Great Expectations (Movies that impressed or depressed)

You know when you put off renting a movie for a while, because it stars an actor that sets your teeth on edge, or it got bad reviews, or it got great reviews, but you’re sure you won’t like it? Or it was overhyped and therefore must be crap? Then, when you finally rent it, or it actually makes it to the top of the queue, you stick it into the player, but have an alternate evening plan prepared, just in case?

What follows are some thoughts on the movies (most released in 2012) that surprised me, not always in a pleasant way.

The Bad and the Ugly

I used to like Woody Allen, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t have high expectations for To Rome with Love.

I rented it on a whim, hoping for something light, vaguely comical but peppered with smart dialogue. Instead, I got a weird, weird movie full of unlikeable characters. To top it off, all the actors appeared to be acting, which means few seemed to properly inhabit their roles, putting me outside the story. Worst performance by far? Allen’s own. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t surprised by that, either. So, I guess what I’m saying is that this movie didn’t really surprise me at all.

There are a few actors out there who I cannot stand. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but when I see them in movies, I cannot unsee them. Kiera Knightly is one. She has ruined movies for me. Decades ago, I formed the same dislike for Winona Ryder. I’ve also been known to avoid movies starring Brad Pitt, which is completely unreasonable. He’s been in some really great movies: Fight Club, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Burn After Reading come to mind. Incidentally, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is the only movie in which I truly enjoyed watching Angelina Jolie.

None of the above is rational. But if you ever get into a discussion with someone who watches a lot of movies, and has opinions, rationality rarely enters into it. You like who and what you like.

I put off renting Silver Linings Playbook for a long time because of the hype, all the awards and Jennifer Lawrence. Yep, she’s on the list of actors I just can’t stand. I cannot explain why, but after watching two movies written and directed by David O. Russell, I think part of my issue might be his obvious infatuation with her. She gets camera time her character doesn’t need, in my humble opinion.

As for Silver Linings Playbook, I liked it well enough. I enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s performance and his story. But I failed to understand his choice in women. Love stories don’t work (for me) if there is no sympathy for the heroine. I end up frustrated and then bored.

On a side note, I absolutely loved American Hustle. So one actor doesn’t always completely ruin a movie for me.

Browsing my Netflix list (last twelve months) for low ratings, there are so many disappointing movies to write about. I want to save room for the pleasant surprises, though, so I’ll just list a couple more:

Lincoln. Damn, I wanted to be bowled over by this. I really did. Instead, I plugged my ears every time Lincoln told a story (or, perhaps I should say ‘soliloquized’), causing everyone else on screen to fall silent and listen with rapt attention. I’m a fan of Sally Field, but every scene between her and Daniel Day Lewis was a chore. No chemistry and soap opera dialogue. We quit this one halfway through.

The Campaign. I should have known better, nuff said.

Starship Troopers:  Invasion. I honestly can’t review this one as I read a book while watching it. Yep, it was that compelling.

Okay, now that we’ve done the bad and ugly, let’s get to:

The Good

First up is Cloud Atlas. I put off seeing this one for two reasons: hype and Tom Hanks. I used to really like Tom Hanks. His name on a marquee almost guaranteed a ticket purchase for me. Then he made The Polar Express. That movie seriously creeped me out. I shudder even thinking about it today. The animation, his voice, his face! (Not rational, I know.) After that came a series of obvious Tom Hanks vehicles. Watching the trailers, I could see nothing but his face (and be reminded of the animated version(s)) and hear nothing but his voice.

The trailer for Cloud Atlas paints a picture of the ultimate ensemble film. A must see experience, Hollywood being clever and artsy and all speculative to boot. I got the impression that it would be one of those movies where if you didn’t understand it, then you were obviously an idiot. Go home; no, you can’t have your money back. Go get a degree in something. I really hate movies like that.

But I had the idea my husband and daughter wanted to see it and now and again I’ll rent something for them (and then make them watch it with me). Both expressed surprise at this one, and we never did figure out why I thought they wanted to see it.

Upshot is, my husband and I were enthralled.

Part of it was the cinematography. It was so vibrant. The screen felt alive in every frame. The saturation of colour and depth of field were mesmerizing. Then there was the story, which really was rather simple, but told through six different lifetimes and so complicated beautifully. Each of the six, smaller stories absorbed me completely and when woven together, made for a really interesting film.

The second movie that really knocked my socks off was Chasing Mavericks. I rented this one for my daughter. We’d both seen the trailer a couple of times and liked the idea of a surfing movie. Chasing Mavericks is SO MUCH MORE. It’s about realizing a dream and working toward it. There is all the usual heartache and disappointment, and also the expected moments of enlightenment and resolution. Here, it’s the characters that set the movie apart, and perhaps the actors’ portrayal of them.

It’s also based on a true story and the young Jay Moriarity is very engaging and likeable. We laughed and cried throughout, which is always the measure of a great movie for me.

Okay, going to round this one out with two films starring an actor I actively avoided for years and then fell in love with: Leonardo DiCaprio. The movies are Django Unchained and The Great Gatsby.

I skipped the first in theatres because of the potential for gore. It’s a Tarantino film, after all. I actually thought he restrained himself somewhat in this one. As in, the violence and gore was there, but not completely out of keeping with the story. Not utterly sensationalized. Also—the story. Great story. I actually think this is Tarantino’s best film.

We missed The Great Gatsby in theatres because we live in Nowhereville, U.S.A. The Lego Movie will play up here for two months, but films like The Great Gatsby are lucky to last a week. But, there was an upside to having to rent it: my daughter loved it. I hadn’t expected her to sit through this one, but she did and she sobbed with us at the end. It’s a beautiful rendition of the story and DiCaprio’s performance is up there with his best. I guess I didn’t really expect less from this film, so including it here is a bit of a cheat. So I’ll mention one more than all but bombed in theatres, but that I actually enjoyed: Hansel and Gretel. Honestly, I don’t really get what was wrong with it. I was thoroughly entertained. But, as I have mentioned before, I am easily pleased.

Right, that’s it. I’ve one more post about movies to make, which will be about four films I rented by accident. Each was a memorable experience, and my husband loves to remind me of one in particular.

 

(Featured image from Chasing Mavericks, starring Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston. Image credit: Just Jared)

 

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