A Misanthrope’s Guide To The Movies: Bad Words, Divergent, and The Grand Budapest Hotel

Spring break is over, but its memories will last forever. Or at least that’s what half a dozen Facebook album names and airport location check-ins tell me. But I can’t say I disagree. This break I travelled from Napa Valley to Minnesota, to Western Europe, and even back to my hometown of Chicago. Chicago in a future dystopia, that is. While some people may have been counting shots or blackouts (no judgment) this break, I was counting movies, and I’m proud to say that in 9 days I watched 9. Of course within movie viewing experiences, there is a hierarchy and as much as I love Netflix, truthfully nothing short of cold hard cash excites more than seeing movies in theaters–the trailers, the popcorn, the people, the glitz, the glamour. Here are some thoughts on a few of the movies that hit theaters this break:

Bad Words

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It truly pains me to speak ill of Jason Bateman. I have stuck with him through Horrible BossesThe Changeup, and even Identity Theft. “He’s just trying to find himself in a post-Arrested Development world,” I would explain to myself and some inanimate objects. But Bad Words is one of the worst movies I’ve seen recently [Ed--Hey, I kind of liked it...] and I am no longer able to convince myself that he’s simply in it for the paycheck as Jason not only starred in, but directed this film. The plot centers around a 40 year old man who insists on competing in children’s spelling bees much to the bewilderment and chagrin of parents and the bee’s coordinators, as a result of a loophole in the rules allowing anyone to compete who has not graduated the 8th grade. The problems with this movie start with the racism (Bateman’s character continually refers to a 10-year old Indian child as “slumdog”), continues with the sexism, and culminates in a very thin and abrupt plot. The movie seemed to start too late in Bateman’s journey to properly introduce his character to the audience and ended far too early to justify any of his extremely inappropriate behavior. The saving grace of the film is Rohan Chand who is adorable and the only likable personality on screen. I won’t lie and say I didn’t laugh at all, but when I did it was usually strained and against my better judgment. Something like when you see a small child slip on ice. For an hour and a half.

Divergent

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My sister and mother insist that this was a popular book, but I have no memory of them or anyone else I know reading it. This lack of expectation or any conception of the coming plot was the perfect way to go into this movie, and I was genuinely entertained. Set in a dystopian Chicago where society is divided into factions based on defining personality trait, Divergent follows the Hunger Games trend of teaching children about murder and the evils of human nature under the guise of being an age-appropriate young adult novel. Shailene Woodley led the cast and is already getting hailed as the new Jennifer Lawrence both in coming fame and quirky likability. But if Jennifer Lawrence’s quirky move is asking for french fries on red carpets, Shailene’s is bringing her own herbs to interviews.

Sure, she’s a fairly stiff actress, and I’m not sure why people are so willing to forget that she started on Secret Life of the American Teenager, but she does seem like an interesting person and she was good for this role. Fans of Downton Abbey will recognize Theo James from his infamous appearance as the lover of one of the British women on the show (I don’t know, I don’t watch it). Humans born on earth in the last 100 years will recognize Kate Winslet from life.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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As much as I enjoyed DivergentThe Grand Budapest Hotel was by far the best movie I saw in theaters this break. Fans of Wes Anderson will love his signature style and stunning cinematography, but even non-fans will enjoy the film’s persistent dry humor. Anderson usuals like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Edward Norton are back, but this time only for brief cameos, leaving room for Ralph Fiennes and the young Tony Revolori. The plot is elaborate and relies on Anderson’s characteristic voiceover narration to keep the audience straight on what’s going on, but The Grand Budapest Hotel in essence tells the story of the title hotel and its employees after its concierge is framed for murder. Overall the movie is both serious, suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny.

If you can only see one movie in theaters because for some reason you only have 24 hours left to live, make it The Grand Budapest Hotel. And if you only have 24 hours left to live, what’s the point of seeing Divergent? You’ll never know what happens in the sequel.

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This week at the Avon: Only Oscar-worthy allowed

The Avon is still feeling the Oscars excitement, so they’ve brought back two films that picked up a combined four Academy Awards.

12 Years a Slave is back, for those of you who missed it the first time around. Having won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, the film has done pretty well for itself. I have to admit that the promise of tears, fear, and depression kept me away before, but I’m committing to finally watching 12 Years this week.

Who doesn’t love watching Joaquin Phoenix being weird (in real life or fictionally)? Her is everyone’s new favorite love story which explores the increasingly relevant idea of alienation in an overly technological society and the question of whether artificial intelligence will always be so artificial. It is better summarized, though, as a man falling for Siri, our beloved alumna.

12 Years a Slave is playing at 1 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. daily, with Her playing at 3:40PM and 8:55 p.m. Don’t miss out on either one. Oh, and if you haven’t already, please watch this amazing video of kids acting out all the Oscar nominees. My personal favorite: The Wolf of Wall Street spoof, but I have to say the baby Joaquin does a pretty stellar job.


We’re live blogging the 86th Academy Awards!

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Just because you’re holed up in a Rock carrell or freezing in the Scili basement doesn’t mean you can’t know what’s happening at the 86th annual Academy Awards. Check out our coverage beginning at 8 p.m.!

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A Misanthrope’s Guide to Movies: Non-Stop

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On Monday, Brown Motion Pictures hosted a pre-screening at The Avon of Liam Neeson’s new movie, Non-Stop. What was Mr. Neeson up against in this two hour comedy thriller? Wolves, like in The Grey? Nope. Kidnappers, like in Taken, Taken 2, and (presumably), the upcoming Taken 3? Try again. No, in Non-Stop our good friend Mr. Neeson combated, in this order, bad cell service, alcoholism, and terrorism.

Neeson plays the troubled agent Marks, one of two US air marshals on a flight to Heathrow. He might be an air marshal, but this certified bad ass doesn’t follow the rules. He often finds himself chain smoking in a tiny lavatory with duct tape over the detector (because obviously no one will smell smoke on him when he leaves that confined space), despite the fact that a hijacking is in progress.

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The 2014 Oscar-viewer’s guide to movies you haven’t seen

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The Academy Awards are this Sunday and it is basically all anyone I am talking about. Anyone who is anyone knows that the Oscars are the most important social event of the season. Good Oscar-viewing parties include copious amounts of food, lots of discussion of fashion, attendees who take the awards not only seriously, but personally, and ballots for these attendees to invest in with not only their hearts, but also their money. Basically a combination of my three favorite things: judgment, competition, and strong but ultimately pointless opinions.

The only problem with this otherwise perfect evening can be the fact that, unless you are my father (hand to God this man does not work), chances are you have not seen every single film with a best picture nomination this season. This is a problem not because you missed the opportunity to see a potential new classic but because, come Sunday night, there will be times when you will have to go full minutes without spewing passionately held beliefs and will actually have to listen to those of others. The remedy to the problem is, of course, making shit up. But how can you make shit up about a movie you haven’t seen? What if you embarrass yourself and make some long-winded speech about how you just don’t care about seeing wolves in movies since The Grey came out only to have someone explain that the Wolf of Wall Street wasn’t about real wolves?  Welcome to “The 2014 Oscar-Viewer’s Guide to Movies You Haven’t Seen.”

Note: These are not synopses of the films because Wikipedia exists. These are quotes commonly spewed by people who have seen these movies that, when repeated, will create the illusion that you saw them as well.

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This Week at the Avon: Gloria

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I knew that I wanted to see Gloria when I first saw its preview a few months back. The two-minute clip didn’t give away much—there was a quirky-looking middle-aged woman in thick-rimmed glasses laughing by herself a lot and some empowering Spanish music. The film was attractive because it looked like both a feel-good indie film and a likely projection of someone I could relate to in thirty years. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t say the protagonist and I are quite the same. Gloria is way, way cooler.

Gloria delves into the life of your typical divorcée who has lost herself and her sense of purpose in the rubble of family, friends, and daily life at work. Though she fits the mold of millions of characters we’ve already met, there’s something whimsical setting Gloria apart. Directed by Sebastian Lelio and starring Paulina Garcia, Gloria was shot and takes place in Chile. The movie is acted in Spanish and paired with subtitles, yet felt just as relatable as your go-to rom-com about old folks smoking weed and falling in love (It’s ComplicatedThe Notebook, etc.).

The best thing about Gloria isn’t even the inherent need to cheer alongside her as she kicks ass in all that she does. Rather, it’s the small details so cleverly snuck in. For example: in the first few minutes of the film, Gloria returns home to find an ugly cat in her foyer that belongs to a neighbor. No matter how many times she shoos the cat away, it constantly finds a home in Gloria’s bachelorette/hip grandma pad throughout the film, teasing her spinster way of life. Gloria will have great sex but will return home to find the cat; she goes bungee jumping and then finds the cat. As we follow Gloria through a romance more youthful than some I’ve experienced, undertones of aging linger constantly. The film, therefore, becomes whatever you want it to be. A moderate chick-flick for the intelligent woman; a clever love story for the avant-garde guy.

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