Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Spirit

Watching Frank Miller's The Spirit could be compared to a Twilight Zone episode, to a world beyond sight and sound where common sense isn't quite so common. Suspend belief and prepare for a world so ludicrous, so insane and childish that it feels like the product of a 13 year old boy given an unlimited budget and told to go play.

To understand Spirit one must only put themselves in the mind of a teenager just experiencing puberty, one who sees himself as invincible like the title hero played by Gabriel Macht. As any teenage boy would fantasize, this hero has the most beautiful women in the world played by the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendez and Sarah Paulson swooning over him, drawn to his lips and hanging on his every word, putty in his hands. Even the teenager's hesitation and uncertainty with himself seeps through Macht's Spirit and the film as a whole, only barely realizing what he is doing, only tacitly aware of himself and haltingly confident in his own skin and even in his interaction with women.

Of course every teenager needs a nemesis, an over the top megalomaniacal evil genius type with more guns than sanity, a bill fit perfectly by the acting machine that is Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus. With a head full of crossed wires, Jackson's Octopus is an unstoppable villain that can't be taken seriously, his every action and monologue and most of all getup is impossible to watch with a straight face. Laugh or cry, love or hate, Jackson conducts the crazy train with a supreme level of gusto, he shoots and jabbers and psychotically laughs his way through a plot that is less a plot than a series of monologues, pretty colors and even prettier women, all for the sake of mythology, immortality and juvenile wonderment and laughter.

The Spirit is what happens when artists decide to simply have fun with what they're doing as opposed to taking it seriously. One can only hope Frank Miller didn't expect the film to be artistically lauded. The Spirit can be appreciated only as a dazzling display of ridiculous action and even more ridiculous events. This is not the story of a hero or even the tale of good versus evil, it's just a teenager trapped in a man's body, Big but with superpowers, women, guns and glory all rolled into a heap of absurd fun.

There's nothing bad about Spirit, going in with no expectation for sense and forgetting everything you ever read about acting, it is just another movie with something resembling a plot and a great deal of laughter. Provided no one made the movie anticipating a a bastion of integrity, it is a sign of hope that Hollywood still has a little bit of spunk left in it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Best There Is At What He Does: Wolverine

If you haven't yet, proceed immediately to and watch the bootlegged trailer of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Do not pass go and don't even stop to collect 200 dollars, you'll thank me later. Shoddy as the quality may be, it cannot detract from what looks to be a spectacular thrill ride of violence, finding your true self and going toe to toe with an entire army both normal and mutant with nothing but a trio of knives jutting out from each hand. Hugh Jackman is Wolverine, the most dangerous man in the Marvel Universe. He slashes and growls and runs through the trailer with a level of energy and tenacity not touched on even in the X-Men movies.

It appears as if the movie will focus on exactly what a Wolverine origin movie would need to focus on, the brutality of a life of pain and war interspersed with the occasional moment of bliss quickly and brutally shattered. (Spoiler Alert) Recruited by the government, (in the comics the Canadian government, in the movies it's almost certainly going to be the American, William Stryker as seen in X2) he undergoes a procedure that grafts an unbreakable metal alloy onto his skeletal structure, a procedure so violent it wipes out his memory, forgetting James Howlett and leaving only Wolverine, the ultimate killing machine. With no knowledge of who he was before, he goes on a journey to find who and what he is all the while fending off entire armies with strength, speed, skill and above all a singular drive to eek out justice, a force of nature that cannot be stopped. An unstoppable force, save for the shred of humanity left in his heart and an equally dangerous force that has long since embraced the animal and forgotten the human. Liev Schreiber is Sabretooth, an evil man who relishes in brutality, cutting a swath through anyone, guilty or innocent, to get what he wants or sometimes for the sheer hell of it. With skills, strength, tenacity and a healing factor to match Wolverine, there's is a fight that will stretch into the twilight of the world, two men who will never, ever stop until the other is dust beneath their feet, leaving behind a bloody path of destruction in their wake.

The fact that I have managed to get this excited about Wolverine is not something to be taken lightly. For a long time there really didn't seem to be any point to making a Wolverine movie, one can easily replace the titles of X-Men, X2 and the desecration that was X3 with that of Wolverine, Wolverine 2 and Wolverine 3. Popular, ferocious and captivating as Jackman's Logan was, he did not steel the show in the X-Men movies, director Bryan Singer and hack director Brett Ratner GAVE him the movies, the rest of the X-Men were just along for the ride.

Yet here I am, flabbergasted by a trailer that appears to take the character in a totally new director to heights never reached in the X films. The action is palpable, the thrills intense. It is the tale of a man finding who he is in the world through violence and soul searching while being hunted by an endless horde as he comes to terms with the animal inside and the metal within. It is one of the greatest clashes of good and evil in comics, the never ending battle of Wolverine and Sabretooth with all the anger, the rage, the history and the brutality of a good man who is part animal and an evil man who has embraced the beast within. My faith in Hollywood to depict such tales with gusto and wits is greatly restored, but May 1, 2009 remains a long way away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

History Blundered

There are certain careers that need to be given the tiniest nudge when the reach the precipice, not grabbed and held onto for dear life. Let's face it, Keanu Reeves' career peaked with The Matrix, to be followed by a lot of stumbling around in the dark, grasping at roles either far removed from the man or far above his acting ability. Most recently this meant adding his name to the heresy of The Day the Earth Stood Still which I'm quite certain is going to 'stand still' artistically as little more than a heap of dead weight.

If they can't keep their hands off the absolute pinnacle of science-fiction storytelling, then at the very least the corroded minds of Hollywood's power players should have the good sense to keep Keanu Reeves away from one of the single most important stories in Japanese heritage. Unfortunately, such power players clearly haven't actually been watching Mr. Reeves' films or they would know that casting him in a movie telling the tale of the 47 Ronin (according to is a cataclysmically bad idea. The one and only thing I will say is that Reeves is an excellent action star, but to those familiar, the story of the 47 Ronin is far more about honor and duty than it is about fighting.

Blood was certainly shed in early 18th century Japan when the 47 Ronin avenged the death of their disgraced master long after his death only to commit mass ritualistic suicide, their duty fulfilled and their master's honor restored at the cost of their own lives. Needless to say, a movie portraying these events would undoubtedly be brutal, violent fun but at the absolute minimum, it must be recognized that no one in the story was white! Even if Reeves were a better than average actor (yes, I think he's an average actor, there are far worse) he would have stood out like an incredibly sore thumb in 1700s Japan.

I simply cannot see Keanu as an honor bound warrior stricken over his master's death and driven by duty to the exclusion of all else. The depth for such a portrayal just isn't there, and what could have been a great action flick with incredible drama is now just going to be a flashy action flick with no heart, no soul and no acting past soulful eyes and throaty vows. I have little to no faith in Hollywood's ability to cast the right actor for the right role.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Class-Resuscitating the X-Men

Stop looking at me like that, its not my fault half the interesting movie news is based in the superhero genre! Regardless, according to Cinematical, 20th Century Fox has hired a writer and producer for X-Men: First Class. Based on a Marvel Comics series of the same name, First Class tells an alternate origins story for everyone's favorite misunderstood mutants in their teenage years. The exact nature of the movie is up for grabs but it seems likely to focus mostly on the teenage members introduced in the last three films like Kitty Pride, Jubilee, Colossus and perhaps a few others.

First Class seems like a logical step to take after the absolute disaster that need not be mentioned by name here. After Brent Ratner single-handedly drove one of the very best superhero franchises out there into the ground, a simple sequel just wouldn't cut it. While a great deal can go wrong, the only real way to make a run at reviving the X-Men would be to get down to basics, something of an origin story where we can get reacquainted with characters who'd been buried in flashy stupidity. If someone with a serious artistic mind takes a look, there are still many, many wonderful and deep characters with all kinds of fulfilling stories ripe for the filming in the annals of X-Men history. If and ONLY if the right director is chosen, my faith in Hollywood will get a serious boost should the X-Men get the redemption they so rightly deserve.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Imagining the Cosmos-Star Trek: The Movie trailer

I'm a big fan of hammering the nails into my own coffin. I started with obsessive movie fan-dom, moved quickly onto uber comic book geek and political snob to now the revelation that I am half-Trekkie. Essentially I'm half Klingon but without the ridges (don't bother trying to understand, if you do, well, I feel your pain). Notice that I draw the distinction between half and full-fledged Trekkie; I've never been to a convention and I'm not familiar enough with the show to start waxing eloquent on the nature of the universe via the life lessons I've learned from Captains Kirk , Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Archer (alas, that list was from memory). Needless to say, half is more than enough to get psyched over the new trailer for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, due in theaters May, 2009.

Let's face it, Abrams set an extremely high bar with the original promo which was quite possibly the best teaser I've ever seen, getting the audience excited about a movie they knew absolutely nothing about. When it came for a second run at prepping viewers for adventure amongst the stars, the man who brought us Lost, Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield didn't disappoint. The new view of Star Trek: The Movie that accompanied the opening of Quantum of Solace has everything a growing Trekkie needs, action, the fantasy of trekking through the cosmos, duking it out with crazy alien baddies and of course the interpersonal relationships that always made Trek so much more than an excursion amongst the space lanes.

Let's face it, we've always wondered what the cowboy of space was like when he beat the unbeatable simulation (Wrath of Khan) and now we know. James Tiberius Kirk was even more reckless as a youth, driving cars off cliffs and picking fights with the enigmatic Spock. The action is palpable, the adventure looks endless and the fun seems unbound. It's a completely new look at one of the most beloved science fiction universe's of all time with what promises to be the most visually compelling story modern CGI allows and a completely fresh take on the series. Of course, fresh doesn't always translate to good and there will always be the rough translation from the original cast to the new one.

It's been more than forty years since William Shatner brought the cavalier ladies man who always found a way around impossible odds into our hearts and minds, exploring the galaxy amidst bombshells of all species and fighting against oppression and tyranny wherever he went, all to the tune of endless Vulcan logic by Spock (Leonard Nimoy), accented quips about how engineering will save the galaxy by Scotty (James Doohan), barely discernible Captain, My Captain's by Chekov (Walter Koenig) and of course bitter soliloquies about why the universe sucks by Bones (DeForest Kelley).

Now its time for the new kids in town, with Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Karl Urban as Bones, a.k.a. Dr. McCoy. A solid casting without question, they are nevertheless not to be confused with their predecessors slash/older selves/slash original versions/slash a whole space-time conundrum of comparisons. Whatever they may be, the attitudes and screen presence is distinctly new and decidedly not the originals. Simon Pegg's Scotty is one who at least in the trailer seems like a dedicated comedic relief without any of the lovable wisps of warp drive fume induced wisdom that we found in James Doohan's version.

Zachary Quinto's stoicism seems forced in a way Leonard Nimoy never was when he portrayed the implacable and emotionless Vulcan without a shred of human irrationality. Perhaps it's intended and maybe even needed for the actually half-Vulcan, half-Human Spock, but Quinto seems more like a human pretending to be a Vulcan than Nimoy's Vulcan living amongst humans. Needless to say, this is only a trailer of a prequel we're talking about, but Karl Urban's Bones seems like the most displaced of all the new characterizations. I can almost imagine a younger DeForest Kelley saying "space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence," but only almost. And more importantly Kelley said it like he meant it, a little depressed and yet contented that he knows how bad the world is with the advantage of telling everyone else 'I told you so.' I like Karl Urban, I really do, but his Bones seems too excited, too animated in his assertions, a Greek chorus keeping the audience appraised instead of the miserable yet brilliant old oracle in the corner.

I'm looking forward to Star Trek. I really am expecting explosions, fights with fist and lasers and maybe even a few photon torpedoes and a new breed of high tech adventure. But I'm also realistic about the limitations and expectations of a 2008 prequel to a series and its characters who were brought to life in 1966. I have faith in J.J. Abrams and Hollywood for revitalizing the fun, fantasy and eternal optimism of Star Trek, but it's tempered by the realization that the world has changed quite a bit in the 42 years since those elements became iconic.

Friday, November 14, 2008


To the uninitiated, I apologize. To my fellow defenders of the geek faith, I apologize even more. I'm here to tell you about the highlight of my month. Probably longer. I just met Alan Moore. I spoke to him. He spoke back. He signed my copy of Watchmen, and he took a picture with me. Afterwards, I walked out of the Victoria and Albert Museum in downtown London where he was taking part in a forum as part of what they're calling Comica, a series of comic book events. Once clear of the building, I jumped up and down, and did a little jig, doing a little dance, making a little love, getting down tonight. Why? Because I just met the greatest graphic novelist of all time, hands down.

The man who tears down every wall and barrier and preconceived notion, bathing it in illumination and fun and intense psychological exploration, and I met him. The man who deconstructed superheroes in the greatest of all graphic novels, Watchmen. The artist who crafted the ultimate battle of anarchism against totalitarianism in V for Vendetta. The genius who took us travelling back through time to the turn of the 20th century and into literary history with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The colossus of a writer who took us down the dark, dank alleyways of London and into the path of the most notorious serial killer of all in time in From Hell.

Let's face it, I'm a fan. I'm a geek, a devoted follower. As I told Mr. Moore, no book has EVER made me think as much as Watchmen, and I do my fair share of thinking. The characters, the story lines, the psychology and action and mystery and excitement and anticipation of it shook me and wrenched me along on a ride through every shade of grade, laying out right and wrong and morality for all the world to see and explore, shaking off all taboos and destroying all hesitation. We see humanity's greatest hopes and fears and the lengths to which we will go to preserve our tiny corner of the world and of our soul, the chances we take and the limits we push. Did I mention I love Watchmen?

The topic of the forum was the graphic novel Moore and his wife and collaborating artist Melinda Gebbie recently produced, Lost Girls. Depicting Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Girls continues Moore's trend of deconstruction, analysis and chastisement of trends and genres and facets of society. Don't freak out, but in this case it's an exploration of pornography. Yes, Alan Moore wrote a piece of artful smut, deal with it. While admittedly I haven't read it, I want to, uptight as I may be it sounds like an incredible exploration of how we view erotica. I love the idea of contrasting society's outrage with smut to its seeming acceptance of violence and death, set against the backdrop of World War I.

At the end of the talk, I asked Mr. Moore if he ever considered how a conversation with Lewis Carroll or Bram Stoker would go were they alive for him to ask permission to use their characters in his own stories. In the classic fashion of the man who epitomizes the eccentric hermit artist, Moore replied at length that he simply didn't care, and even if he did, characters of such long ago artists are fair game. With an aura more of normalcy and nonchalance than I would ever expect from a modern day literary genius, he described the numerous instances of authors long before Moore's time, including those whose characters he employs in Lost Girls and League of Extraordinary Gentleman who had themselves used ideas and works by other artists. He finished the justification with the observation that with "all of these people's characters, the authors in some way seem to want to break down the barriers between their different fictions and just have all of their characters in some sort of massive wonderland where they, they all get together."
Of course, not everything is fair game for Moore, especially when asked about the upcoming Watchmen movie. Despite a calm and collected reply, Mr. Moore's words were scathing. The faith in Hollywood that I still struggle to maintain has been completely shattered for Moore, watching his works laid out on the silver screen in a way that he describes as "pathetic loads of vile films." Some would say that he is overreacting, that V and From Hell were spectacular movies that stayed as faithful to Moore's vision as such a transition would allow. I myself am a huge fan of V for Vendetta, but admittedly I have not read the graphic novel and I can only imagine how an artist of Moore's caliber would feel about any deviation from his vision. This is particularly evident in the introduction of Tom Sawyer to what was an entirely British cast of Extraordinary Gentleman and significant watering down to the point where the characters had lost all the moral ambiguity Moore had meant for them to have.
And so we come to my own lingering question. Do I still have faith in Hollywood? One of the closest things I have to an idol does not, but then I was never one for role models. My own cynicism is not that far off from Moore's, yet still there is a little boy deep inside who longs to leap onto the stage and into the screen, confident that next time they'll get it right, just one more movie and they'll see the light. Zack Snyder has reportedly changed the ending to Watchmen, a frightening prospect. Yet he has in every instance that I've heard, touted himself as a longtime fan of Moore's work and as a devoted filmmaker intent on producing as close a likeness as the constraints of two and a half hours will allow when making a graphic novel come to life that took me an entire week to read. Moore let go a long time ago, I still dangle from the ledge, praying that if anyone is to faithfully adapt one of the greatest works of literature of the last 30 years, it is the man who brought Leonidas and his Spartan guard roaring to life with all the glory imaginable.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ridley Scott + Board Games=?

According to, Ridley Scott is to direct a movie based off the board game Monopoly. Let it sink in, fester a little. Roll it off your tongue a few times. Wait for it. Wait for it. Yeah, Ridley Scott is playing with board games and I don't get it either. Not at all. I mean, yes Brett Ratner knows no shame and has no talent, but Ridley Scott!? The man who brought Maximus Decimus Meridius to life (if you don't know what that means, staple yourself to a chair and watch Gladiator 20 times, I'll know if you don't) is going to be directing a board game. What's more, according to Cinematical, Scott is planing on giving it a futuristic, Blade Runner-esq sheen. What that means I have not the foggiest clue. I know Scott got bad reviews for Body of Lies, but surely he's not so desperate for work that he felt compelled to make a movie like this. Ridley, you're scaring me hear, if you can sink to such lows, who can't? The mighty really can fall, and ever does my grip on Hollywood as the Titan of entertainment slip even further.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Helming Cap

After months of agonizing over who would take Captain America to new heights or new lows, the question has finally been answered. Steve Rogers and his alter ego will be brought to the silver screen by Joe Johnston, director of films like The Rocketeer, October Sky and Jurassic Park III. Still waiting on the man who will assume the mantle of one of the greatest of all superheroes, this can, I believe, be seen as good news. At the very least, it is not catastrophic news, there is no murderous intent, no crazy-eyed rage building up in my inner geek, although my feeling is less than ecstasy. Good directors have been known to make bad movies and mediocre directors have been known to make good movies. Personally I would say Johnston gravitates towards the former and he is certainly not the disaster that certain other directorial choices would have been.

For whatever its worth, I really enjoyed The Rocketeer for its fantasy and period nostalgia, an adventure with Tommy guns that took you soaring through the skies and battling, incidentally, the same kind of Nazi subversion Steve Rogers himself will be duking it out with come 2011. Johnston has also shown to be capable not just of high flying, explosive adventure but also character driven stories and science fiction/action-adventure that manages to develop and explore its characters, namely October Sky and Jurassic Park III. Johnston was also responsible for the steely eyed determination driving Hidalgo that is not that far off from the endless willpower of Steve Rogers. If he can guide the unity of man and horse to effectively triumph over the desert and enemies around every corner, I have faith in Johnston and in Hollywood for choosing him to helm the soldier boy from another age who fights for freedom and justice with every breath, to the last and beyond. Provided the rest of the puzzle falls in place, I think Captain America will be the Sentinel of Liberty he was always meant to be.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wonder Woman: Beyonce?

For whatever its worth, I'm not feeling vitriolic right now, but still, I'm having a hard time seeing Beyonce Knowles as Wonder Woman. To be fair, I don't often read DC Comics let alone the Amazon Warrior herself, but as an avowed comic book geek I do nevertheless know a thing or two about Diana and I see little to none of her in the pop legend. This analysis is not to be confused with racism, I have no aversion to Wonder Woman being any skin color, I simply cannot fathom Beyonce strapping on the whip and gauntlets. What it boils down to is while I admittedly am not a Beyonce fan or follower, she seems far too bubbly and friendly to be Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman needs to be stoic, a woman who not only inhabits but in fact thrives and dominates in a man's world, standing side by side with the likes of Batman and Superman and coming across as an equal. I simply don't see Beyonce pulling such a feet off, beautiful as Diana is she is far more than a pretty face, she is in fact the truest amazon warrior, full of power and warrior spirit that just happens to be female and sexual, not as a deliberate and core part of her personality but in fact something she must fight against. Beyonce has embraced her femininity and beauty, something that if anything Wonder Woman tries to shy away from, he clothing notwithstanding.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quantum of Horror

There's a joke that starts with a James Bond film that doesn't have him shooting down the barrel of a gun until the credits. The punchline is Quantum of Solace. I really, really didn't think 007 could sink any lower than the absolute stupidity of Die Another Day and the impossible mis-characterization of Casino Royale. I need to stop underestimating Hollywood's ability to turn out high budget, myopic trash from ideas that had once been sheer and unending fun. I'm trying to find redeeming value in Daniel Craig's pathetic excuse for a suave super spy, but it's just not happening.

To start with, the plot of Solace just doesn't make any sense. It jumps and flies and runs and jumps and drives, and then it ends. I think it had something to do with secret organizations who dip their fingers into every pot and a quest for control of resources. Daniel Craig's sham of a Bond is caught up in the middle of it all as he seeks out revenge for Vesper Lynd's death in Casino Royale and somehow more or less accidentally saves the world from the shadowy wraiths who pull the strings and play kingmaker in every corner of the world. Again, I could be wrong, because often times the characters said things and cited information that there was no logical means readily available by which they could know them. When they said it, it was in the mist of perhaps the most confusing camera work I've ever seen, shifting back and forth and forth and back so much I can only assume director Marc Forster was deliberately trying to make sure audiences had absolutely no idea what was going on.

The confusion began in earnest with what had to be by far the worst main titles of any Bond, driven by a song that belongs in virtually any setting save for a 007 film. The titles seem to be a deliberate disassociation from previous Bonds, a disassociation that ends up being completely confusing and uninvigorating trash that leaves audiences glued firmly in bored reality. Reality really sets in when we watch Daniel Craig bring his own version of the Bond charm to bear against women even looser than any in Bond's past. There is no smooth talking sophistication or boyish appeal, there is in fact little more than what is in essence a "look into my eyes and fall into my bed" approach to Craig's ladies man.

Facing off against the boy toy that would are strange villains who revel in being murky and impossible to grasp, without virtually anything resembling motivation and dastardly plans that are only hinted at in the smallest of senses. There's no insane exposition, no death traps, not even any really scary super assassins, just dominoes that tumble in Bond's wake in fight scenes where the tumbling buildings have more fight in them than the combatants. There's no epic scale or breathtaking backdrops, just a lot of unstable insanity that is impossible to follow and ends just as abruptly as it started, with no satisfaction in the ending and nothing even closely resembling high stakes on which the world hinges.

I am in deep fear for James Bond's safety, the only redeeming value I can find is that from here surely Bond couldn't get any worse, could it? I'm not sure just how much faith I have left in Hollywood, having just endured a heartless agony with faintly compelling action sequences, terrible acting and even a few nonsensical attempts at commenting on world affairs thrown in for good measure, something all previous attempts at Bond had the good sense to know that Bond needs to be in a world all his own, one that is so extreme that it deserves better than to be mired in our senseless universe.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mavel: A Light in the Dark?

While I'm doubtlessly setting myself up for disappointment, I'm starting to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Apparently, the alternate opening to The Incredible Hulk as seen in the upcoming dvd shows Captain America, frozen in ice. Furthermore, the writers of Iron Man are talking about the Hulk as the villain for the Avengers movie coming 2011. ( To call this good news would be an understatement, as Marvel Studios does not appear to have produced Iron Man and Incredible Hulk as one hit wonders but in fact as the opening salvos in a series of productions that will redefine what comic book movies are.

(Spolier Alert) For those unfamiliar with the plot of the original story arc of the Avengers, Captain America gets thawed after years frozen in the arctic just in time to unite and lead the fledgling Avengers, who count among their ranks the Norse God Thor. Thor's mortal enemy and half-brother Loki is constantly scheming against everybody's favorite blond hammer wielding musclehead, and at this point he decides to pit the most physically powerful being he can find against Thor, everybody's favorite wandering hero, the Hulk. This would, I think, make for a fantastic way to do the Avengers movie, start it with Cap's thawing and immediately form a team with the already introduced Thor, Iron Man and perhaps others. Loki sets Hulk against Thor, worldwide delicious chaos, death and destruction ensue.

Whereas independent studios had mixed luck with their various Marvel heroes, Marvel Studios has largely stayed true to what has made these characters great for decades. Yes, the first two Spider-Man movies as well as Bryan Singer's X-Men were great movies and largely faithful adaptations, but I don't think I need to remind you of certain travesties against the sanity of every true comic book geek on the planet (ahem, Brett Ratner). True, Marvel Studios has only had two cracks at transferring its own heroes to the silver screen, but the studio's batting average is remarkably higher than anyone else, so for the moment I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Just how right does Marvel seem to be getting it? Inane, hard to spot references like the ones that abounded in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk are a big part of what makes comics so incredibly enjoyable, and like so much else Marvel was able to translate them to the big screen in a way few if any other studios have managed. I am very much looking forward to sifting through both dvds time and again in order to pinpoint all of the references that I'm sure I missed, looking for clues of what to expect from Marvel's next few projects. Needless to say, my faith in Hollywood lingers with the promises of Marvel Studios. The web, as it were, is being woven masterfully, and I can't wait to get caught in it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dragonball: The Difference between Anime and Live Action

Sometimes I wonder if the people who green light various adaptations to film, be them television, book, comic book, video game or in this case anime every actually bothered to look at the original version. To me at least, the answer seems unlikely considering the April 2009 release of Dragonball, of which I just had the misfortune of watching the trailer. You might perhaps recall the total absurdity of the Wachowski brother's live action adaptation of Speed Racer, well lets just say that Dragonball makes Racer look about as plausible as eating breakfast.

The benefit of anime is that there is absolutely no expectation and certainly no need for realism or plausibility, hence the propensity of the flying, super powered martial artists in Dragonball who can shoot energy attacks from their palms, scale mile high monoliths bare handed and travel on foot from one side of the planet to the other in a matter of weeks. Viewers watch these feats in anime without pause, because they know it is part and parcel of the genre, automatically displaced from reality by animation totally unbound by the laws of physics, something that is not shared in live action.

Of course, my opinions of the trailer itself would only by mildly better if there was no anime basis, because in a word, it's terrible. It is in fact possible for those who've never heard of the anime to actually think the trailer worse for it as it shows some of the dumbest outfits and weirdest hairdos ever to plague the silver screen. Compound that with what looks like some really awfully choreographed wire-fu and extremely silly posturing that only barely works in anime and you get a film that will be so silly, asinine and probably plotless that anyone unfortunate enough to actually pay money to see it will find themselves wondering exactly how much time, effort and money was blown on the catastrophe in front of them. In all likelihood it will be a mind numbing film with no intelligence, only the most tacit attempt at acting with the inclusion of the clearly short changed Chow Yun-Fat and not even any actually exciting action sequences.

In case there was any doubt, just the serious consideration of making a Dragonball movie all but wipes out my faith in the film industry. Risk your money, and your sanity, at your own peril.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What Gives Me Hope

It was suggested to me that readers might be benefited by knowing what exactly manages to affirm my faith in Hollywood. When my eyes are burning and my ears are ringing, when every movie I see makes me want to vomit, it is to these films that I turn. No matter how many times I see them, I'm always left with a smile on my face and a burning candle in my heart that intelligence and artistic integrity has not yet been stripped from the world.

Independence Day-Yes, I'm well aware of the many, varied and drastic problems with this movie, but I grew up wanting to think like the brilliant David Levinson, act like the impossibly confident and cool Steven Hiller and talk like the incredibly inspirational Thomas Whitmore. The iconic one liners, the explosively compelling action sequences, the humor as the world crumbles around the characters, I can't get enough. The theme song instantly takes me racing through the grand canyon and soaring through space. There is no movie of such epic sci-fi scale that manages to remain funny, adventurous and hopeful even as a vast and seemingly invincible alien horde wipes out what would have to be hundreds of millions of people.

V for Vendetta-For starters, V reminded us that when given a good script, Natalie Portman is in fact an incredible actress. But there is also a fun yet deeply intellectual destruction of the establishment, ripping away our preconceptions about how strong and steadfast democracy and freedom is. The world is a dark place where vile people often come out on top, yet always there is a masked avenger who will strike at the heart of evil with wits and gusto.

Animal House-30 years later, John Belushi remains one of the funniest actors ever. College students today could learn a thing or four from the Delta's, boozing, dancing and wrecking a level of chaos no senior prank has ever managed. There is no end to the one-liners, to the envelope pushed all the way to the edge where comedy meets pornographic and yet still retaining a level of class.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi-Yes, people say that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were better, but to that I point to the single greatest space battle ever filmed and to one of the most incredible one on one duels of all time. I battle the enigmatic Rancor and I ambush Stormtroopers with furry warriors and rolling logs. Campy as it may be, much of the appeal of Star Wars will always be for me the attack of the teddy bears.

Batman Begins-I find humor in strange places, case in point, the wonderment that is the single most dangerous hand to hand fighter in any comic book universe getting slapped around by a girl. Christian Bale becomes in front of my eyes everything that Bruce Wayne and his alter ego should be. He does not simply look and dress the part, he fights against the forces of darkness with the mind of the consummate detective and the will of the greatest of warriors.

300-Violence for the sake of violence has never done anything for me. But violence with some of the best directed choreography, set design, score and dialogue of any action film ever drives me into a frenzy "for Sparta, for freedom, to the death." The passionate speeches of freedom, honor and kicking ass make me want to charge the barbarian horde with spear in hand.

Command0-Yes, the lines are camp and the action is some of the most implausible of any movie, but Arnold Shwarzenegger'a mere presence on screen precludes any pretense of taking the film seriously. Sit back and relax for the most brutal yet campy fun imaginable, complete with bulging muscles, blasting machine guns, fiery explosions and one liners so ridiculous that they couldn't be anything but asinine except when delivered by the man who is less an actor than an action sequence unto himself.

Shawshank Redemption-There is a kinetic, palpable energy in this search for freedom. It is a tale of escape and struggle, but what tale it truly tells is the story of a man finding hope, a reason to live and feel again, to shrug off not the chains of prison but of his own soul.

The Hunt for Red October-Just the irony of Commander Bond, the unstoppable thorn in the Soviet Union's side playing its greatest submarine captain is enough to bring a smile to my face. But more than that, I feel the crushing depths and hear the deadly torpedoes, kept on my toes for the next threat. I dive into the ocean and rise up again, riding some incredible one liners highlighted by the simple plea, "come on big D, fly!"

Cloverfield-Essentially, the quintessential What Would I Do flick. There are no heroes, no powers, no death defying odds, just the reaction of ordinary people to the most extraordinary situation imaginable. The brilliance in the movie is its simplicity, focusing entirely on the human elements, staying true to everyday people and their down to Earth reactions and emotions as their entire world comes crashing down.

This is just a taste of what drives my passion for movies, but it is a very good reference point. In these are the elements that make films worth watching for me, dialogue, gravitas, action, intelligence and just a little bit of fun.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A 'Spirited' Trailer

That was the lamest pun I've made in a long time, wasn't it? Yet here I am, typing happily away while I leave the title of this post intact because as tacky as it is, I find it to be extremely accurate of the new trailer for Frank Miller's The Spirit due for a December 2008 release. While only a trailer, I am feeling a great deal of anticipation for what looks like a mark in the plus column for Hollywood, complete with sultry femme fatales, great fight scenes, fantastic one liners and ample superhero wonderment and p'nash with just enough of a Noir feel mixed in to keep it from being just another comic book movie.

If nothing else, the new trailer speaks volumes more than the first, which appeared to be little more than a cheap Sin City knockoff. Many would hail such a knockoff, but for a fan of originality, it was just another reason to grind my teeth at night. Compound fears of it being a knockoff with a feeling less than ecstasy over Sin City and at first I was expecting very little from Spirit. That's right, cut my tongue out if you wish but I was not impressed with Sin City, it was simply too gruesome, melodramatic and quite frankly, strange.

Fortunately, Spirit appears to be its own movie, one that promises to be a great deal more fun than had been originally expected. Of course, the vibrant over the top bad ass of Samuel L. Jackson automatically marks the film as one that doesn't take itself completely seriously. Good guy, bad guy or anti-hero somewhere in between, Jackson inhabits a world all his own that will always inspire at least a little chuckle and certainly a very bright smile.

From the looks of it, Spirit will have little in the way of plot and less in the way of intelligent expositions and dialogue, but glitz, guns, incredible actors like Eva Mendez and the amount of fun a bonified comic genius like Frank Miller is bound to bring to the film mean that Hollywood can't always drive a good idea into the ground.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Sentinal of Liberty, Hopefully

Superheroes have become an important part of popular culture, their mythology a source for inspiration and hope, but few more so than a skinny Brooklyn kid who in 1941 would come to represent everything that the United States could ever hope to be, a man of unflinching morality and unbending will, Captain America. For months I have been pondering who exactly would be capable at once of the unassuming Steve Rogers and also the ultimate physical and tactical weapon in what is currently being called The First Avenger: Captain America, slated for a May 2011 release. Still strapped for an answer, I had a small panic attack when the rumor mill cranked out the name of Will Smith. Fortunately, it was confirmed as being just a rumor, but until that was settled my heart felt like it would explode in my chest. A terror of Will Smith as Cap has nothing whatsoever to do with the color of his skin, the one and only thing that fear is in reaction to is the thought of misconstruing who Steve Rogers is and what it would take to accurately portray him on the silver screen.

Loosely following the blogosphere's take on the man in blue, I have heard names flung around like Karl Urban, Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt and even John Cena for men to play Cap. Those who would associate those names with anything closely resembling Captain America need a lesson on what it means to be the Sentinel of Liberty, having mistaken him for another muscle head in tights who stands for little more the jumping, grunting and punching. Several of these actors could in fact pass themselves off as Steve Rogers in terms of looks, but anyone who thinks that looks alone can be responsible for a character they feels requires little in the way of acting have no right to even consider calling themselves comic book fans.

Captain America is about presence, emotional strength, patriotism, faith in what is good and right. The man playing Cap needs to present a force of will without limit, who can push himself past any physical limitations in order to get the job done and save the day. Such an actor needs to be able to present a man of such conviction and heroism that an entire nation could rally itself behind him, seeing in him all the very best values of the country whose name he bears and whose symbol he carries.

My faith in Hollywood today hinges on a desperate hope that they realize Captain America is not just another hero, he is a symbol of freedom, a champion of justice. To cast an actor incapable of portraying such gravitas in favor of some sweaty muscles and blond hair would be one of the most inconceivable affronts to characterization and to the idea of Steve Rogers. Hopefully it is a faith that will not be shattered.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vodka Martini: Classy, Not Mutilated

My soul is in agony, a huge chunk having just being bitten into by a repulsive, denigrating sound that tries to pass itself off as a good, meaningful part of a longstanding film tradition that used to stand as a bastion of what Hollywood is capable of. I just listened to Jack White and Alicia Keys' 'Another Way to Die,' slated to be the theme song for the upcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Perhaps being raised on the suave superspy in his many incarnations has left me jaded, unable to let go of a tradition that has long since been watered down and become in desperate need of revitalization. Or perhaps the artistic mongrels who accepted this nails on chalkboard have completely lost their minds.

I remember the fantasy and invigoration that used to come with the opening credits of 007 films, songs like Goldfinger and Moonraker that instilled in the audience a sense of possibility, exploration and adventure. They prepared us to go once more into the breach of mystery and mayhem with our favorite secret agent and once again experience all the gadgets and all the glamour, ready at once for dazzling special effects and scintillating femme fatales. 'Another Way to Die' however, manages only to beep bop around in the skull and speaks more of drunken dancing to a jukebox than waltzing around in a tuxedo with a Walther PPK stuck in a shoulder holster. Those who wrote and more importantly those who accepted this song have forgotten what it means to make a Bond movie, it is not about hip dancing tunes but about heart pumping anticipation, ready to leap off buildings and into danger, not bobble heads and certainly not rapping hip-hop of a modern beat many times removed from the classic and classy sophistication that at least should be what separates James Bond from the rest of us mere mortals.

Of course, I really shouldn't be as surprised as I am by just how terrible and far off the song is from what Bond is supposed to be, given what the films have become. I am not a member of the forgetful majority who thought Casino Royale was the greatest of the Bond films. I am in fact a member of the faithful who believe it was the very worst. Daniel Craig is not James Bond, he is not Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore and he is certainly not Sean Connery. His Bond is angry and uncouth, he has no passion, no smooth self awareness and certainly no super spy class.

As one MI6 tech puts it in Never Say Never Again, Bond needs "gratuitous sex and violence." What we got instead was a cheap knockoff of modern spy thrillers when it should have maintained the cornerstones of what has separated Bond from the rest for the last forty years. Bond needs gadgets, women, strange and implacable villains, cigar smoke and death traps. Bond is enjoyable, taut and ready but never to the point of breaking. Above all, Bond cannot take itself too seriously, lest it be just another Bourne. I like Jason Bourne, his are some incredible films, but they are not and should not be confused for a model that would work well with 007. Certain films do need a healthy dose of realism, but it is the impossibility and the controlled absurdity that has kept Bond fans glued to their seats for decades. If they wanted realism, they would have ceased watching such films long ago. Not every movie is or even should be made as realistic as possible lest we forget that movies, and in particular Bond movies, are about fantasy, of accepting the extraordinary as possible.

Casino Royale was not a bad movie, and the same will probably be true of Quantum of Solace. Separated from the James Bond name and mythos, they would be fine action-thrillers. It is even true that Die Another Day cast a dark shadow over the name of Bond, but that was no reason to forget everything that has made Bond great for more than twenty movies. There are no gadgets and no fun loving espionage. Just because a movie is good does not mean it is a good Bond film, or any other franchise for that matter. Sequels need to remain true to what made their inspiration great, not cast it aside and grasp onto the nearest tacitly similar model, such is the way to make copycats, not movies. My faith as it were, is shattered, I can only hope that some day a true James Bond will return us to that which Ian Fleming had in mind when he introduced us to M, MI6 and Moneypenny.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bullshit Perfected

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to talk about a very different creative presentation. Please don't take it for conceit when I say I am extremely gifted with words and with storytelling, which has at times manifested itself as bullshit. This ability, to talk sideways and backwards and upside down and inside out without anyone noticing has gotten me out of countless scrapes, much to the chagrin of Jiminy Crickett, whom I keep locked up in the lowest dungeon of the darkest castle, screaming for his precious star to hear him.

Nevertheless, his screams echo through the walls and my brain and I am at once incredibly grateful for my artistry with words and half truths yet inescapably saddened that I should be able to accomplish so much by hiding low cards that comprise the bulk of my deck. Fortunately, my tell is hard to find and I've always been able to give off the impression that I'm playing with four of a kind.

I believe in honesty and in fairness and yet I get by and ahead by being less than honest and not completely fair, like so many successful people in our society. My only guilty comfort in which I can partake is that so few people are honest and righteous and fair, relying instead on the faux but compelling appearance thereof. My inward ability to craft and alter has given me an outward and painfully clear view of the meaningless rhetoric that gives us hope that society can be improved while hiding the speakers true intent and actions mired in the complacency and apathy that has become the hallmark of our society.

Watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States was the clearest example in recent memory of what it means to be truly good at bullshit. I know I'm good at the art form, but never have I seen such a stunning display of demagoguery, of deft manipulation of the heart and soul of viewers, telling them all what they wanted to hear without committal and certainly without ever revealing his hand. I may be able to see his tell, but I find it absolutely impossible to make out what cards Obama is in fact holding. I know only that I have witnessed a master at work. Politics is about perception, not about reality, but Obama's speech make the two nigh indistinguishable.

Listen carefully to the speech and you will notice that he says everything the crowd wants to hear, about the problems we face and the need to fix them. Obama makes half promises to fix them, but never does he fully outline what he will do or how he will do it. He put out all the issues with just the right phrasing and emphasis, never dawdling, keeping a constant flow that makes it impossible to pick out a misstep or a prime intention.

There is also never a true indication of where exactly on the spectrum he lies, he never makes the leap from general to specific so that everyone can agree with him in spirit but without any content to hone in on and be exactly sure that their wants match his own. Notice the respect her garners by giving it out, the high horse he rides without anyone noticing, praising Senator McCain while deftly and regretfully deriding everything that McCain stands for.

Without a linear point to follow audiences instead are left with a flowing mass of promises that can be backed out of and goals that can be altered, of ends that could have multiple means applied. Obama cited all the great men of recent American history, taking up their mantle and waving the flag of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He paraphrases the Shining City on the Hill and ever is the utterance of change, his end all be all catchphrase which can inspire and instill hope without ever defining itself.

Make no mistake, I am a registered Democrat, liberal American and proud opponent to everything the inconsequential, arrogant, misguided little man who sits upon his sad little thrown of his sad little imaginary kingdom. Come November I will be casting my vote for Barack Obama. That being said, I do so knowing that I am taking a calculated risk. I am banking on Obama's cards being as good as I hope they are, knowing that if his opponent bluffs his way through the game he will unveil a hand that can mean nothing less than continued war, poverty, stagnancy and a total irreverence for what America could be.

John McCain will leave this country no better than when he came to office, that is the only thing of which I can be sure. I sincerely hope Obama sees and believes and will in fact fight for the America he whispered of but never defined, but my cynical nature will never let me forget that he is an incalculably gifted demagogue that I am banking on using those precision tools of politics and bullshit to make a better America. Today, I cast a vote affirming my faith in Barack Obama, hoping that it is a faith that will be rewarded and not disappointed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Clone Wars

There was a time in a galaxy far, far away that lightsabers, blasters and a few well timed quips could keep me enthralled for hours on end. There was a powerful magic in those ancient weapons and hokey religions, a place where the imagination could run wild and free, born aloft on repulsor engines that carried one through the stars and realms of creativity and fantasy. With my lego Millennium Falcon and Republic Gunship still intact and dozens of other memorabilia and games regretfully stuffed somewhere in cold storage, there was never any doubt about whether or not I'd go to see Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I find myself now almost regretting my allegiance to a man by the name of Lucas, betrayed by a vision that has served to inspire millions and now serves to do little more than bleakly pacify us for ninety minutes of heinous dialogue, horrible plot and incredibly disappointing action sequences.

Five years pass between the end of Star Wars Episode II and beginning of Episode III, five years of constant war and strife, a time where the mettle of the great heroes of the Republic, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, was tested again and again, and the best Lucas and director Dave Filoni have to throw at audiences is a terribly conceived and executed plot to choke off Republic supply routes in the outer rim by creating a rift between the Republic and the Hutts, the controllers of the shipping lanes. We are asked to forget for a moment that hyperspace allows an infinite number of paths to take from A to B and actually believe a virtually incomprehensible turn of events led the Separatists to kidnap the infant son of Jabba the Hutt and use him to sow dissent between the Hutts and the Republic that led Kenobi and Skywalker to attempt to rescue the Huttlet (I wish I were kidding) with Skywalker's brand new apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, in tow. Without even the famous scrolling introduction, I expected the narration at the beginning to turn into one of those annoying newsreel spoofs of our boys fighting heroically on the frontlines, only to realize that it was in fact dead serious. Perhaps the joke is on me, but I trully expected a punchline at the end of the narration and got only a mess of all that can go wrong with a movie.

There is a chance I could be wrong, but I was vaguely and probably mistakenly under the impression that the title of the film was The Clone Wars, which in a mottled and mixed up world should mean the film actually portrays the war, not a few poorly sequenced skirmishes. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, they do after all amount to a few paltry action sequences of the Jedi flicking their lightsabers back and forth for what seems more like pendular hypnosis than swordplay. Even the lightsaber duels do terrible justice to a saga that is as well known if not more so for its spectacular one on one fights as it is for its sweepingly epic battles. Never once do we get a sense of cosmic scale and barely do we understand the consequences to be life or death.

We are expected to assume Skywalker and Ahsoka would instantly develop a back and forth banter deeply connecting teacher and apprentice, one that is punctuated by irrelevant, pointless and poorly written dialogue of what is supposed to sound like mentoring but instead seems like continuous brainfarts. It almost feels as if Lucas is pointing to Ahsoka and saying: See, a nubile female Jedi who fearlessly deflects blaster bolts, fights Sith assassins and even stands up to Anakin Skywalker without hesitation, what more do you want from me?

What do I want? I want Star Wars to have good plot, compelling action, funny and fun dialogue. I want a world of fantasy where the imagination is swept into a cosmic scale, impossible odds and endearing hope in the darkest corners of the galaxy. I want action sequences that weren't thrown together with a couple of flashlights in some schmuck's basement. I want an intelligent construct where we see depth, light and darkness and all the shades of gray in between, not a constantly poorly timed and nonsensical mess of charging and jumping and screaming and the illusions of the endless possibilities six year olds will find themselves stripped of should they mistake this movie for quality science fiction.

The Clone Wars has the contextual markings of greatness. Spaceships, robotic dispensers of death, coming of age, mentorship, lightsabers. To a young mind who does not realize Star Wars used to be something more than epic, it may do as a means to stave off boredom. But there will be a time where the children who walk out of the theater captivated by the lights and whirring and battles watch A New Hope and they will realize just what Ozymandias means when he says "Look Upon My Works Ye Mighty and Despair." For the longest time, I associated with the name Lucas grandeur and adventure, now I must add to that association a half life, a continuous decay from the glory days of the early 1980s. Lucas has allowed this dark lord of cheap laughs and meaningless plot to twist his mind until now, he has become the thing a little movie called Star Wars swore to destroy, a trivial footnote in the book of science fiction. The Clone Wars is perhaps the blackest of marks, proof that even Hollywood's greatest minds can turn out mindless and inescapable trash.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Swing Vote

Perhaps I'm jaded or maybe I'm just realistic, but I've always taken politics to be a cesspool of back rubbing and more than a little stabbing, a place where the meek and the honest could never hope to win by following the straight and narrow. It is a place that by all accounts is about neither the truth nor the issues nor the intentions but about the image, about a popularity contest where not the best or brightest but the most manipulative thrive, where winning isn't about being right or just but about making your opponent look worse, forcing voters into a choice of not the best candidate but the one who will leave the country just a tad cleaner than his (or someday her) opponent. It is a place and a state of mind where the most qualified and well meaning almost never stand a chance, and I say almost never only because the enduring and unfortunately unkillable flicker of hope deep within me remains. That candle clinging to life does however occasionally get rewarded for its stubborn refusal to be snuffed out, especially when Hollywood breaks out its especially intense humorous lampooning tools for movies like Swing Vote.

Kevin Costner smellily shines as beer drooling Bud, a perpetual half assing bumb dragged out of bed and his drunken revelry by the inescapable charm of Madeline Carroll's Molly, who by all rights should be dull witted and buck toothed as the daughter of the beer chugging Bud and a perpetually baked mother (Mare Winningham). Never once however does the audience question this shining beacon that the future might in a handful of possible paths get a little brighter. At 12, Madeline Carroll manages to steal the show with a lot more than cute pigtails, carrying the weight of a movie and a nation on her shoulders with sharp whit and doey-eyed hopefulness easily shattered by the cruel world of paparazzi and moraleless campaign managers, yet perpetually stitching itself back together with a handful of sober moments by Bud, but really Molly is the pillar on which the film stands. Carroll manages to outshine warring but spineless candidates played by Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper as the Republican President and his democratic opponent. Even Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as the separate campaign managers seem a little intimidated by the preteen that could.

For two hours, the audience is told to forget all thought of being a rational actor and believe that a Presidential election could boil down to a single man and his vote. Should you be willing to make that leap of faith you will find yourself in a movie that heaps on the charm and the irreverent lambasting as the two most powerful men in the country wage a mudslinging war for the heart, soul and vote of a single drunken deadbeat hick. We get a laughing glimpse of the darkest politics has to offer, the lows to which anyone who gets so far as to be one of the two final candidates for the office of President of the United States of America would have to sink. There are no limits and there is no shame, a sad yet charming reminder of a gray tinged and perpetually imperfect world in which we live.

The problem with Swing Vote is that it ends. For two hours we believe that an American and his or her vote really matters, that in the darkest hour even politicians can be human beings who at least lean towards the side of what is right and good. Then abruptly, the credits role, we rise and ever so slowly make our way outside where the summer breeze, lukewarm and moist, laps at our foreheads and we remember why Poly is Greek for many and Ticks are blood sucking insects.
In Kevin Costner's drunken swagger and Madeline Carroll's impossible cuteness I find a reason, however brief, to believe that politics and American culture can in fact mean something more than winning at any cost in order to achieve instant gratification. The film is warm and funny, the tale of a father and his daughter than can be impossible yet heartwarming, set against the back drop of all that is ugly and regrettable about the American political system. Original, comical and enjoyable, Swing Vote shows that there still is some hope for Hollywood. Mr. Smith may have gone to Washington a long time ago, but his memory endures. Hollywood is in fact capable of recognizing that which must be resisted and give us a fun and endearing means by which to lambaste and destroy it. For now at least, Hollywood has my vote.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Remakes, Repeats, Redos and Sequels, Spasms of an Uncreative Mind

It at once amazes and yet also stupefies me that the champion of our entertainment industry is at once capable of fielding titanic movies of intelligence and fun like The Dark Knight yet still be bulging with complete and utter wastes of time, energy, money and the occasional spark of talent that seems to comprise the bulk of Hollywood. Don't get me wrong, I am nothing short of ecstatic about movies like Watchmen and Terminator: Salvation, but then I hear about such mindbogglingly horrific decisions as remakes of Robocop, Hellraiser and even such blasphemous sacrilege as The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Of course, the most traumatic of all experiences for me is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Suffice it to say that the original movie was an assault on my brain like nothing I have experienced before or since and the idea of anyone even considering that remaking such a movie would be a good idea in even the deepest, darkest corner of their mind seems like a complete loss of all cognitive faculties. Instead of an industry that by all rights should attract the most talented, imaginative and creative, Hollywood instead seems to be populated with the asinine, the stupid, the money grubbing and the downright insane. Rocky Horror is universally considered one of the worst movies of all time, it has no class, it has no thought, it is built up on bad songs, worse acting, nonexistent plot and heinously inappropriate sexuality that assaults even the most base individuals to their very soul. The one and only reason the movie has enjoyed any amount of popularity in any way whatsoever is that people like to make fun of it, to laugh at it, not with it because the movie goes so far outside the realm of intelligence, sanity or common sense that for a moment people can forgo humanity and become instead ethereal shadows that exist outside of thought, stability or sense.

As a true fan of the big screen, hearing of remakes and sequels being made time and again wounds me to my deepest self. There at times seems to be no imagination or intelligence left in Hollywood. Where once stood creativity and class is now an industry that exists only to make money by doing the least amount of work and brainstorming possible, instead preferring to throw bad movies that have already been made two or three dozen times at audiences and pray we'll be pacified by all the pretty, pretty lights and whirring sound.

I am not pacified, I cannot abide the thought of a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I would sincerely hope that anyone with any amount of dignity, class or respect for what is one of the most celebrated science fiction movies ever made would stay as far away from such a remake as humanly possible, and that is of course before I heard who exactly would be playing the part of the protagonist, the enigmatic alien Klaatu. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing personally against Keanu Reeves, he is a fine action star who works well in films like Speed, The Matrix or even Street Kings. My problem begins and ends when good action stars but mediocre actors try to walk in the shadow of a giant, pretending to be an actor when they most certainly are not. Even were Hollywood to completely forgo its respect for the great minds that have populated it in the past, still I would hope they would have the faculty to realize that any attempt at defacing the memory of The Day the Earth Stood Still should be made with a legitimate and very talented actor, not a running and jumping fiend who can't help but fidget when forced to sit still.

Today, in the face of a couple really good movies and a score of really bad ones that will do nothing save make a little bit of money and a lot of asses out of the semi-creative minds constituting Hollywood's braintrust, I must say thee nay, Hollywood has put in a rather large nail in its coffin, one constructed out of rehashed thoughts and single minded greed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me make one thing perfectly clear, The Dark Knight blew me farther out of the water than any film in recent memory. Words like genius and work of art come to mind when describing this film, the few extremely minor qualms I have with it are such that I would feel sacrilegious mentioning them. Suffice it to say that Christian Bale is one of my absolute favorite actors, fully embodying the darkest of heroes, bravest of knights, most brilliant of defenders as the caped crusader. Then of course is a man who will forever be remembered as quite possibly the greatest screen villain of all time. There is speculation that preparing for the role of the Joker drove Heath Ledger to his death, but to that I say the exact opposite, the role did not kill him but will instead immortalize him for all time. Heath Ledger may be dead, but the Joker will live forever.

I want a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ledger, Best Director for Christopher Nolan, and depending on what else Hollywood fields this year, (probably not much) a Best Picture for the film. My heart started pounding as the first scene began and is still thumping hard in my chest. For two and a half hours, the audience is wrenched along by a thrill ride that scares, invigorates, stupefies and astounds with knife edge twists, turns and corkscrews. You enter a world of fear, of anarchy and chaos, of corruption, violence and death, one where you fear every street corner and avoid every dark alley, yet always, a glimmer of human decency and morality endures.

Bale's Batman carries the torch of hope like the greatest of champions, a shadow across the red tint in the world, an absolute force for justice and good. Of course, where there is one polarity there too must be another, and where once stood Heath Ledger the man is now simply The Joker, an absolute force of death, a horseman of the Apocalypse, a man with a plan so terrifying and so well crafted by Nolan that never once is the audience disappointed and not for a single moment does the tension, suspense, drama and mind gnawing fear let up. Let there be no mistake, Ledger's Joker stole the spotlight and held it in a vice grip for the length of the impossibly compelling film.

In case there was any doubt, I absolutely endorse The Dark Knight as a shining batlight in the sky that Hollywood deserves our continued patronage, or at least anything with the name Bale or Nolan attached to it. The fight scenes are invigorating, the chase scenes are captivating, and every single scene that has anything at all to do with the Joker is absolutely terrifying. If you like any combination of action, fight scenes, chase scenes, super psychotic man-monsters, lone figures fighting against impossible odds, great acting with nigh complete character transformation, impossibly well crafted plot, or just really cool gadgets, you have my word you will leave the theater with a pounding chest and whirring brain. More than six hours after leaving the theater, my brain is still trying to process the beacon of good against evil and against itself.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

As much of an insanely dedicated comic book aficionado as I am, I am getting really tired of the superhero flicks. If you'll notice, this will mark the 4th superhero movie I've reviewed in as many weeks. Unfortunately, I happen to be taking my frustration out on one of the more tolerable, if less well thought out plot-wise, being Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Back in all his red horned, cigar smoking glory, Ron Perlman is once again the lovable demon hellspawn with a heart of gold. He is flanked by his trusty teammates Abraham Sapien, the lonely psychic talking fish full of wistful wisdom and forlorn hand motions, girlfriend and dazzlingly well animated pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman, and newcomer Johann Kraus, the ectoplasmic fog being encased in a diving suit straight out of the 1950s. Mix together, stir vigorously, boil and stew in a crazy Elf prince hellbent on wiping out humanity by unleashing an army of 70 times 70 (that's 4,900 for those of us who forgot how to multiply) robots called the Golden Army, and voila, you have a fun, funny and visually compelling world that sadly, has no plot whatsoever.

Doom to Hollywood or salvation for it, this was a tough call. On the one hand is a dazzling world of monsters duking it out over humanities salvation/destruction fought with incredible special effects, compelling fight scenes and theater engulfing laughs. On the other was a plot that was neither here nor their. There are no twists, turns, corkscrews or otherwise anything remotely resembling much of any plot. Everything that transpires is pretty to look at and makes sense contextually, but it is perhaps the most ill thought out, pointless and asinine plot imaginable.

I am deeply disappointed in Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro for meting out what is at once fun, funny and pretty to look at yet utterly nonexistent in its ability to get its audience wrapped up in the journey, the discovery, the excitement. Perhaps I'm merely over analyzing what is in fact an incredibly enjoyable movie. I laughed and I cheered with the audience with every joke and every exceptionally well choreographed fight scene, but at the end of the day, my reactions were superficial, I felt nothing for these characters except mindless enjoyment, they seemed unreal to me, well acted, but poorly driven by plot. I understand why they do what they do at an intellectual level, but I prefer for a movie to make me truly feel, and any blissful excitement I might have achieved was utterly ruined by a plot that ran the paces without rhyme or reason. When all is said and done, I am left unsure of Hollywood's abilities and I must condemn Hellboy II. A fan of the original film, I find myself now wondering if my memories of good, intelligent plots was in fact a pipe dream, a fantasy not unlike the the one del Toro does certainly craft so well with fine set pieces and excellent characters and action.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Generally speaking, a movie is the sum of all its parts. Great actors combined with good themes, appealing plot, a well written script and compelling action usually reach critical mass in the form of a good movie. Bad movies result when one or more of these elements are left out or worse still, are replaced with a crutch the creative minds behind it lean on instead of filling in the entire equation. Such is the case of Hancock, a well intentioned summer blockbuster that features Will Smith in the title role of a likeably unlikeable superhero who hits the bottle as hard as he hits the criminals. Such is the entire feel for the movie, likeably unlikeable, neither good nor bad and certainly not a gleaming beacon of hope that Hollywood has any creative chutzpah left.

In making Hancock the idea was a superhero who could in fact be a complete jackass all the while saving the world. The concept does understandably present a number of problems in putting it into action. Said hero needs to be despicable, reviled and the audience itself has to feel the same way. In spite of all that, an emotional investment needs to be made for the character. The audience has to feel sorry for the hero when he is beaten on yet cheer when he is thrashed by a less than adoring public. Will Smith fit the bill perfectly, a likable man in an unliked role, one whose main thespian device is one of immense charm. Indeed, the charm is turned full blast for the length of the film, presenting the audience with an at once womanizing scoundrel of a liquor chugging bum who can still save the world with a bit of sly wit and gasps, oohs and ahhs from the audience.

The problem with Hancock is that it stuck superpowers, albeit incredibly cool ones, onto Will Smith’s charm and threw in the funnily clueless idealist of Jason Bateman playing PR expert Ray Embrey and mixed in the ever sultry Charlize Theron playing Bateman’s housewife Mary and assumed that nothing else was needed to make a good movie. Unfortunately, charm, visuals, humor and feminine wiles do not completely fill out a film. There also needs to be plot and script, of which the film has next to nothing. Off to a rather good start, halfway through it feels as if director Ray Berg had a sudden change of heart and decided to forgo what was left of a compelling superhero action comedy and throw in some sort of strange shenanigans that are never filled out and leave a rather bad taste in a viewer’s mouth for the remainder of the film. It’s hard to make rhyme or reason out of the strangeness heaped onto the second half of Hancock. Suffice it to say that anything that even remotely resembles a script is tossed to the super powered winds and all involved just decided to wing it from there.

There’s a reason all of the really good, successful superhero movies have been based off of well established characters with hundreds of issues of source material. Do yourself a favor and read a couple of origin issues, particularly Amazing Fantasy #15, the first ever appearance of Spider-Man. I know, I know, I’m coming off as an enormous mega dork right now, please bare with me. If you read it and other origins, you’ll find that they well, sucked. Seriously, it took forever for these characters to get any good and countless story arcs to vet them well enough to be ready for a successful movie. Hancock on the other hand, was made from scratch. No fan base, unless you count Will Smith, and no character development or story basis.

Hundreds of creative minds helped forge a shy 15 year old into the Amazing Spider-Man or a group of teenage misfits into the Uncanny X-Men. Sam Raimi and Brian Singer drew on a rich tapestry of source material for their on screen creations whereas Hancock had only the creative minds behind its production. In all fairness, they couldn’t exactly start a Hancock comic and wait for it to ferment until ready for a major production. Hancock was largely lacking in good story and script because there was simply nothing to draw on for those elements.

For all its glitz, glamour and high flying action, Hancock just doesn’t make the grade. It’s indicative only that Hollywood would rather produce a showboating display of mindless action and occasional laughs than a legitimately high quality original superhero movie. The action and humor do a good job of taking your mind off the total lack of original thinking and good plot direction, but when they stop for even a moment, the realization of how poorly thought out the movie is slams into the audience like a barreling superhero.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Shoot ‘em ups are a hit or miss thing, they are either enjoyably ridiculous or just plain ridiculous. Add in superpowers and cast James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie and you would think the marksmanship would be pretty good. Instead, Wanted misses nearly every shot it takes. Funny? Meh. Compelling? No way. Exciting? Yes, but only if you’re willing to suspend belief in anything even remotely resembling the laws of physics. Intelligent? Only if you’re still able to say George W. Bush has leadership chops with a straight face. I’ll admit, it’s far from the worst of all possible movies and it is tolerable, but good? Not in a million years. Despite working with a brilliantly written graphic novel by comics legend Mark Millar, Hollywood seems to have little in the way of adapting ability. I’m going to have to condemn Wanted as indicative of Hollywood’s fading artistry.

To be fair, Mark Millar’s premise of supervillains killing all the heroes and then writing them out of reality probably wouldn’t work for general audiences, the graphic novel is too much of a self defecating sado-masochistic thrill ride for most people to appreciate. What we get however is little better understood and makes even less sense. A league of super assassins, ok. But a league of super assassins who get their orders by interpreting a binary code out of the way a textile mill weaves fabric? Ignoring the absurdity that is a code that was supposedly discovered a millennia ago, long, long before binary was developed, it’s still the simple fact that these people are taking their orders from some string. That’s the best possible thing they could think of, interpreting a code in string. I’ll go so far as to say there are worse ways to identify victims than fate, in fact depending on how you play with it, the idea could in fact end up being really cool. But instead of taking the idea and running, the fabric of fate is just a single shot out of many that the audience has to endure.

Speaking of marksmanship, I’ll admit that some movies can be the most unrealistic thing imaginable and still manage to be enjoyable. There are movies so outrageous, so far off the grid of reality yet funny and fun enough that realism can be tossed to the winds. As far as Wanted goes, the movie seems to go as far out of its way as humanly possible to be ridiculous. In the film, realism is a thing of the past and suspending any semblance of intelligence will only get you so far. There gets to be a point where you want something at least tacitly plausible to occur, but it never comes. Instead, they stick a not even particularly prettied up Angelina Jolie in your face every time something really ridiculous happens and pray that you’ll be so distracted by her assets that the absurdity of what just happened will be overlooked.

Call me crazy, but if I was going to watch a movie for a pretty face, it would be in the adult film section. When I watch something like Wanted I’m hoping for Angie the very capable actress, not Angie the really, really annoying and absurd femme fatale. Morgan Freeman will always be a pleasure to watch on screen, but not even he can make an asinine plot work that has already been done so many times before. James McAvoy? While he does manage to hide his accent well for the most part, there are times when it seeps through, particularly in one of his many whining sessions. Yes, McAvoy’s Wesley Gibson is supposed to start out as an insignificant jackass who couldn’t find a pair with both hands and a flashlight, but the trend continues even after he starts getting in touch with his fatal side. There are times when the whole, living up to my father’s memory and frying the SOB who killed him can in fact work, but for Wesley it’s just another reason to close your eyes and pray the narrative will end soon and the ass kicking may begin.

Don’t get me wrong, the ass kicking does commence with bullets flying, but the sequences can’t get past the, holy shit! factor. There just isn’t anything there past the special effects, no heart pounding, no adrenaline pumping, no OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, and certainly no plausibility. Sniper rifles are used like artillery pieces and bullets? Well it would seem these characters can’t just curve them through the air; they look to help from on high (your welcome Serenity fans) to make the rounds traverse about a dozen more skulls than any bullet has ever been capable of going through.

The absolutely implausible and incredulous action sequences drive a plot and theme that is less a story element and more a lesson beaten into your heads. The film stops just shy of leaping off the screen, grabbing the audience and screaming, GET LESS PATHETIC, DAMMIT! The graphic novel may do much of the same thing, but at least it does it with p’nash and style and sends the message in a way that the audience doesn’t mind being shown the pathetic nature of their existence.

Wanted has many things going for it, good actors, a great inspiration and special affects galore, and it is for that reason that the film particularly sucks. Despite all that, the film never makes its way past mediocrity. An OK way to spend an afternoon, it elicits neither tears nor shouts and makes do with a handful of oohs, ahs and the occasion chuckle. It doesn’t have to be realistic or intelligent or deep or even well acted, all I want out of this movie is a couple of good laughs and the stirring of a part of my imagination where impossible things may happen. Yes, that line comes out of Dexter’s Laboratory, deal with it. Wanted just doesn’t make the cut. It’s been done and said and fired, and while the neurons are left more or less in tact, they are no more excited than they were when they were playing two dimensional Gameboy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

I have a confession to make. I see comic books. In addition to being addicted to the wonderful world of living color, I read comic books like there is no tomorrow, and there won’t unless I find a way to stop spending twenty bucks a week on the damn things. That being said, I have no regrets, especially now that the powers that be (thank you Angels fans for getting the reference) are obliging my addiction and giving it new meaning with a string of mostly high quality comic book adaptations. Yes, some definitely fit into the black mark aisle of your friendly neighborhood assault on the psyche, but so far this summer we’ve had two solid adaptations that have shown me Hollywood is in fact capable of transporting a character, in this case a giant green snarling one, onto the big screen without screwing it up too badly.

Okay, I know I beat around the bush, so provided you keep reading this, which you obviously are, please bare with me. I am of course referring to the lean, green smashing machine known as The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton as the jolly green giant in hiding, Bruce Banner. I’ll admit, I have largely jumped on the Ed Norton band wagon, the guy does soft spoken, introspective and intelligent better than virtually anyone alive, a great pick for the eternally lonely figure that is everyone’s favorite gamma irradiated scientist. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, unable to stay in any one place, always hiding and running and jumping and on occasion, smashing.

Drenched in half tears and calling out to Stella, I cheered for Banner when the ever so lovely Liv Tyler came to his emotional rescue playing Betty Ross. But then of course I started actually listening to her speak and my eardrums started to hurt. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t pass the aforementioned judgment if the film overall, in a crunchy nutshell weren’t worthy of watching and keeping said nutshell down. That being said, listening to Tyler’s Betty talk is painful. Maybe she always talked that way but I seem to remember her Arwenian voice as more forceful and a little less annoying. A pretty face and compelling love interest I’ll give you, but she’s far more the hapless, clueless girlfriend than she is the brilliant and strong feminine influence. I have to fight back pity for her pitiless father, the thundering Thaddeus Ross of the ever charming William Hurt with his gleaming baby blues when Betty squeakily declares her love for Bruce and hatred of her father.

Then there’s my buddy Tim Roth playing the eternally despicable Emil Blonsky, destined to become the Hulk’s greatest nemesis, the Abomination. Roth nails power mad and angry, a scary, scary spook I sure as hell wouldn’t want on my tail. The same, unfortunately, can not be said of the way the script plots out his motives. Maybe there just wasn’t time to depict the aging warrior desperate to return to that which is wasted on the young. But then you just don’t feel it, the Oh Woah is Me, I’m Getting Too Old For This Shit! feels really contrived and hastily done. Then of course there’s the actual transition from spy to monster, (SPOILER ALERT) where Blonsky actually has a short period where he takes the super soldier serum that created Captain America in Project Rebirth back in WWII. Okay, I know that might not seem like the biggest of deals, but it kind of goes against one of the core principles of Captain America, that the super soldier serum was lost the night he was created. The pain ends abruptly when Blonsky turns scaly and green, an Abomination that tears up the streets of Manhattan where he is promptly challenged by that most lovable of unstoppable smashing machines, the raging beast within, the Mr. Hyde to Banner’s Jekyll, you get the idea.

The fight between the two monsters is one hell of a slugfest, but it’s also one of the weirder beat downs in superhero history. Not weird in terms of viewing pleasure, they do in fact beat the living crap out of one another and the innocent pavement around them. But the climactic finale like the rest of the films action sequences seem a little, well, not incredible enough. There is no question that these are two horrifically powerful creatures, but you never get the sense that they are the two most physically powerful beings in the entire universe. To the mayhem artist lurking deep inside, they just don’t do enough damage, and neither seems like they’re capable of lifting skyscrapers and taking on whole armies.

Blonsky’s Abomination is lovably loathable, but post transformation it’s difficult to see the man-monster inside. It’s possible for audiences unfamiliar with the back story to actually think Blonsky is gone and Abomination is all that remains where in fact, the Abomination is the antithesis of the Hulk, retaining his full intellect in his transformed state.

For better or for worse, that most lovable of green goliaths has exactly six words, count ‘em, in the entire film. The first three absolutely capture the ever present theme of the Hulk in needing to be left in peace, and the other three are pretty great geek outs. The only problem is they’re also incredibly random, grunting and snarling for the bulk of his giant green tongue movements, you really have to wonder why they’d put in those lines when they did. There just doesn’t seem to be any point unless the Hulk said it more often. Instead, they seem to have spent the entire movie saying “wait for it, wait for it,” by the time they give the go ahead, it comes across as incredibly random.

What isn’t random is the story, a wonderful cinematic homage to the original Bill Bixby television show of the same name. You feel genuinely sorry for Banner and really hope he’ll find some semblance of solace. You care for his character on a deep emotional level, heartstrings and all. The Incredible Hulk is quite simply a good story, complete with believable plot, good action and compelling acting.

But therein also lies some of the problem. The movie feels like a good story, but not necessarily a good comic book story. They try their darndest to tie it in with the larger Marvel Universe like Iron Man before it, but the emotional connection is never made. You feel and hope and cry and occasionally chuckle, but there is never any of the amiable humor, the p’nash, the sense of wonderment that accompanies even the darkest of Marvel comic books.

Perhaps it’s the unique nature of the Hulk himself, a lonely antihero instead of just a regular hero. That status may very well make the translation of all the wonderment difficult from page to screen. Whatever the reason may be, those moments that should be funny barely manage a chuckle. You know it’s supposed to be funny but it just, isn’t.

Ultimately, Incredible Hulk does in fact affirm my faith in Hollywood. It may not be the best of comic book movies, but it is enjoyable. The story is compelling and the action is well, incredible. I’m looking forward to seeing what the actors can do with more time to develop and grow and growl.