Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.
A little bit of a break of format this week as I wanted to post my Top 10 of 2011 as a column as well as my usual thoughts on cinema but didn’t want to make it into a column of epic length. Thus this will be a two part edition of ye olde column, with the second debuting shortly.
One of the things that always killed my self-esteem has been the sizing of Under Armor sweatshirts. You know, the nice big hoodie types that you can wear when it’s still not horrible in the winter or to relax. This one, pictured below.
My father loves picking these up for me but for the past couple years they’ve killed my self esteem. He’s a lot smaller than I am, of course, but knows how to pick sizes for me. Mainly it’s just getting XL because 99 times out of 100 it’ll fit perfectly with my frame. The XL Under Armour hoodie is way undersized for an XL and would be remarkably tight in the chest and shoulders. I didn’t realize this though and I just figured I needed to lose weight or something. I put it on the shelf and spent the next 12 months trying to lose weight, not even bothering to trade it in out of embarrassment, and this year my father did the same exact thing with another hoodie.
I figured this might fit better, not even bringing the other one out (it was in my car trunk after an ex borrowed it during a long weekend and I never took it back out), and I had the same fit problems. Trading it in for something comfortably sized in a XXL, I was bothered because of the size difference. The gal at the Dick’s Sporting Goods did say that they had a ton of returns for that reason with that product. I opted to come home with two hoodies that fit, thank god, and something sparked inside me. Pulling the XL out, I handed it over to my father and got him to try it on.
He puts it on and it fits perfectly on him, so I give it to him because obviously I won’t wear it. He found the whole situation amusing and for the first time in a while my self confidence was at a bit of a high. Walking down the hall, I even had a little chant: “Not as fat as I thought, uh huh.” Total celebration on an irrational level, like J.J Berea in the last NBA Finals.. And then I hear words that brought me back down to Earth.
“You’re still fat, though” my father said jocularly. And it’s thoughts like these that got him into the good colleges and kept me out of them.
Random Thought of the Week
As the book closes on 2011, there isn’t much else to be written about outside of the massive tomes the web has already written en masse about the year that was, this week I want to concentrate on the year that will be. Expectations for this year are necessarily low after 2011. In many ways 2011 is like being a sports fan. It had plenty of promise but wound up finishing lame. It was kind of like the Bears this year; until Cutler gets hurt we’re the wild card seed and the team most likely to beat the Packers in the playoffs. Then Cutty goes down and I’m looking at the draft with a more watchful eye than if we’re picking in the last six places.
2012’s expectations are way lower now in terms of both box office and cinematic quality. It is kind of following the Lions after they went O-16 in an aspect; if you only win one game the year after going 0-fer it feels like a success. I mean you did do better than the year before, if only on a technical basis. So if 2012 grosses a bit more and a handful of better films more than 2011 it’ll feel like a much better year for film than 2011. This is a year that kind of made you feel dirty after a while; trailers and advertising have gotten so good that disappointment comes more often than not. It’s hard to tell a good film from a bad film many times because of overall trailer quality.
Going into this year, normally I’d think about doing some excessive preview or point out a handful of films that are off the radar but ought to worth viewing. Instead I’m going to peer into my crystal ball and make a handful of predictions as to how the year in cinema will turn out.
1. Marvel’s The Avengers will make more money than any film this year … but The Dark Knight Rises will be the better film
Expectations are really high for The Avengers and part of me thinks no matter how good the film is it’ll be disappointing because of how highly anticipated it is. But it’s going to have a Spider-Man 3 ability to draw oodles and oodles of cash because of its name and not because of its quality. Christopher Nolan is the only direction to trust this year and his finale for the Batman franchise looks intriguing.
2. The finale for Twilight will be crushed by the big new franchise: The Hunger Games
When Twilight debuted and became a cultural phenomenon it was fairly easy to see that the ceiling for it was almost already established. This was a franchise for women almost exclusively; you don’t see nearly as many guys of a compatible age amped for a Twilight film to be released. It’s more of a curiosity to see any number of men in the franchise. The Hunger Games, long touted as the next big thing, seems to be far more buzz-worthy for men and women and I have a feeling that this film is going to come out and draw like gangbusters.
3. Bullet to the Head will flop in comparison to The Expendables 2 but will be the better film
It’s been a while since Stallone had two films in theatres in one year, it seems, and one of them is bound to be a failure. I think the novelty factor helped boost up The Expendables and that a second time around it won’t help nearly as much in finding an audience. On the other hand Bullet to the Head is a first quarter action film and probably will be lost amidst Haywire, et al, coming out. My guess is that it’ll fail to find an audience but manage to be more entertaining.
4. Tom Cruise will be the thing everyone talks about in Rock of Ages
The one thing missing in the film’s trailer is Tom Cruise singing. We see the entire rest of the cast singing for the most part but not Cruise; it’s kind of interesting in an odd way. Cruise reportedly took vocal lessons as well as learned to play guitar for the part of Stacee Jax and I imagine that he wouldn’t have signed on for a role in a musical if he wasn’t confident he couldn’t absolutely destroy it. I think the big story when the film comes out is going to be Cruise as a musician in the same way Pierce Brosnan was pointed out for Mamma Mia!, though I do think Cruise will end up sounding better than Brosnan’s patented wombat gargling razor blades vocalization style.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man will be disastrous both critically and commercially
At the end of the year we’re going to be talking about the reboot of Spider-Man as something that didn’t need to happen at all.
6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt vaults to the A-list officially
With Rises being released in theatres as well as Looper, Premium Rush and Lincoln, no actor can take their status to the A-list this year faster than JGL. And all four films he’s attached to that are set to go for a theatrical run this year are going to turn him from indie darling into a full-fledged movie star. Throw in a supporting turn in Django Unchained, as well, and everyone is going to love JGL by the end of 2012.
7. Here Comes the Boom won’t gross more than Warrior
Kevin James streak of bad films continues but his venture into MMA with a film that has the first official use of UFC trademarks is going to be considerably worse than one of 2011’s best on the same subject (Warrior) and won’t find nearly as big an audience as that film, either. MMA so far hasn’t quite proven to be the cinematic draw and I don’t think Kevin James in his usual sort of pratfalls will do much to change it. I’d be genuinely surprised if his film finds a bigger audience than Gavin O’Connor’s did.
8. Jason Statham is outshined as an action star by Ryan Gosling again
Gosling’s Gangster Squad looks to be something remarkable whereas Statham is doing variants of his usual action formula this year. After Drive outclassed anything Statham has done in eons in 2011, it’s going to happen again to Statham as the shine on him as being the action star of his star loses a bit more of its luster.
9. Red Dawn finds its way onto DVD quicker than any other wide release film this year
This is a film that’s been in post production hell for some time. The film’s villains are being changed from Chinese to North Korean, mainly for marketing purposes in Asia, and the film has had its release date changed a number of times already. This film has all the stench of a disastrous opening followed by a quick shunting to DVD.
10. Les Miserables gives Russell Crowe his first genuine hit in years but Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman steal the show
Crowe needs one, too, as he’s still a bankable actor but has been doing films that aren’t normally ones that cross $200 million domestically. Les Miserables showcases his vocal talents, which aren’t horrible but not special by any means, and the film has a built in fanbase waiting to come out en masse. Crowe is going to be credited with getting a hit but the story will be how Jackmand and Hathaway steal the film from the Oscar winner.
11. This is Forty will mark Judd Apatow’s first true failure
It’s odd to see Apatow mine parts of an old story for a new film. One watches that film and the thing that stands out is that Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) have a story that is necessarily concluded by the end of the film. Their marriage is in trouble but the two are going to work on it, especially with a niece newly born into the world. Their story is wrapped up nice and neatly, practically with a bow wrapped on it, but I can see why Apatow would want to go back and continue their story. Pete and Debbie are really his stand-ins for his own marriage and his own perspective on it, Mann being his real life wife, and I imagine he has more to say about the state of marriage as you get older. But is there more material to mine out of this? I don’t think so and I think This is Forty is going to wind up becoming a critical and commercial failure for Apatow.
12. The Great Gatsby closes the year as favorite to win an Oscar
Everything about this film, from the casting to the source material, screams that it’s going to be the film on everyone’s top 10 list and will be the big Oscar front runner come this time next year.
A Movie A Week – The Challenge
This Week’s DVD – Things I Don’t Understand
When it comes to writing for an online site, you have to take many things with a grain of salt. It’s something akin to the 10-80-10 rule of being a famous athlete, I think. They say 10 percent will hate you no matter what you do, 10 percent will love you no matter what you do and that 80 percent haven’t made up their mind yet. It’s similar to the kind of comments and feedback you get when writing online. 10 percent will be completely useless, 10 percent will be fawning praise that’s also useless and 80 percent will be somewhere in-between.
You can’t do anything about the first two; at first it can be bothersome when someone does the self righteous “I’m never reading this site again” kind of garbage, as if that one person’s readership is of utmost importance. I also get bothered with the “Oh my God this is amazing” kind of comments that usually come up as well; part of the writing experience dictates that good, honest feedback is the best for becoming a better writer. Most times you end missing the 80 because the 10 and 10 are often much louder.
It’s a little different when you get contacted by people online looking for something. Most of the time it can be something worthwhile but a lot of times it’s just PR flacks looking for free publicity. They’ll want you to install widgets and blog about them to enter a “contest” of some sort; it’s rather remarkable what they think you’ll want to do for them without anything in return. And then there’s the rare time a director will contact you, looking for some publicity for his film, and doesn’t recoil when you don’t promise some good words. I was disappointed by something one of a senior staffer’s friends sent me, thrilled by another and then there’s the case of David Spaltro.
Spaltro is one of those guys who didn’t immediately recoil when we promised nothing more than honest review. He is someone who is my friend on the Facebook, in terms of full disclosure, and I adored his debut feature … Around. Now comes his sophomore effort, Things I Don’t Understand, which came in the same DVD format as did: a burned DVD with the film’s title written on it by a sharpie. Spaltro is back behind the camera as well as the scribe for the film.
Things has a fairly simple premise. Violet Kubelick (Molly Ryman) is a rising star in her psychology/sociology graduate studies program focused on the question “what happens after we die?” Unable to find the answers she seeks for her thesis. A suicide attempt later, her world starts cashing down. Working a minimum wage job and with a junkie musician, and a performance artist for roommates, Floating through life with one-night stands and alcohol fueling her, her sole source of stability is a bartender (Aaron Mathias).
At the advice of a therapist (Lisa Eichorn), Violet is convinced to finish her thesis while spending time at a local Hospice. Fate puts Sara (Grace Folsom), a terminally ill patient, in her path and the film focuses on their relationship. On top of this her and her roommates are about to be evicted from their apartment and need to come up with a sizeable amount of cash for a new place.
The film is Violet’s tale as she has to progress through the funk that is her life, for lack of a better word, but unfortunately there’s too many layers on top of what should be her story. I can see what Spaltro is trying to do; this is a multi-layered drama about Violet and her friends but unfortunately her story is way more interesting than her wacky roommates. It takes away from her story, about figuring out who she is, and pads the film out to an unnecessary two hours or so. The film has a tremendous vibe when Molly Ryman is on screen; Spaltro worked with her on … Around and got a great performance out of her then and gets another great one out of her in Things. The film really becomes engaging when she’s on screen.
The problem is that the film’s subplot of her roommates and their living situation gives the film a bit of an issue with tone. It’s much wackier than it is serious; it’s entertaining but it kind of kills the interesting vibe we get from Violet’s story. There’s something interesting about her story and her growth; it feels grafted from a different film. Spaltro does screwball comedy well and drama well but the mix doesn’t work in this case. There’s a brilliant 90 minute character study in here and a good baseline for a television series of three wacky artists in New York being mashed together for a two hour dramedy of sorts.
Spaltro shows an improved story-telling manner than he did in … Around this time around; he still may be developing as a film maker but this is a crisper and more professional looking film than his debut work. Working with more of a budget than a credit card, as he famously did last time, Spaltro’s film feels like the work of a polished indie veteran. He shows more poise as a film-maker and a storyteller, vastly improving upon his ability to tell a story from his first film to his sophomore effort. The lessons learned from making … Around have made him a much more confident story-teller as well; Things feels more assured as a film.
His cinematography is much stronger this time around, too. Things looks gorgeous and Spaltro has an evocative way of bringing out the parts of New York City that don’t come up on the first page of a Google image search. The way he captures the Brooklyn Bridge during the film’s final moments at night is just spectacular. NYC is one of the more beautiful cities at night when it comes to film and it’s just devastatingly beautiful through his lens.
If you can find a copy of Things I Don’t Understand, throw it on. It’s probably more likely you’ll find it at a film festival, definitely get yourself a ticket. It’s a great film, despite some noticeable flaws, and if anything is a sign of good things to come.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club
The Devil Inside – A found footage type film about exorcisms or something.
Skip It – Films in January tend to suck a rule and I don’t think the novelty of the found footage concept will enhance the project.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.