Sidebar: Summer Movies 2013

One of my friends told me recently that my whole life is about travel, referring to the fact that I willingly chose to move to Mexico City, a place so very different from my hometown of Chicago. I never thought of things that way, but I can certainly respect her view.

This exchange was one snippet of a larger conversation in which we lamented the lack of vacation time (in her case) or money (in mine). Most people would say that I have little grounds for complaining, considering that my post-college travels have taken me to 70 countries on six continents. And if I’m content in my new life, it is because I have finally accepted (well, mostly accepted) that I just don’t have the pecuniary wherewithal to travel anymore. My unforgettable spring trip to Colombia nearly broke the bank – and that’s considered to be a cheap country! These days, a day trip to Teotihuacán is about all I can manage.

What does this mean? It means I have to content myself with other hobbies and interests. The most obvious, it would seem, are movies. With two multiplexes no more than a 30 minute walk from my apartment, I have countless options for weekend entertainment lest I not feel like navigating the metro or absorbing the latest museum’s offerings. Ticket prices are in the $6 to $10 range, making them about 40% cheaper than in LA or Chicago. Concession prices are similarly scaled back, and you get much for your money on both counts.

Most cinemas in Mexico allow you to pick your seat in advance. This is similar to the fabulous ArcLight franchises of greater LA, and the seats are equally comfy. Some theaters offer the “VIP” experience, which ranges from movable tray tables and leather seats to full-out recliners, individual mood lighting, bow-tied waiters, and an extended menu that even includes sushi! (Yuck.) Movie-going in Mexico is an event, and everyone – everyone – goes to the cinema.

Occasionally, Hollywood studios release their summer tent-pole movies earlier internationally than they do stateside. That was the case with 2012’s “The Avengers” and with this year’s “Oblivion” and “Iron Man 3,” to name just a few. How great is that?! On the other hand, indies like “Before Midnight” or don’t-know-how-to-market-them niche films like “This is the End” are released much later, if at all. Animated films such as “Monsters University” are 100% dubbed, which means your favorite gringo usually gives them a miss. Although my Spanish has improved in leaps and bounds over the past year, I still have trouble understanding others, and with the rapid-fire dialogue of most animated movies…forget it.

Speaking of movies, a friend of mine read the title of my Oscar predictions post from this past winter, called it “immature,” and left my blog site without even clicking on the link. A bit too concerned with what other people may think, I immediately got on the defensive and explained that it’s my site and I can write about whatever I want to. I thought that the About This Blog link – not to mention the site name itself – implied that, but apparently not. To the best of my knowledge, that friend has never returned to the blog.

GringoPotpourri is the perfect way for me to channel my thought process on life and the world around me. This includes not only my travels – which are waning, as I mentioned earlier – but also my reactions to life in Mexico, to politics, and to pop culture. Seeing as I don’t watch TV anymore and I don’t even own an iPod, the “pop culture” part is mostly limited to movies.

This Summer in Movies

I love movies – love – movies, and if Hollywood hasn’t had a year as memorable as, say, 1997 or 1999, I still have little trouble seeking out movies that entertain me – or that I hope entertain me. Come to think of it, last year was a damn good year for movies. “Lincoln,” “Skyfall,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Zero Dark Thirty”…I could go on. This year has been rather lackluster in comparison, but what the heck can you really expect for $6 to $10 a ticket? Most movies this year seem to clock in around 2 and ½ hours, so at least I’m getting my money’s worth in that regard.

When I was a teenager, the summer movie season officially kicked off on Memorial Day weekend and ended in mid-August. While mid-August is still the “official” end date, the season now begins right after Easter. The first “summer” movie was “Oblivion,” an interesting – but snail’s paced – sci-fi vehicle starring Tom Cruise as a sort of sentry on post-apocalyptic Earth. I won’t reveal what happens next except to say that the role seems tailor-made for him, his character uttering the types of Cruise-isms he perfected in “Top Gun,” back in 1986. I actually like Cruise the Actor. He usually chooses good projects and has delivered many a fine performance. This makes Cruise’s decision, so late in his career, to reinvent himself as an action star a bit disheartening. See “Oblivion” for the production design and visual flair (it was helmed by “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski, and looks similarly great). See it for the many homages to older, better science fiction movies (especially the original “Star Wars,” of which Kosinski is a huge fan.) But know that the movie is a tad ponderous and that Cruise is merely phoning this one in.

Next up was the much-anticipated “Iron Man 3.” I loved the first one and loathed the second one, but the trailer for Part 3 looked epic, and early buzz was positive. I saw it with Pamela on opening night, and recall simultaneously digging it and thinking “WTF?” as the ridiculousness of Tony Stark’s supposed genius included making a self-assembling, able-to-fly-halfway-around-the-world-in-pieces-while-controlled-by-voice Iron Man suit. Oh, and did I mention that the villain’s henchmen are able to spontaneously combust and then fucking walk away unscathed?!?! WTF, indeed. I have actually forgotten much of the movie; mostly I just remember those scenes for how farfetched they are. I also remember Sir Ben Kingsley. I have read that fanboys felt betrayed by how the origins of his character, the Mandarin, were ignored for the film. A valid gripe, I’m sure. For everyone else, however, Kingsley is the best thing about the movie. Also: I know that an “Avengers” sequel is in the works, but I actually hope that this is the last film in the “Iron Man” series that started it all. These films are great fun, but the pomposity of Robert Downey, Jr. is getting on my nerves.

“Oblivion” and “Iron Man 3” were followed by “Star Trek Into Darkness,” a complete abortion of cinema. I actually liked it for about five minutes, but mostly because I viewed it as a litmus test to see how “capable” director JJ Abrams would be for the next “Star Wars” movie. He knows how to direct, he knows the characters, and he knows how to handle special FX…but sadly, one thing he doesn’t know – at least, using just “Star Trek Into Darkness” as a template – is subtlety. Lots of action in this one and yet…a total misfire.

Next on my summer movie-watching agenda: more sequels and comic book movies. I saw “The Hangover Part III” on the night of my mugging, but I’ll try not to hold that against the film. (It has enough other things working against it, especially an inconsistent, sometimes jarring tone.) It was only intermittently funny, but the gut-busting post-credits scene was worth the price of admission. “Man of Steel” – a reboot, not a sequel – was a Zach Snyder-directed assault on the eardrums that I liked…until the numbing last 30 minutes, which made any “Transformers” movie seem dull by comparison. Hey, did you hear Ben Affleck is playing Batman in the forthcoming “Man of Steel” sequel? That was both the setup for a joke as well as the punchline.

One big budget movie a lot better than I expected was “The Lone Ranger.” This was not a movie that audiences had yearned for, yet with the reteaming of “Pirates of the Caribbean” star Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, how could it miss? It was fun, nostalgic, and had enough plot for five movies. Too bad it turned out to be a certifiable flop. Depp (as Tonto), Verbinski, and rising star Armie Hammer (as the title character) all deserved better.

Somewhere in there was “Wolverine: Immortal,” “Kick-Ass 2,” and – dare I say it – “Grown Ups 2.” These were all forgettable. “Wolverine” featured a way-cool fight sequence set atop a speeding Japanese bullet train, but that’s about it. “Kick-Ass 2” featured more of the same colorful profanity and graphic violence as the original – and the weirdest role Jim Carrey has ever tackled – but that’s about it. “Grown Ups 2” featured, um, uh, numerous scenes of Kevin James farting, sneezing, and burping in rapid succession. That is definitely about it.

Hands down, the two best films I’ve seen all summer were released – in Mexico at least – in August. One is “Before Midnight” and the other is “The Conjuring.” “Before Midnight” – a Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy-penned indie – is that rarest of things – a sequel that is better than both the original and the unexpected (first) sequel that it spanned. It is probably the most realistic movie I’ve seen this year, and certainly the most memorable. I hope it garners an Oscar nomination (as the previous film, “Before Sunset,” did in 2005) for its luminous Adapted Screenplay. “The Conjuring” is another indie, but of a very different sort. Old school in both look and setting, it supposedly predates “The Amityville Horror” and follows stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a team of husband-and-wife paranormal researchers investigating the increasingly-violent haunting of a country house belonging to a troubled family (led by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as the parents). The stakes are high, and you really want to root for all of the characters. The film is devoid of sex, nudity, and profanity, but is rated “R.” That should tell you how effectively scary it is. I loved every minute. See these movies.

And that’s about it. Seeing so many films would cost a small fortune, but down here it was just a minor expenditure in the big picture that is my financial output. I missed After Earth” and “Pacific Rim,” but something tells me only one of those two films is worth a toss. Fuck you, M. Knight Shyamalan.

Thanks, Loyal Reader, for humoring me regarding this slightly-off-topic commentary. I do hope to add more content in this category as the inspiration arises, and I’m already working on a blog about TRAVEL MOVIES, hoping to bridge the gap between two of my biggest passions in life. Until then, I hope you’ll comment below with your thoughts about this blog and these movies. ¡Hasta pronto!

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

6 thoughts on “Sidebar: Summer Movies 2013”

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