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.