the middle ground of whatever, frozen to death in the tragedy of excess? Oh, yes I did like “Oblivion” quite a bit. Perhaps he’ll get a full review. I guess if I liked what everybody else liked I might have it easier, then again what would I have to say?
I should go on in great delight about Michael Bay‘s remarkable departure, his signature action bravado (see my Movie Mechanic editorial) in check, characters and dialogue to remember ahead of drawn out collateral damage in the muscle-bound heist flick “Pain & Gain“. I knew from the trailer it was one to watch, all the adrenaline and speed, the quick wit and structured situational funny midst flashy set pieces and the truly true circumstances of what really happened. Bay captures so effortlessly what typified the zeitgeist of 1990s Hollywood concept film, the hyper-reality of “Die Hard” before it died hard, the climax of “Lethal Weapon” and then again, the intersection of Wolfgang Petersen, Paul Verhoeven, James Cameron and Brian De Palma mixed in with a dozen-dozens of the no less talented but obviously destined for the back seat careers of the likes of Mikael Salomon (Backdraft), Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With The Enemy) and Jan de Bont (Die Hard/Lethal Weapons) among many, many others. Bay – Le Mecanisme de cineaste du jour ”Movie Mechanic” manages to step away from the airy mayhem of his usual brand of big screen theatrics and reveal a side of himself that I would certainly enjoy seeing more of. The genre of the 90s was jammed to the rafters with action flicks in varying tones of great, OK and forgettable. And like today it has become increasingly more difficult to stand out in the crowd. Even if you don’t like “Pain & Gain” it would be difficult to deny its independence.
And then there was “The Place Beyond the Pines” that appears much more liked, though for the life of me I don’t know why. I guess star power trumps everything else. The readily saleable Gosling and Cooper to sell tickets with mention alone. Gosling made Crazy, Stupid Love a success, despite how really crappy it is, hardly worth reviewing but that didn’t seem to stop me. I don’t hate it because that would be too much of an investment, I’m still puzzled why it went over so well. I liked Cooper in “Limitless” even less, the same tired 8 minutes over and over again like somehow it was going to get better by the end instead of just flopping on the floor, finally. All that before I even get close to “Pines”, not terrible or anywhere close to likable, it just feels so incomplete, like a bunch of scenes tossed together as the director prays it will come together in the end – which it doesn’t, not really.
“Pines” director Derek Cianfrance might have “Blue Valentine” under his belt and a competent psychological drama at that, but a closer look at his filmography reveals not much meat before – made for TV forgettable, shorts leading to shorts, from the camera and electrical department to the top of the class – but we’ve seen this kind of filmmaker before and we know not even that can last. “Pines” had moments like “Silver Lining” before it but nowhere near enough to make the viewing worth the investment. By the time the weak story structure plays out, once we leave one half of the film to begin another that might as easily be cleaved out on its own, the acting fills the rooms about as convincingly as the stunted and at times pedestrian dialogue that is neither particularly colorful nor entirely memorable.
“Stand Up Guys” has all the right ingredients for a solid, character driven middle of the road film, one that should if all the cards fall where they should, appeal to a broad demographic and make a few bucks in the process. Those clutching on to their aging matinée heroes, those who love the idea of the ‘bucket list’ plot mechanism, those who just can’t seem to get enough gangster yarns in their dietary intake of Hollywood’s finest will find it here and there. But the trouble with the middle of anything is how very far you are from either end, unable to firmly grasp the terra firma of success nor succumb thankfully, to the dire and rankest depths of utter failure – though in all honesty, ‘Guys’ just sort a wallows in the fading fervor of its own self-worth, destined to die the thousand shocks of mediocrity. The saddest thing of all is to watch such a wasted effort, the chance to pit some of our favorites together if only to see them working off one another. Some say acting is reacting. Would it were so true one might simply enjoy the effort, still ‘Guys’ seems hardly worth it after all is said and done and you’ve got popcorn and bubble gum stuck to your shoes.
I keep going back to something several people have said since I started Above The Line back in 2010, questions really about why I do it, why I spend so much time writing about movies I don’t like. The answer has always been about learning something, improving my understanding of the cinematic language that it all might inform my own screenwriting, filling in the holes in my own movies so I don’t suffer the same negative reviews. But lately I’m beginning to think differently about all those movies and ‘miss it’ reviews. I guess it’s because I’ve lost so much time and will lose even more as life goes on. When your time boils down to only a few hours at a time, you begin to rethink your priorities. That’s not to say I’ll stop writing about all the movies I can, good and bad, even the ‘maybe’ ones. But I do have to come to terms with my limitations. I’m already behind. It’s a process. That’s why I get swept up in the effort, all the decisions to be made – ‘see it’ or ‘miss it’, I guess we’ll see.