Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movies that Don't Suck

I don't know about you, but I live in a constant state of searching for movies that Don't Suck.™ It can be quite difficult, Hollywood seems to want to serve up to us Suckage wrapped in a movie package. Over and over in many cases (yes, I'm looking at you Lone Ranger…Last Airbender…Green Lantern…Transformers 2 AND 3...)

So it was with much expectation of suckage and an iPad sitting at my elbow to be deployed in the event I got horrifically bored or horrifically grossed-out that I agreed when the husband suggested we watch I, Frankenstein last night, the Aaron Eckhart action vehicle. (Worthwhile side note:
Aaron is aging quite well. A good half the enjoyment of the film was directly related to him. )

And it was…quite serviceable entertainment! Remember when that's all a movie really had to do? Just entertain us for an evening or so? These days it seems that every movie has to be a blockbuster and the special-effects departments are running the show.

As a technologist, I appreciate what the special effects teams can do (and there were some wonderfully surprising and interesting effects in I, Frankenstein) but in most big-budget films I wonder if the writers and directors are really okay with these extended "head in a blender" scenes where no human eyeball can actually track all the action and moving bits. I've even read articles by movie reviewers who talk about numbness and fatigue in the viewing population. These are people who are PAID TO WATCH MOVIES, and they're getting exhausted!

It's not fair to say there aren't a lot of special effects in this movie, there are actually a ton, but for some reason the way the director played his hand with special effects in this movie felt less obtrusive than other films. They were in the right place, in the right amount, deployed precisely instead of spread across the whole film like a sticky layer of peanut butter.

But more than just a reasonable touch with special effects, the writing was reasonable. I only groaned at one line instead of five or six. I marveled at a scene where in most movies, the writer/director would have felt compelled to insert a bunch of grandstanding speechifying by the actors, but in this film, the work was done visually, which of course is the WHOLE POINT of a movie - you can do some narrating visually that we book writers must spell out in words.

The gore level was reasonable. Too often I'm finding these days that PG-13 is used for virtually all movies whether they are gory or not. There is a lot of fighting in this film, even some human deaths, but the majority of the bad guys go up in a cloud of fiery ashy dust. Reminded me quite a bit of Buffy-level violence. I would suggest it's appropriate for ages 10 and up.

And best of all? The movie clocked in at a very reasonable 90 minutes! Even if it isn't your cup of tea, it'll be over before you know it. It's a little astonishing how few movies aim for this shorter length, the length that used to be standard for films.

While looking at the IMDB page for this film, I was surprised to see another movie we kind of enjoyed in a surprising way -- Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. Serviceable entertainment, reasonably good writing. ALVS was much bloodier, not okay for kids in my opinion, but still a decent movie. How about you - what's on your list of "This one wasn't bad…"?

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