Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pain and Gain is like dessert, while The Frozen Ground is like the large meal before.

I Loved It
I loved Pain and Gain.

            I have a friend who hates movies based on true stories, ever since he saw Fargo and found out it wasn’t really based on a true story, he sort of looked into other movies and found that most movies based on true stories are 99% made up. I can see his complaint – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, based on a true story, sure, but a story that has nothing to do with chainsaws – at the same time, life is very rarely as exciting as it is in the movies, and were something to stick to the truth, generally it’s gonna be pretty dull, and to that point it ain’t gonna sell many tickets – which is the whole point of making a movie.
            I don’t look into the factual history of a movie I just saw that was based on a true story. I do enjoy when the movie uses actual footage throughout or at the end of the movie, a sort of acknowledgement or nod to those involved in the true story the movie was based on; also, there’s nothing like seeing pictures of the actual people the movie was based on and seeing how much they look nothing like the actors portraying them – kind of introduces the idea that a lot of the movie is better looking than the facts.

            So Pain and Gain is based on / inspired by a true crime; what is fake and what is fact I have no idea but I bet it’s safe to say the more exciting moments, the funny moments, and possibly even the heartfelt scenes were all fake, does that make it a bad movie? My friend would say so. Why watch a movie based on a true crime when so much of the movie’s version of events turns out to be fake? Because I’m bored, because I don’t care? Take your pick.

            This is a Michael Bay film, and though he gets a lot of crap for being an explosion happy director, if you’re looking for his usual style of over-the-top action you will be sorely disappointed. Bay has a flashy almost candy-colored style to his films that is unmistakable; a style that most consider a bad thing, but I say what’s wrong with candy? It’s like a sci-fi movie that’s all special effects (who really went to see Avatar for the story?); this is a movie that is all about colors, sexy women and insanely muscular men. It’s got something for both the husband and the wife, right?

            My wife loves movies based on true crimes, and she loves Tony Shalhoub – she just hated this movie. Well, she left before more than five minutes had passed, so I’m taking that as a point for the hate column. She is not a fan of Bay’s movies, and obviously they’re geared more towards the stereotypical male, and though this is a tamer version of his regular movies (take that as a good thing or a bad thing), I loved it.

            The movie had enough of Bay’s usual ingredients to keep my wife from being interested. The first problem she had was Mark Wahlberg doing sit-ups on the side of a building (because it looks cool I guess) and then Tony Shalhoub – while not the bad guy – was not a very likable person in the least, and she did not want that picture of Monk in her head, so she left, which meant I got to watch this on the computer with headphones. Normally the headphones are turned up for the action, but since there was none, this time I had it turned up for the music. I really really liked the music in this movie.

            The opening music put me in the perfect mood to watch a movie like this, a movie of three guys, lacking in brains what they have in biceps, who are essentially tired of not having any money and turn to crime to make up for their lack of money. Of course it’s more than just money, they want to teach the spoiled rotten a lesson. The music perfectly captures the emotions of one who wants the best and goes about the wrong way to get it, and fails. If they did not show the cops arriving and Mark Wahlberg’s character running, and still played the music I would know exactly how things were going to play out. The music sets everything up. I was talking to my wife about the music and she said she didn’t remember any music, just the sit-ups and the cops showing up. I played her the opening again and she did not think the music was anything special, so there’s that, but I was surprised how moving the music was, as if Bay – knowing that he wasn’t gonna have explosions and special effects to get people in the seats, put all his effort into actually directing and finding good music for the movie.

            The energy from the beginning is carried pretty much throughout the whole movie; it gets a bit slow towards the end but not so much that it’s a mark against it. The story is still interesting and the characters are . . . well, you can’t really root for them because the main characters are all bad guys, but I’ll be damned if Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson didn’t do a kick ass job of acting in this movie. I know, I know, hard to believe, but I’ll be honest, they did really good work. Mark Wahlberg did his best since Boogie Nights, and Dwayne Johnson did his best since ever. Dwayne Johnson just really seemed to be the character he was playing, sort of innocent in many ways but fully aware of the sort of damage he could do at the same time. There’s a point in the movie when Wahlberg is yelling at Johnson to do something and Johnson really does not want to do it, doesn’t even think he can, but he does it anyway and it was really sad seeing the pain in his eyes as he was doing it. It was a moment of good acting – I thought.
            Also the narration helped with the characters. Narration is normally a nuisance and basically a crutch that the guy writing the story is using to get points of the story across without having to really show us, but here the acting was so well done by everyone involved in the movie that when they narrated a moment or two it wasn’t being used to convey something we weren’t already seeing, it was there as though they were talking to us, explaining themselves and even at times defending themselves. The narration wasn’t important to the movie or the story, but having it there wasn’t distracting because the movie worked so well on its own.

I Liked It
My wife and I sat through The Frozen Ground, a Nicolas Cage and John Cusack movie based on a true serial killer in Alaska. This was a movie that I almost left about halfway through because it was so slow. I was expecting it to follow events through a large period of time, but instead it follows the events of the police trying to find enough evidence to charge the man they believe to be the killer. To me that just took some of the fun of the movie out of it. We know instantly who the killer is and so what we have is a movie about Nicolas Cage running around trying to get evidence and then trying to get things signed so he can search the killer’s house for evidence. Not really all that exciting, so like I said, I was ready to call it a night and head to bed, and I don’t know why I stayed, but I did, and I was pretty glad I did.

            Nicolas Cage and I have a pretty good history. It comes down to the fact that I’ll watch anything with him in it, and I’ll enjoy it as well. Whether he’s the insane Nicolas Cage or the weird one, or the calm one, I love watching him. I wish he’d make more big budget movies, movies that would help his career, but at the same time I love that he keeps making movies like this – movies that don’t get a lot of attention and end up streaming on Netflix in no time, which means I get to see them quicker than I would were they big budget movies. So I’m torn in my rooting for Nicolas Cage’s career, but oh well.

            I am not a fan of John Cusack. I thought he was funny in the early 80’s movies, and he was fine in Con Air and The Grifters was so great it pretty much made me want to see any movie he ever does, but The Raven was so horrible that it did what I thought was impossible, and that was make me go back and look at previous movies he’d been in, and when I did I saw that he wore the same flaccid face for all of them. The guy cannot act, at all. For all the craziness that Nicolas Cage does, and then he does cool quite and calm movies, the guy has range – John Cusack does not, he is the same always.

            My wife argues with me on this because she watched The Paperboy, a movie streaming on Netflix that I have not seen yet. She said he was good in that movie, but The Raven was so bad that I find myself wanting to stay away from movies with him in it.

            The only saving grace is that he is not in The Frozen Ground much, so I stuck with it, even though I felt it was a bit too slow and boring. Then he does show up, and though it wasn’t enough to change my attitude towards the man, it was enough to change my attitude towards the movie. John Cusack did a great job of acting when his character becomes a more central point to the story, I was genuinely surprised at his portrayal of the killer, his emotionless face now had a reason behind it – but then at the end, when the rage seeps out, was really amazing.

            I blame my lack of interest in John Cusack to even see the possibility of this movie being a slow burn movie, I just thought it was a dull movie, but when Cage and Cusack square off at the end, it was good, almost interesting. A bit too much like the last five minutes of a Criminal Intent episode, but The Frozen Ground was a fine movie and good step for me to becoming a fan of John Cusack again, though I don’t really hold much hope of that happening any time soon.


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