Thursday, April 30, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” takes too many liberties. With plausibility, with plot, with characterization, with common sense and established plot within the framework of the X-Men film franchise. Worst of all, the film takes too many liberties with the depiction and back story of one of the most iconic of all Marvel superheroes.

Hugh Jackman remains an excellent Wolverine, full of feral fury and unstoppable death dealing, a bull in a very delicate china shop who struggles to find humanity even as he slips into the deadliest killing machine alive. But Jackman can only react as his Wolverine is put through the nonsensical ringer of a plot that spins around and around until you’re dizzy, confused, and begging for the spinning to stop and the sense to return. It doesn’t.

Wolverine’s relationships and back story, both in the comics and even in the film franchise itself, is butchered almost beyond recognition. Alas, to spoil it would be irresponsible but then again, to go see it is in and of itself an irresponsible act. Silver Fox is changed. The rivalry/history between Wolverine and Sabretooth is defiled. Wolverine’s time with and relationship to the Weapon X program and Colonel Stryker is irrevocably butchered, to the point it resembles nothing, not the depiction in the comics, not the depiction in the films.

Wolverine’s origin becomes nothing save for a barely conceived plot about running and jumping and slashing and stabbing and all kinds of nonsense that doesn’t work and shouldn’t be allowed, superpowers or not. One does not expect a great deal of realism when dealing with the x-gene, with mutants and powers and the children of the atom. Just watching or reading such a story requires an extraordinary leap of faith. But leaps of faith are meant to be rewarded, something that never happens in the film.

Instead, we get a lot of flashy nonsense that is neither compelling nor even tacitly plausible, a betrayal of everything we expect from these films. Instead of a reversal of the bastardization of the X-Universe by one Brett Ratner, it is a continuation of it, only a little bit better looking and only tacitly more thoughtfully conceived.

Considering how much I was initially looking forward to the movie and how much potential it had, "Wolverine" is evidence that Hollywood has lost the ability to remain faithful even to itself, capable of films with no plot, no sense and no compelling reason to waste $8.50.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


It’s amazing how little of the title activity actually takes place in “Fighting.” Channing Tatum plays Sean MacArthur, a garden variety struggling citizen of the Big Apple who sells whatever anyone will buy and happens to know how to throw a punch. In formulaic fashion, he meets up with Terence Howard’s Harvey Boarden who fixes MacArthur up with some illegal, high bet prize fights the proceeds of which he hopes to use to help his down-on-her-luck love interest, Zulay Valez, played by Zulay Henao. Moderately funny at times, “Fighting” meanders through its 105 minutes with a little action totally 3 and a half fights and a lot of needless and pointless plot.

“Fighting” is a complete and utter rip-off of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Lionheart” but without the pesky details like compelling back story or understandable dialogue. Instead of back story we get some mild daddy issues from MacArthur and a lot of attempted tension between him and his college wrestling rival, Brian White’s Evan Hailey. Other than that and a few slightly soulful glances between MacArthur and Zulay, the story of “Fighting” neither makes nor tries to make much in the way of sense.

As for the title activity, for a movie that would seem like it revolves around violence and ‘fighting,’ the action of the film is rather typical and not particularly extensive. Fairly well choreographed and accurate in its depictions, there is nothing special about the fights albeit the camera work does do a good job of capturing the intensity; most of the time you have a pretty good idea of who is throwing the punch and who is taking it.

In a lot of ways “Fighting” should really be called ‘Mumbling.’ Barely discernable and highly irritating, everything and everyone mumbles and stumbles through the film. The dialogue mumbles, the delivery mumbles and the plot mumbles. Shuffling its way across the floor, the movie itself would lose most fights it gets into, unsure of itself and so poorly edited that it never has the dexterity, mobility or energy to bounce around the ring, stinging like a mosquito and floating like a spider.

“Fighting” and the people in it do not live up to expectations. Channing Tatum is not a warrior badass but just a guy who wins just because, because well, the plot says he does. Zulay is given a funny old grandmother and cute young daughter to nag and doughfully look at MacArthur, respectively. The biggest disappointment of all is Oscar nominee Terrence Howard. His Harvey Boarden never really talks in a straight line, he is in fact the mumble king of the film, his lips move a lot and sound comes out, but he says next to nothing. Quirky and weird, we do not understand Boarden and really, we don’t want to.

“Fighting” is not extraordinarily bad, it just isn’t really any good. Prototypical about street-‘fighting’ films and the like, the action is tolerable and the acting just isn’t up to the expected par. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and sometimes you need to know there are fights not worth fighting and should just be walked away from.

Considering I actually was a little hopeful for "Fighting," the film is definitely another nail in the coffin. That being said, I should have known better and it isn't a very big nail, but it is there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

State of Play

“State of Play” is at once a hyper-relevant exploration of Washington and 21st century power plays while deftly navigating the living, breathing streets of the city of Washington, D.C. from the eyes of a dying breed.

Russell Crowe’s Cal McAffrey is a dinosaur, a relic of printing presses past and he knows it. A staff writer for “The Washington Globe,” an incredibly thinly disguised “Washington Post,” Cal drives a 19 year old car and types on a 16 year old computer. Long hippy bangs and a well fed belly earmark him for future status as a fossil fuel for electric cars of the new age, angle and opinion driven, sensationalist web journalists exemplified by Rachel McAdams’ Della Frye. With the paper under new ownership, the pair are constantly hounded not just about doing the stories but about selling the prints as the film intones journalism as we know it’s death knell, a time where getting the story and getting it right is no longer everything there is, there is also getting it first and getting it last and getting it bought.

Together the still working cliché of the gray shaded vet and wide eyed newbie traverse the halls of power, digging through a tangled web woven between a U.S. Congressman, one Stephen Collins played by a contemplative but oil slick haired Ben Affleck and his dearly departed aide with whom he’d been having an affair. Careful not to use any actual names, the film points a fat finger at government contracting PointCorp, a thinly veiled analogy to Blackwater and Halliburton as the Globe is to the Post. Of course, there always has to be the inside man or men, politicians on the take and under the extramarital sheets.

“State of Play” makes no attempts to hide its role as epitaph to journalism and journalists past and present but without future. Everything about Cal screams gruff and tumble reporting with cigarettes and whiskey and instead of wild, wild women, memories of Woodward and Bernstein to drive him insane. There may be no clandestine meetings in parking garages with Deep Throat, but that didn’t stop director Kevin Macdonald from making The Watergate Hotel a prominent location and one nameless, nonexistent spook of an informant a key plot point.

Of course, the film is as much journalistic advertisement as it is death toll. Little in the way of action occurs despite the high tension and ever looming threat of shady men in dark alleys with bulges in their pockets. Instead, the film is very much a reporter’s movie, with ink to paper and fingers to keyboard as the intrepid reporters gallantly seek out the source, making phone calls and sticking feet in doors to get the interview and the scoop. Fortunately for “State of Play,” the depictions of reporting never feel contrived but instead have a sense of extreme realism. The audience feels a bit like a reporter with pad in hand, rifling through the story piece by precious piece as the many disjointed ends slowly resolve themselves without ever giving the plot away.

Few films manage to involve the city of Washington, D.C. as thoroughly as “State of Play.” More than just a few scant looks at the Capitol and night shots of the Washington Monument, the city comes alive as those familiar see literally dozens of notable landmarks, constantly making mental notes that they were there, becoming ever more a part of the story, not just a viewer but a bystander watching the cars and reporters and rolls of newspaper waft by.

“State of Play” makes its points and it makes them well. A bold and tense exploration of Washington, the city and its politics, it involves the audience in the life and times of reporting, perhaps a little more adventure and a little less droll reporting but still ultimately speaking a level of truth about the power of the pen. Great acting and a thrilling plot make the two hours fly by in a whirl of pen and ink and the power of the press.

A journalist myself, Hollywood once again proves it can remind me why I love something. The film industry still has the strength within itself to make a story exciting and compelling and human without lots of explosions but instead mounds of relevance and reflection.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Informers

The most likely question any given member of the audience misguided enough to watch “The Informers” is: Am I meant to take this seriously? Between the globbed on hair gel of 1983 hairstyles, pointless plot, disconnected acting and copious amounts of random and pointless sex the most likely answer is a resounding NO. At least, one would hope that director Gregor Jordan actually intended viewers to leave the theater with a headache and the knowledge that early 80s Los Angeles was full of omni-sexual, drug fueled mannequins attempting to pass for really shoddy impersonations of human beings.

“The Informers” is nominally about the interconnected lives of LA’s super rich, super aimless and super drugged up population with a rock star, a criminal and a TV anchor thrown in for good measure. What exactly these characters are trying to do or what Jordan is trying to prove never comes to the fore, the film mostly just middles in pointless inanity with the occasional orgy and supposedly emotional catharsis that never goes anywhere.

A scene where a character isn’t drunk, naked, toked out of his mind or just out of synch with reality occurs sparsely if ever, these are characters you can’t possibly relate to or understand unless you’ve partaken of Freudian levels of drugs, sex and Rock & Roll. Even if the sex scenes are meant to be nothing more than fan service, they are a shoddy attempt at porn, more disgusting and weird than sensual. Perhaps the film is just Jordan’s expression of his sexual fantasies; a catharsis in response to what must be a monstrous therapy bill. Otherwise, “The Informers” just middles in pointless monotony, never doing anything, never going anywhere.

The film is not contemplative of larger American society and says nothing about the larger universe, it just goes through the paces of a circular plot of bad hair and worse clothes, dialogue and editing the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke can do nothing with but go through the paces of being drugged up, depressed, impossibly sexual or just insane.

It is hard to express just how pointless and bad “The Informers” is. Suffice to say it is 90 minutes that you will never get back, a black pit that sucks out all the energy, all the intrigue, all the drama, even all the curiosity that the audience has. If they have any energy left at all once it’s all over, they’ll quietly walk of the theater and make a mental note never to think about, let alone focus any energy or money on “The Informers” ever again.

If there is anything to be learned from this movie at all, it is that Hollywood likes to do nothing with nothing, sit still and collect dust among bongs and condoms and really, really horrible clothing. Faith is not a word I would associate with anything even remotely resembling "The Informers."