Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mike's Musings: 10 Examples of Great Entertainment

Stanley Kaufman once said that it is easier to make good drama than good entertainment.  I think that's true.  If you look hard enough, you can find movies that compel and move you, but they're not always "fun."  At least not in the traditional sense.  So while Oscar-bait movies like "Spotlight" or "The Imitation Game" come out every winter, and there's always a classic movie like "2001: A Space Odyssey" that you have to see, movies like "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" that are simply fun to watch are much more rare.

So I have compiled a list of 10 movies that I enjoy when I want to sit back, relax and just be entertained.  No "give and take" required on my part, nothing that's hard to stomach or uncomfortable, no understatement...just pure enjoyment.

Of course, everyone has their go-to movies.  This list is a little different.  Big hit movies like "Guardians of the Galaxy" or "Tommy Boy" won't be on this list, nor classics like "The Godfather" or "Boyhood."  It's safe to assume that pretty much everyone has seen them, so putting them on here would be redundant.

I'll also add that not every movie on here will be a 4/4.  A highest rating is nothing without context.  Consider "The War Zone."  Brilliant?  Absolutely.  Easy to watch?  Not on your life.  Plus, I want to give some little known movies a chance to shine.  They may not be perfect, but they're a lot of fun.

I'm also not going to order them because in this case doing so would be unfair.

"Burke and Hare:" Comedy is subjective.  What one person finds hilarious, the person right next to you might find tedious and stupid.  For example, I hate Will Ferrell when he's working with Adam McKay (the "Anchorman" movies, "Talledega Nights," "The Other Guys," etc.), although I do like him elsewhere.  I know someone who is perfectly intelligent who hated this movie.  I think it's hilarious.  It's streaming on Netflix at the moment, so see for yourself.

"Sneakers:" This movie is a lot of fun, and while it was a box office success, it's too laid-back to imagine it being a blockbuster in theaters.  "Sneakers" is like the easy-listening station on the radio.  It hits all the right notes (suspense, humor, twisty plot, interesting characters, etc.) without pushing your buttons too hard.  It's couch-and-popcorn entertainment at it's finest.

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow:" This movie bombed at the box office, and I'm not sure why.  A throwback to early serials, this is a fun, light-hearted adventure that remembers what comic books are all about.  Sorry, Christopher Nolan, but there are times when we want our heroes strong and simple, heroines plucky, and villains only concerned with world domination (of sorts).  This movie is so positive and upbeat that it's impossible not to smile.

"Into the Blue:" Another movie with tremendous appeal that somehow bombed at the box office.  You got hot stars wearing as little clothing as possible, a story set in the Caribbean, thrilling action, great humor, and lots of money caught in the middle.  Sure, the acting is at times stiff, but where else can you find the late Paul Walker in board shorts and Jessica Alba in a bikini for the majority of the running time without it ever seeming to be contrived?

"Anaconda:" "Anaconda" is a movie of paradoxical descriptors, and all of them are good.  It's scary and funny, creepy and campy, serious and goofy.  All at the same time.  It never pretends to be something other than what it is, and therein lies its success.  True, anacondas don't grow to be as big as they do in this movie, and I've never heard of one eating a human, but it's the kind of movie where a lost tribe of the Amazon is called the "Shirishama," and the cast members are able to suggest how silly they know it is while keeping straight faces.  Screaming and laughing are par for the course in this movie.

"The Way Way Back:" I remember going to summer camp when I was a kid and watching movies like "The Goonies" or something similar.  Fun, but unpretentious, and totally mainstream.  "The Way Way Back" fits in with that oeuvre like a glove.  It's got a few laughs, plenty of smiles, and some truly awesome characters that are worth visiting again and again.  It's a feel-good movie that will make you miss your childhood summer vacations.

"Cowboy Bebop: The Movie:"  Incidentally, I tried to get my friends to watch this movie the other night.  They refused to even watch the trailer because they didn't want to watch another "anime" movie.  Believe me, I have sympathy.  When crap like "Dragonball Z" is considered to be the pinnacle of the genre, I'd run the other way too.  But what if I told you that the plot is a mix of "Blade Runner" and "Guardians of the Galaxy?"  Or if the action scenes bring "Star Wars" to mind?  Or that it has a wicked cool soundtrack and a villain who is as tragic as he is deranged?  If nothing else, you have to give a movie a shot when opening scene so hilariously sends up the dreaded "talking killer" syndrome.

"The Peacemaker:" I debated whether or not to include this movie here because there is some tough stuff to be found in this film, but so there was in "The Rock."  Still, the evidence speaks for itself.  Clooney and Kidman at the top of their game.  A game of chicken and bumper cars between luxury cars on the streets of Vienna.  And a chase scene through downtown New York City during a huge traffic jam.  How does that not sound cool?

"Speed Racer:" You know when you see a teaser trailer for a blockbuster that's coming next year, and you only see a few clips from it?  It's so exciting because you believe that the possibilities are endless, and it could be the most awesome movie ever made.  Imagine that feeling of awe and excitement replicated for two hours and you've got "Speed Racer."  Sure, the colors are garish and it's noisy and busy, but it's packed with adrenaline and the racing scenes are out of this world.  Plus, it has a villain who gives new meaning to the phrase "over-the-top."

And...

"Brotherhood of the Wolf:"  Sure, it's French.  Sure, it's a period piece.  Sure, it has no "name" actors.  But assuming that it's an arthouse movie just because those things apply is a huge misconception.  In fact, Universal Studios released it under its mainstream label rather than one of its indie offspring.  If you do a shot by shot remake of this movie with American stars, it would reign king at the box office for months.  Actually, I'm surprised that Universal hasn't remade it yet.  I have yet to meet a person who has seen this movie and not loved every minute of it.  I know one of my friends refuses to watch it because it's subtitled and doesn't have any actors that he knows.  I did show it to a girlfriend of mine and she thought it was just awesome.  So, friend, and you know who you are, we ARE going to watch this movie.  And you will love it.

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