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.