Friday, August 28, 2015

Frustrating Movies -- American Ultra

Have you ever saw an ad for an upcoming movie or read the back of a book and thought to yourself that this is perfect, this is totally your wheelhouse, and it should be awesome but it didn't live up to your expectation? Who hasn't! You're disappointed and then you move on, right? Right.

What I find more frustrating is if  there were parts of it that you just absolutely fell in love with but the stuff you didn't like is just so glaring-- jarring even -- that you just feel angry. It could have been so much more than what it is but the stuff they got right they REALLY got right but the stuff they failed just was so... bad or off.

I find this is a common problem I have. I don't expect every movie I see to be perfect. In fact many of my favorite films have flaws. The Heat is one of my favorite films but the scene in which Sandra Bullock stabs a guy in the neck in a diner to help him breathe is a scene they could have easily removed. It wasn't funny and was a bump in a smooth ride of good fun otherwise. I can STILL live with that flaw. It kind of irritates me but I don't feel practically affronted by it.

I am even okay with this ridiculous magic

But this post is not about flaws like that. It is about a near great movie that had so much going for it but there is just one or two things that just don't work and it is just so akhkhsownaindnlkanoixhoia. Right?

If I was still in college, this poster may be on my wall -- so cool

The reason why I bring this up is last Friday I had 10 dollars on my AMC stubs card that was about to expire so I went to see an afternoon showing of American Ultra. It looked like it would be fun at least, nothing too serious. Sometimes I like stoner comedies -- I have a soft-spot for Pineapple Express. I also like spy flicks. I'm not the biggest fan of Jesse Eisenberg (don't get me started on the Social Network) but I decided to give it a go.

As the credits rolled, I found myself in that state of being angry at the movie because it did so much  right but there were aspects that just didn't work for me. And the things that didn't work for me irritated me. It was like walking into a completely neat room and one pillow is on the floor. WHY DID NO ONE SEE THAT PILLOW BEFORE THEY INVITED ME IN!? You put ALL this work into cleaning this room but ONE pillow is out of place. It had to be purposeful but it looks sloppy. Why? WHY?

Was this... a failed pillow fort? Laziness?

In American Ultra, it had a pacing problem. Often I found that tension would build only for it to peter out for no reason or something would resolve with little to no tension in advance. I can see how that may be purposeful -- Stoner Comedy amirite? But mostly, there were moments in which I felt a little bored or looked at my clock.

That led to my second problem -- Topher Grace and the other CIA lady. There was something off about both of them. Their characters felt bland and just didn't work for me. I get what they tried to go for -- seasoned vet outdone by obnoxious upstart -- but I don't know. I can't put my finger exactly on why both of those characters just didn't interest me. I didn't feel compelled by them and when I felt bored, it usually involved a scene with the two of them having a metaphorical dick-waving contest. I don't think it was the writing, just the acting.

I just... idk.

Or, maybe they just couldn't hold a candle to the movie's power couple and by far the best part of the movie. Mike and Phoebe, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, were the core and the heart of the film. And I really, really liked it. I loved their interactions; how he was a neurotic loser and she was a rock but also a loser in her own way. The way they interacted felt incredibly REAL. How they complimented and worked off each other felt like a real couple. Sure, Phoebe was frustrated by the cancelled Hawaii trip due to Mike's neuroses but she still loved him, for instance. It was such a romantic, touching film whenever the two of them were on screen -- even when both of them were beaten to pulp, they had more chemistry than a lot of couples in your basic Rom Com.

no reason why this is here

Also, Phoebe passed the lamp test (which is if you replace a female character with a lamp and nothing changes in the story, then she is just there for decoration). Pheobe is incredibly active in her own fate and her own role in the movie. She is not along for the ride, but an active participant.

Then the themes really interested me. Mike feels trapped, inert, and that he lacks a semblance of control in his life. He even feels like he is holding Phoebe back. Coincidentally, Mike actually does lack control in his life. He is but a government experiment. There is a lot about Mike as a character that just speaks to this generation. And it is interesting that everything Phoebe has done was an active choice on her part -- even living as a stoner in West Virginia -- while Mike has had no control over anything in his life except when it came to Phoebe. In many ways, the movie is about choice and control over your destiny and how sometimes it isn't possible. It is dismal in some ways but I couldn't help but feel optimistic... about Mike and Phoebe.

Love lasts through heaven and hell

The movie also had some small, quiet and extremely touching scenes. One of them involves Mike talking to the mental patient experiment the Laugher. They're too tired to fight anymore and the Laugher expresses this lack of control of himself he has. And the two connect very briefly. I wasn't wild about the Laugher -- lumping him in with the CIA stuff -- but I felt a little teary eyed. It doesn't surprise me that the writer of this film also wrote one of my favorite movies, Chronicle, which I like because it is thoughtful and has its quiet moments between action sequences. I feel like Max Landis has a lot of creative ideas and I wish to see more of his work in the future.

Stylistically, I felt the angles and lighting and camera shots were fascinating. It did feel choppy but I kind of feel like that is a stylistic choice which works with a movie like this. It is about a pair of stoner lovers. It works. 

However, the thing that frustrates me the most is Mike and Phoebe is probably my favorite onscreen couple of all time. I would watch this movie again. But just for them. I am going to have to get salty during the CIA scenes in order for me to get through it.

Shoot him in the head, army guy. Just do it.

I feel like Chris Stuckmann does a better job at explaining why I find the CIA scenes so frustrating than I can.

Overall, I do recommend the movie. It's fun and original and man, Mike and Phoebe are my OTP.  And I'm not the type to have OTPs.

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