Monday, July 28, 2014

Epix picks

I had every intention of getting back into the blogging bidness this weekend…and then got distracted the moment I turned on the AT&T U-Verse Saturday morning.  Onscreen, I received a message to…check my other messages.

The first was a notice that U-Verse is adding that SEC Network of ESPN’s that will debut August 14; Mater and Pater were curious as to whether we would get the channel on our current package, and while normally an upgrade to the U-300 lineup would be necessary to watch SEC-ESPN…if you’re subscribed to U-200 (as we are) and, to quote the U-Verse folks, “reside in an SEC state,” no upgrade is needed.  (I’m pretty sure Georgia qualifies.)  The last time I spoke with Sater, er, sister Debbie on the Ameche she mentioned that she and my bro-in-law were going to get a satellite dish so that they, too, can have access to SEC.  (My brudder-in-law is a Vandy alum, and has vowed to watch their games by hook or by crook.  Snip also mentioned that they will probably throw in and get the MLB network so that she will know the pleasures of seeing an actual Braves game on a regular basis—the closest she gets is when the Bravos play the Cubs or the Cardinals.)

The news about the dish came quite as a surprise to yours truly only because my sister and her husband usually approach such matters with extreme caution—it’s not dissimilar to someone deciding to blow the rent money on lottery tickets or like that.  I think Snip has already broke ground on Project SEC; an e-mail I sent her over the weekend bounced back in that familiar Mailer-Daemon fashion.

But back to our story: the second U-Verse message announced the acquisition of pay movie channel Epix, and since they were nice enough to give us a free weekend (July 25-27) I decided to play hooky and get caught up on some recent movies I had not seen.  (I only wish I knew about this beforehand; I could have planned accordingly.)  The channel must have had some baseball promotion going on because they were spotlighting a number of national pastime-themed films including Major League (1989) and all three of the “Bad News Bears” movies.  I watched the first one—the good one—along with Eight Men Out (1988) and John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (1997), with the ‘rents.

I had seen Epix one time before; I got a free weekend several years ago when I was still in my bachelor digs and I sat down with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Walk-In Tub Skull (2008) and Star Trek (2009).  It seems fitting, then, that one of the movies I watched was Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).  I don’t consider myself a movie geek (others may have dissenting opinions) but I genuinely love the Star Trek movie franchise; I liked the old TV series (though I might be considered a heretic for refusing to read too much into it) and enjoyed the vehicles made with the original cast…and I even like the ones with the TNG people, even though I probably haven’t watched more than a dozen episodes of that show.  (I went with some of my nerd friends when 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection came out and was nearly hung for expressing my approval of the movie.  Fortunately, I was able to slip away when my chums were preoccupied calculating the equation involving my weight and the necessary dimensions of the gallows.)

In spite of Into Darkness’ excesses—you have the usual explodiations and stunts out the wazoo, which is par for the course with these films—I don’t regret tuning into this one; it’s well-made, has a fairly absorbing plot and the thesps playing the younger versions of the Trek originals are quite good.  (Though I’ll confess I had trouble watching Zachary Quinto in Margin Call since I saw that after Star Trek; I kept expecting his character to remark: “I find this volatility in our mortgage backed securities highly illogical.”)  Into Darkness possesses a sense of tongue-in-cheek fun (there are references to Tribbles and Harcourt Fenton Mudd); its only major stumble is casting actor Benedict Cumberbatch as a young version of Khan Noonien Singh, the Enterprise’s nemesis in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”  (Cumberbatch is a great actor—but I think this is one role he should have taken a pass on, considering the original character—played by Ricardo Montalban—was of Indian descent.)

While Star Trek Into Darkness got a big thumbs-up from me I wasn’t quite as charitable toward The Avengers (2012); everybody and his brother has told me that it’s a great superhero movie…but here’s the problem—the folks who make these movies assume that I’ve seen all the prior films (Hulk, Captain America, etc.), and I have not.  (I think I saw the third Iron Man movie, which came out after The Avengers.)  So forty minutes into the thing I still can’t make heads or tails of the plot; I don’t know why Samuel L. Jackson is wearing an eye patch and I keep thinking a “tesseract” is that device in A Wrinkle in Time.  I gave up on the movie after that.  I don’t mean this as a criticism: it’s possible that I was too tired to watch any more of the film (plus I have sworn off any more superhero movies since I sat through The Dark Knight Rises and found it’s essentially a rehash of Batman Begins) and maybe if I gave it another chance with fresher eyes I might like it.  But not today.  (I stick to the one with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.)

Flight (2012) stars Denzel Washington as pilot William “Whip” Whitaker, who miraculously manages to land a plane that experiences an in-flight mechanical failure with minimal casualties (out of 102 people onboard, four passengers and two crew members perish).   The problem for Whip is that with the death of four passengers, there’s got to be a scapegoat; Whitaker is struggling with some inner demons (he has a substance abuse problem, and relations between his ex-wife and son are strained) and even though no other pilot could have duplicated Whip’s amazing feat, the evidence of his pre-flight drinking will surely send him to the slammer despite the help of a dedicated union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a savvy criminal attorney (Don Cheadle).  There’s a subplot involving a troubled woman (Kelly Reilly) who is helped by Whitaker and who tries to return the favor; Flight’s a good movie (the flying sequence is phenomenal) that’s essentially a cross between Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and Fearless (1993).  (John Goodman provides some lighter moments as Whip’s “connection.”)

I was really disappointed with Friends with Kids (2012); the only thing worse than an indie film that’s all too aware it’s an indie film is an indie film that also wants to be a Woody Allen movie.  Adam Scott (the owner of TV’s funniest deadpan on Parks and Recreation) and Jennifer Westfeldt (who directed, wrote and co-produced) are a platonic couple who decide not to make the same mistakes as their married friends (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd; Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm) and enter into an agreement to start a family (have a kid) without all the messy marriage bidness.  It takes them a running time of one hour and forty minutes to realize that they should be together all along, despite knowing each other for nineteen years.  Westfeldt’s Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) was a real delight (I saw it a month or so back) and I was hoping Friends would be its equal but despite a strong cast it’s shallow and only sporadically funny; I had difficulty relating to any of the characters, to be frank.  (Wiig is particularly wasted—they could have cast her part with anyone.)

I finally wrapped up this free weekend viewing with The Bay (2012), a novel ecological horror film directed by Barry Levinson that’s sort of a wry take on his previous “Baltimore trilogy” (Diner, Tin Men, Avalon).  A small Maryland coastal village experiences an outbreak of parasites identified as Cymothoa exigua (“sea lice”) that have become life-threatening due to the toxic pollution in the Chesapeake Bay (the water has been the recipient of the effluence of a nearby chicken processing plant…chock full of steroids in the feces).  Bay is not for the squeamish; it’s presented in what is called a “found footage” style which translates to a lot of shaky camera work…and that made me more nauseous than the idea of parasites eating people from the inside (though this will certainly put you off your lunch, too).  The Bay tells its cautionary tale in an economical 85 minutes and features a cast of mostly unknowns…but it would make for a great double-bill with The East (2013).

1 comment:

Rich said...

You have a mountain's worth of movie knowledge and you don't consider yourself a movie geek? Interesting...