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Each year movie studios save the good stuff (well, comparatively) until the winter season, having bombarded us the first three months with product they have no faith in, then jamming the theaters during summertime with countless cape-wearing crusaders who battle nemeses for 140 minutes. True, the Marvel extravaganzas are all distracting enough, but without their CGI magic we’re usually left with weak storylines and colorless portrayals. For me, this year’s trailers have been better than the films they represented; the best being the one for Tomorrowland. Sadly, once past the first twenty minutes, that film itself didn’t live up to the trailer’s promise. Indeed, that’s been a problem with most of the anticipated theatrical releases this season.
I keep hoping we’re going to see the art form return to the real special effects – story, character and performance. Also, wouldn’t it be nice if moviemakers stopped dumbing down and crudding up the culture with their products’ content? For example, when’s the last time you saw a comedy that didn’t rely on obscenity in order to garner laughs? Hey, I’m not being prudish – I just prefer Dr. Strangelove’s wit to the R-rated humor of funny guys named Seth.
This summer, moviegoers young and old have, on the whole, digested nothing but the cinematic equivalent of headcheese. (Definition: headcheese is a dish made of portions of the head, or head and feet, of swine, cut up fine, seasoned, and pressed into a cheese-like mass.) I keep wondering when we will get some filet mignon. I realize tastes change and perhaps I sound a bit high-minded over my dissatisfaction with the movies so far this year. What’s more, it cannot be denied that the first seven months of cinematic offerings have made a boatload of money. But my question to moviegoers is this: wouldn’t you like to have some of that time and money back? So, while I will attempt to stay appreciative of changing tastes, when it comes to analyzing films, I shall continue to proclaim, "headcheese" whenever it is served.
Here are a few exceptions to my grievances thus far. To be honest, even they aren’t all that magical.
Woman in Gold
Sixty years after she fled Vienna during World War II, an elderly Jewish woman (Helen Mirren) attempts to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis. Perhaps the most involving aspect of this drama, beside Ms. Mirren’s performance, is the battle of an individual against bureaucracy and government officials. PG
An 8-year-old boy wants his dad home from the war and he’s told that if you have a faith even as little as the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. He wonders, however, how do we get that faith? Gutsy and profound, Little Boy reminds us that the faith of a child can be more powerful than whole armies. It also reminds us that prejudice is something taught and, once taught, is very hard to un-teach. PG-13
Young Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness; these emotions live in the control center of Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through each life. The makers of this animated family adventure use creativity to catch and hold our attention as they deal with an area seldom investigated in the genre: where sadness, joy and abstraction come from. The film examines the psyche in a way that impresses adults while amusing little ones. PG
A military dog serves on the frontlines in Afghanistan alongside his handler. Upon the death of his master, Max is returned stateside to the family of the fallen Marine. This isn’t just about a dog and his new sullen teenage master. It’s a film of substance, (though perhaps not as profound as My Dog Skip), ultimately reminding us of one of God’s great gifts to mankind, the canine. Dogs can be trained to see for us, hear for us, heal us, protect us. They serve the military, the police, our firefighters and those distressed. Different breeds can be trained to do just about anything. On top of that, they love us, forgive us and often better us. PG
We are overwhelmed by media influence, much of which doesn't feed the soul; more unnerving is the fact that what was abhorrent even to Caligula, is now accepted and celebrated by an industry that doesn’t create as much art as they profess.
I’m looking for an Up, or Life of Pi, The Tree of Life or Gravity. They’re not out there. Not yet.