The Chronicles of Now Playing

By: Jeff Ford
By: Jeff Ford

Chronicle, Big Miracle, The Woman in Black and the Best/Worst of January

 

This week, I would like to start a new feature on Now Playing. At the end of each month, I’m going to look back at the actual films I saw and determine the movies that I feel were the best and worst of the month. Unfortunately (or fortunate in some cases), this was an idea that occurred to me in the second half of January so I was only able to see a handful of new releases.   Another caveat of this blog is that I don’t get to see these movies for free and my time schedule is hectic, so I won’t be able to comment on all that was released. While “The Devil Inside” may have been hands down pick for worst of the month for the majority of the people, I did not want to waste my time or money on it so it won’t end up with the award I’m sure it’s due. As for “The Gray”, it’s on my to-do list but won’t make it until February. 
When it comes to choosing best film I saw this month, I am in a dilemma. Do I include a local January release even though it premiered in the major markets in December, or do I stick with the mass releases? While I can say without a doubt that “The Descendants” was the best film I personally saw this month, it was released in December here so it is not eligible. “The Artist” on the other hand came out in January and was easily the equal to “The Descendants”. This silent film won me over with its great story of a silent film star whose career was over once the era of the talkies began. Told almost entirely through its music and visuals shown in the very rare Academy Aspect Ratio (4:3 or full screen in DVD terms), it’s a throwback to the bygone days of early cinema. Don’t let the fact that it is silent dissuade you from venturing to the Kentucky Theater (in my opinion, the only place to see it). The film is laugh out loud funny at times, heartbreaking in others, and leaves you with a dance in your step and a smile on your face. It’s a film that showcases one of the reasons I love movies. It easily gets my highest possible rating of 5 out of 5.
Of course, that would be my pick of the month if I let the local January release criteria stand. Should I award something in 2012 when it is eligible and will hopefully dominate the Oscars later this month? The next highest film on my list would be “Haywire”, the action movie starring MMA star Gina Carano. Don’t get me wrong. I still like this movie a lot, but it’s a far distance second. This throwback to the grindhouse films of the 70’s was more successful at evoking that era than the films that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have been trying to bring to the masses. Gina Carano, in her first feature role (unless you count the PC game Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. I don’t) holds her own with a great list of supporting actors, including Michael Douglass, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas. The movie lives or dies by her and I think she handles herself quite admirably.  It’s a simple yet brutal revenge tale told with great skill by its director Stephen Soderbergh. In other terms, it’s an art house B-movie. “Haywire” is an easy 4 out of 5.
The worst films list is also a dilemma. For strictly January releases, I will have to make it “One for the Money.” The film stars Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum, the recovery agent made famous in the Janet Evanovich series of books. Despite what some critics say, I found the film not to be as bad as they make it out. It’s bland and mostly forgettable, but I do see the promise of the premise. The film feels it would play better on television, maybe as a USA show. Stephanie Plum, in the right hands, could be someone I could set my DVR to record. As a theatrical release, however, it fills its January release date perfectly. Any other time of year, this film would be completely forgotten. In January, it took about five minutes after leaving the theater for the movie to start disappearing from my memory banks. It gets a 2 out of 5.
Now I need to go back and think about my dilemma for local January releases. If “Haywire” receives the best of January then “One for the Money” gets the worst. However, if I allow “The Artist” to receive the award, it makes my choice of worst film that much easier.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” somehow bamboozled its way into a Best Picture nomination and I can’t see how. I have been slightly bashing this film, unseen, with my constant throwing of critics quotes at it, showcasing their thoughts. I began to think to myself; maybe I am being unfairly harsh. How can I bash something I haven’t seen? I decided to give this film a chance. I went to the Fayette Mall, threw down the matinee price and prepared myself to be emotionally assaulted. When the credits rolled, I realized that critics got this wrong as well. However, while with “One for the Money” they rated it too low, this one they rated it too high. I have never seen a film as Oscar bait as this one. Here’s a checklist. An overrated Academy nominated director. Check. Two Oscar winning actors and an Oscar nominated legend. Check. It’s a movie about a kid. Check. The kid is growing up without his father. Check. The kid has Asperger’s (maybe. Tests were inconclusive). Check. There’s a holocaust survivor. Check. He refuses to speak. Check. All of this set against a backdrop of a national tragedy which is fully intended to capture the sympathetic hearts of the audience. Check.  It is ten years since the tragedy so it is the best time to capitalize on it. Check. There’s more than this but I think I’ve made my point. It’s so obvious that it’s trying to nab the Oscar. The kids name is even Oskar. How much more obvious could It be. Oscar nominated movies should be determined by the quality of the product, not by manipulating our sympathies. They tried to get the teardrops going but it wasn’t happening.  Subtlety is the key. A film needs to gently guide the viewer to its intended results. In this instance, the filmmakers were too forceful in playing the sympathy card and it tore me completely out of the movie. As it stands right now, it gets a bottom 1 out of 5.
That is my best and worst for January. Should I stick with the January release schedule and leave “The Artist” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” to last year? Feel free to chime in with the comments below. For now, it’s time for the February movies to start their run. Three films are on the docket. These include: Harry Potter taking on a ghost; a whale of an Alaskan tale; and the first film I’d like to discuss concerning teenagers who receive special powers.
CHRONICLE
Three high school friends come across a mysterious artifact that grants each of them special abilities. They utilize them for some harmless pranks at first. However, the power eventually goes to their heads as they must come face to face with their dark sides.
I grow tired of found footage films. I can’t say for certain that this will qualify as that type but from the trailer, at least the first part resembles one. It may employ the method used similarly in “Behind the Mask” where once the characters put down the camera, an actual film emerges. All I have to go by is the trailer. I was going to give this one a pass; however there is some positive buzz. Maybe it will be more than what the trailer leads me to believe. For now I will just leave my interest as a 2 Origin Stories out of 5. “Chronicle” is rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking.
BIG MIRACLE
Inspired by a true story, a TV reporter (John Krasinski, “Smiley Face”) recruits his ex-girlfriend (Drew Barrymore, “Poison Ivy”) in an effort to save three whales that have been trapped under the Arctic ice. The whole town of Barrow, Alaska joins in the effort in a story that inspires hope throughout the world.
What are the chances that the group will be unsuccessful? I don’t think they will be but that would be a great surprise ending. Instead, what I am sure follows would be a cliché, feel good film that is supposed to inspire the audience. Not my particular cup of tea, but I won’t begrudge its message. If the clichés are used well, the film has the possibility of succeeding. For me, this is not on one of my ‘rush out and see it’ lists. I’ll just grant it 2 Free Willy’s out of 5. “Big Miracle” is rated PG for language.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
Daniel Radcliffe (“The Tailor of Panama”) portrays a recently widowed lawyer who ventures to a remote village. While there, he encounters the spirit of a scorned woman who is terrorizing the locals. Can he survive the supernatural threat without the use of the Deathly Hollows?
This is Mr. Radcliffe’s first film since the last of the Harry Potter’s. I’m wondering if he is able to carry a film by himself without the backing of a highly successful book series. In this, he didn’t venture far from his “wizarding” days where he regularly encountered ghosts in his adventures. This one looks to me like a typical haunted house film, filled to the brim with boo moments. The trailer doesn’t do anything for me, leaving me feeling blah. I’m not that excited to watch it. I’ll simply just swish and flick my wand, say “wingardium leviosa” and levitate this rating to 2 Ladies in Red out of 5. “The Woman in Black” is rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images.
The first weekend of February is in the books. Will any of these achieve the honor of Best of the Month or will they languish towards the nether of the Worst? Stay tuned to find out. Until next time, take care of yourself, and each other.
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