When the history of Summer 2013 is written, the biggest story won’t be the return of legitimate terror or the wealth of off the radar gems one can uncover outside the standard Cineplex experience. No, everyone will go overboard discussing the various flops, from The Lone Ranger (which we liked, so sue us) to White House Down (we preferred Olympus Has Fallen for our sampling of faux Die Hard cheese). They will try and decipher why certain known quantities—Johnny Depp, family films ala Turbo—failed to inspire while adding their own bits of baseless schadenfreuda. For us, the answer is always a question of connection. A movie can be smart and savvy, or poorly conceived and cobbled together, and if audiences don’t agree with your particular approach or aesthetic, the effort will fail, no matter what we critics think or say.
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There’s a point in every movie about magic where someone makes the following statement: “Magic doesn’t work in TV or in the movies because the camera can’t be misdirected. It sits silently watching everything, not allowing the magician to use the tricks of the trade to successfully pull off their illusion.” Of course, that’s the rub with all stage productions. What works in front of a live audience, a group of beleaguered and gullible patrons, simply doesn’t succeed once it’s recorded and replayed. With such scrutiny comes knowledge one shouldn’t possess. Sure, some of the allure is there, but for the most part, the sense of wonder is turned into a simple shoulder shrug. Still, Hollywood has tried on many occasions to use the practice as a means of making their own motion picture enchantment. Sometimes, the profession is portrayed. In other instances, magic is made into something real and relatable, a gift given to one from some unknown source.
It always happens. You’re enjoying a film, getting into its specific artistic grooves and rhythms, relishing the differing connections its clicking off inside you when - WHAM! Here it comes. The irritation. The aggravation. The annoyance. It could be a song, a setting, or a scene itself, but more times than not, it’s a character (or as part of said possibility, the actor playing same). We all have our own aesthetic kryptonite. Yours truly, for instance, can’t stand Jennifer Aniston, dislikes Mary Louise Parker probably as much, and is about to add Rachel McAdams to that talentless coffee klatch as soon as he can double check said status (which would require stomaching another one of her performances). As for men, Robin Williams works an already raw nerve while Billy Crystal has gone from great to grating over the span of his career.
We go to the movies for lots of reasons: to experience emotions we don’t normally face on a day to day basis; to interact, if indirectly, with characters who are usually outside or just barely within our frame of personal reference; to laugh; to cry; to be frightened; to be pushed to the edge of our seat. But one of the main reasons we park our behinds in the often uncomfortable confines of the local Cineplex is to see something we’d never see in real life: zombies amassing against the last holdouts of humanity; boy wizards working out their destiny among the magic they are supposed to master; the end of the world as envisioned via earthquake, flood, alien invasion, or any combination of natural and unnatural disasters; and, of course, monsters. Those mythical, made up creatures that only the skilled hand of a talented F/X artist can bring to the fore without much effort (but via a boatload of imagination and innovation).
Call them potboilers, page turners, or sanctioned Summer/Vacation reads, but a good mystery makes the heart soar… and, typically, the head hurt. Unless you’re someone who grabs the latest celebrated tome and rushes to the final sentences to see “whodunit”, the fun of any detective story is deducing along with the lead. Sometimes, we are smarter than our goofy guide through the clues. In other instances, we can’t possibly be as erudite and intelligent as the person parsing through the suspects. It’s all about the reveal, the coming together of hints and hidden connections that lead to the moment when fingers are pointed and—typically—butlers are blamed. There’s also a fascination with the figures dishing out the denouements, individuals with perception and drive that put mere mortals to shame.
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