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July 29, 2008

Catch-Up Movie Reviews

I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I blogged, but I had a message sitting in my draft folder with the titles of a number of movies that I saw this summer that had titles of movies I needed to review.  I know there were a few more that I hadn’t added to that list, but here are one-sentence reviews for all of them, for your reference when they hit cable or DVD.

Hancock.  This superhero vehicle starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Jason Bateman starts out as the relatively light “screw up makes good” movie that’s on display in the trailers, but about halfway through, it veers off in an unexpected direction (which I usually love), which has some interesting potential but is so poorly explained and confoundingly executed that it drags the movie down, ultimately making it a forgetable entry in the summer superhero sweepstakes, rather than the upstart it could have been.

Journey to the Center of the Earth – 3D.  Brendan Fraser, as an even blander version of his Mummy character, in a movie which, to its credit, acknowledges its heavy debt to Verne’s novel, and is saved somewhat by a good nature and eye-popping 3D effects.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.  The wisecracking, cigar chomping demi-demon is back, this time trying to stop a seriously hacked off elf from taking command of an ancient, unstoppable army.

Mama Mia.  The infectious stage musical featuring almost all of ABBA’s best-known songs is translated to the screen in a fun, frothy musical, with gorgeous scenery and some gorgeous singing (Amanda Seyfried), some passable singing (Meryl Streep), and some singing that should have been left unsung (I’m lookin’ at you, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard).

The Dark Knight.  The second installment in Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise is everything that it’s been cracked up to be in the press, and easily the summer’s most satisfying comic book adaption, thanks to solid performances by Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhall, and Aaron Eckhardt, and the chilling, outside of the box interpretation of the Joker by the late Heath Ledger.

X-Files: I Want to Believe.  A longer episode of the tv show, with good performances by Amanda Peet as an FBI agent, who brings back Scully and Mulder (Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny) to investigate a defrocked priest (Billy Connolly) who’s having visions that may or may not have bearing on the disappearance of a number of young woman in the wintry northeast, this one is not enslaved to the show’s intricate mythology, which makes it more accessible than the first movie.

Tropic Thunder.  This rollicking, fun movie starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. as archetypal Hollywood types (the action star, the fart comedian, and the way-too-method actor) who find themselves stranded in the middle of an Asian drug operation, thinking that it’s part of the movie they’re making, is stolen by a near-unrecognizable Tom Cruise as an over-the-top agent.

June 16, 2008

Movie Review – The Incredible Hulk

Hi, gang. I’m back, and hope to put up a number of posts tonight to catch up on some of the things I’ve been archiving for the last week or so.

Up first is a review of the latest of the superhero movies for the summer, The Incredible Hulk. I’ve got to start off with something of a confession; I’ve never seen Ang Lee’s version of Hulk, starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, and Sam Shepard. I’ve never been a huge Hulk fan, except for a relatively brief time when the comics were being written by my then-favorite writer, Peter David, and the movie was so largely panned, I never got around to seeing it.

It doesn’t much matter, of course, as that effort covered the basics of the Hulk legend: Bruce Banner, a research scientist, is accidently exposed to massive levels of gamma radiation, transforming him into a seven-foot tall, rampaging monster when he gets too excited (usually in anger). The new movie covers this ground under the credits, in addition to his romance with fellow researcher Betty Ross, and the relentless pursuit of Banner’s alter-ego by Betty’s father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

This movie opens some time after the end of the first, with Banner living underground and doing scut work in a factory in South America. He’s living under cover, learning martial arts as a way of controlling his body to keep the Hulk at bay. When the Gen. Ross discovers his whereabouts, he sends in a specialized hit squad led by Emil Blonsky in to capture Banner. Upon his eventual return to the United States, Banner is reunited with Betty, and forced to fight not only Ross and his squad, but also a newer, bigger foe, known as the Abomination.

The cast of the movie is very good, with Edward Norton and Liv Tyler providing repressed emotion and soulful glances as Bruce and Betty. Norton in particular seems to withdraw into himself, portraying the effort of keeping his emotions and, with them, the Hulk, inside. William Hurt appears more imposing than he usually does, with a bull’s neck poking out from his military uniform and his chin jutting imperiously. Tim Roth, as Emil Blonsky, offers an alternate form of contained aggression. The special effects are good. The Hulk looks more realistic than what little bit I saw of him in clips of the earlier film, and the Abomination matches him for power. The story, such as it is, is basic, and doesn’t really advance the overall storyline in particular, other than providing Hulk with a worthy adversary.

All in all, it’s an okay summer movie. It wasn’t a waste of time or money, but it won’t be among my favorites (I hope) by the time Autumn rolls around.

 

 

 
The 300 Project: 4/112

May 23, 2008

Passing the Hat

This is the hundredth post of the the year for this blog, and takes me 1/3 of the way to my goal for the year. In thinking about it, I’ve been juggling a number of potential subjects for this post, from an official statement of who I’m supporting for in the Presidential race (for those of you blind squirrels that still haven’t found that particular nut) to a comment on Senator Clinton’s “assassination” comment today (or, more to the point, the commentators’ obsession over it), to those three movie reviews that I keep promising (for movies which, let’s face it, aren’t even showing any more).

But I figured I’d go back to the basics, and the reason that I started the mailing list which became this blog all those years ago.

Before the advent of videotape and dvds, before cable tv, I spent one teenaged summer in the dark of the movie theater, repeatedly watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first in a trilogy of action movies created by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and starring Harrison Ford as the globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones. All told, I saw Raiders thirteen times though, interestingly, I don’t know that I’ve sat down and watched it in its entirety since.

So it is that I’ve been waiting in great anticipation for this week’s debut of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’m man enough to admit that when I first saw the trailer, I teared up a bit. But after that first trailer, I tried not to see the additional ads, tried to avoid spoilers and summaries and reviews. I wanted to go into it with some of the same unknowns that I had when first I saw Raiders more than a quarter century ago.

I took the kids to a late show last night. I was ready to enjoy it, but braced myself to be disappointed. Though I hadn’t read any reviews, I could tell by the headlines that they were coming across as mixed. I was just hoping that I wouldn’t be forced by my basic honesty (yep, imagine that: a basically honest politician) to join the mixed bunch.

I wasn’t.

The movie starts off with the now-traditional fade-in from the Paramount mountain logo to some sort of mountain in the setting of the movie (in Temple of Doom, it was an engraving on a gong), and we’re off to the races. Ford’s Dr. Jones doesn’t show up for a few minutes, and in my opinion, his first appearance was mishandled by the usually sure-handed Spielberg, but that’s quickly forgotten, as Jones and a comrade face down a group of Russian soldiers (led by Cate Blanchett’s Dr. Colonel Irina Spalko), looking for a particular crate housed in a government warehouse. (No, not that crate)

It’s 1957, and Jones finds himself caught up in the Red Scare, attempting to elude both the FBI and the Russians, and doing so for the most part, aided by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a Brando-esque young man (think Wild Bunch Brando, not mummu-wearing Brando) whose mother has sent him to Jones for help.

Before long, Jones and Williams are off to South America, where they battle natives, Russians, and the obligatory swarm of creepy crawly critters, and reunite with mutual loved ones (in the form of John Hurt’s “Ox” Oxley and Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood). Everything speeds forward with the breakneck pace that’s expected of an Indiana Jones movie (and the slew of imitators that followed), before wrapping up in the de rigeur pyrotechnic spectacle.

There is much that is largely familiar about Crystal Skull, and that’s fitting for an Indian Jones movie. The originals harkened back to the Saturday morning serials of the 30s and 40s, and this movie harkens back to the earlier ones, as well as other Spielberg and Lucas movies. Those so inclined will pick apart this movie and point to specific scenes from earlier films and say “well, this is a ripoff of that Raiders scene”, or “That one was done in Empire Strikes Back, without acknowledging that the scene in Raiders owed a debt to Flash Gordon and Empire was only doing what Stagecoach did thirty years earlier. Nineteen years has passed since the last movie (the same amount of time that has passed in real life), and as a nod to the times, Crystal Skull has undertones of early Sci Fi (Indy was brought in to consult on the Roswell incident), as well as the more overt Red Scare references.

A couple of scenes push the envelope of suspension of disbelief (Mutt and the monkeys), and ever-so-briefly strain the audience’s good will, but by and large, the movie is a rousing thrill ride, and serves to possibly pass the fedora to a new generation of adventurer. I started off the movie with an ear-to-ear grin, and it didn’t leave my face for hours after.

The 300 Project: 25/100

May 22, 2008

Keeping Up With Jones

Filed under: Entertainment,Movies,trivia — CPav @ 6:37 am
Tags: , , ,

Yeah, I know, I didn’t get the posts up I expected to last weekend; Sunday (and the days that followed) turned out to be even busier than I expected. In the meantime, to celebrate the return of Indiana Jones, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an interactive Indy quiz.

Take it here.

The 300 Project: 24/99

May 4, 2008

Movie Preview – The Summer of the Geek

Not only is this week’s opening of Iron Man the first summer blockbuster of 2008, it’s also the first of a long string of comic book or super hero movies (Click on the movie name to link to the trailers, where available):

Insert the non-superhero comic book adaption Wanted (Angelina Jolie, non super-hero, June 27) and the latest movie adaptation of the cult tv comedy Get Smart (June 20) between long-awaited installments in the Indiana Jones (May 22), X-Files (July 25), and Mummy series (Aug 1), and you’ve got a geekilicious summer.

The 300 Project: 15/90

Movie Review – Iron Man

Filed under: Entertainment,Movies — CPav @ 9:03 pm
Tags: , ,

May is traditionally a time for endings and beginnings. The school year ends amid club banquets and celebrations. Sweeps month marks the end of television seasons (and often series), and the publication of the next season’s schedules. And the beginning of May ushers in the first of the summer’s blockbuster movies.

This year, that first blockbuster is Iron Man, the adaptation of the Marvel Comics character starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges. Iron Man is probably the longest-running Marvel character who hasn’t yet gotten the tv or movie treatment.

Munitions manufacturer Tony Stark is injured in an attack in a war zone (in the comics, it’s Vietnam; the movie transplants the events to Afghanistan) and implanted with an experimental device that keeps his heart going. He forges a crude suit of armor to escape his captors, then forges a more high-tech version back at home, to attone for the harm his weaponry has inflicted upon the innocent. A new pacifist tilt to his “civilian” attitude puts him at odds with Obadiah Stane (Bridges), his second-in-command at Stark Industries, and James “Rhoadey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), Stark’s military liaison, with only his ever-faithful girl Friday Pepper Potts (Paltrow) standing with him.

Technologically, it’s probably a good thing that this movie wasn’t made until now. The CGI is fantastic, making the later versions of the metallic suits believable as armor, weaponry, and something that a human could feasibly move about in. Stark goes through multiple versions of the armor, and some of the most fun in the movie comes in his working out the kinks of the system.

Script-wise, the movie is solid. While I haven’t thought about it in great depth (and tend not to with these kind of movies), there weren’t any glaring logic holes, and Stark’s epiphany and search for redemption are well handled. There are some things that will resonate with comic book fans as sequel fodder, not the least of which is the “Easter egg” scene at the end of the credits. As a long-time comic book fan, I was beside myself with geeky delight, but the older couple behind me looked at each other and said “We sat through the credits for that?” Some of these things are more obvious (Rhodey looking at a spare suit of armor and saying “Next time”) than others (the name of the terrorist organization that captures Stark), but none are so blatant that they detract from the tale.

The casting is impeccable, with Bridges bald and menacing, but also palpably paternal to Downey’s callow CEO. Paltrow, in her first major movie since 2004’s box office disappointment Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, is beautiful and spunky with dyed red hair and knowing glances. In fact, by attracting respected actors to the four major roles (and appearing himself in a minor one), director Jon Favreau gives this blockbuster more depth than most, simply through the abilities of the cast to bring out the nuances of their characters.

This is true especially of Downey, who probably wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice to play an action hero, but he brings a special humanity to the man in the iron mask. He is equally believable both before and after his transformation, and exhibits a joyous geekiness as his experiments bear fruit and his aromor comes together.

Like many May releases, this one may be eclipsed by later blockbusters, but for this weekend, at least, Iron Man is golden.

The 300 Project: 14/89

April 9, 2008

Movie Reviews: Leatherheads and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

long time ago, the men who ran the movie studios owned the industry.  They held their actors under strict contracts, and controlled them like commodities.  On the one hand, actors didn’t have a whole lot of say over what films they appeared in, but on the other hand, the studios protected their investments well, carefully controlling their public personae and keeping close watch on what private matters remained private.  Under this system, matinee idols like Cary Grant and Clark Gable were created, and thrived.

Way back then, there was a style of movie characterized by fast talking, wisecracking guys and dames.  Screwball comedies (as they were called) usually had fairly high-concept plots (newspaper reporter tracks spunky, wealthy heiress who’s run out on her engagement; spunky, wealthy heiress makes homeless man her butler), and writing so sharp you could cut yourself on it.  Two of my favorite movies, It Happened One Night (the first movie to sweep the five major Oscar categories), and My Man Godfrey, fall into this genre, as does the somewhat later His Girl Friday.

Nowadays, the studio system is gone, and with it much of the luster of the matinee idol (and, in a great many cases, matinees themselves).  While some movie magazines are still as fawning as the old ones (no one will accuse Us Weekly of being hard-hitting journalism, and one blogger refers to People as “Kneepads Magazine”), the Hollywood press is far less willing to keep things under its collective hat, and the paparazzi seem to know no bounds of decency.

We don’t get truly screwball comedies any more, either, and when we do, they’re rarely big budget affairs.  The last one I can remember is the vastly underrated Oscar (1991), starring that icon of light comedy, Sylvester Stallone.  Smaller-budget pictures like The Imposters (1998), with Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt also evoke that bygone era, but the genre is more or less abandoned.

Into that void come two recent movies, with varying results.

The more successful of the pair, and, perhaps significantly, the more obscure, is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  Set in London on the eve of World War II, Pettigrew stars one of the more underappreciated actresses of our time (as underappreciated as you can be with an Oscar, at least), Frances McDormand, and one of the hottest up-and-coming actresses, Oscrar nominee Amy Adams.

McDormand stars as Guinivere Pettigrew, a failed nanny who steals a job referral that she thinks involves caring for the child of a wealthy actress, only to find that the job is actually as personal assistant to Delysia Lafosse (Adams), a ditsy singer/actress juggling three men and a number of other rivalries.  Over the course of the day, the older woman sinking in failure gets a taste of the life of the younger woman awash in opportunity, and both learn from one another and, one is sure, both take a large step toward happiness.

Miss Pettigrew is a trifle, to be sure.  It’s fairly predictable throughout, and the ultimate fates of the two women are in doubt only for the slightest of moments.  But it’s a joy to watch two outstanding actresses at work, and both McDormand and Adams elevate the proceedings.  Lee Pace, Shirley Henderson, and Ciaran Hinds stand out in the supporting cast.  The movie won’t garner either lead another Oscar nomination (though Adams might get one for Enchanted), but it could certainly be a welcome change from the snarkiness that embodies comedies nowadays.

The larger budget Leatherheads also takes place in the past, this being the early days of professional football.  Directed by and starring (and supposedly largely re-written by) George Clooney, probably the closest thing we’ve got to a movie star of the caliber of a Gable or Grant, Leatherheads is the story of Dodge Connelly, an aging amateur football player on a team that’s about to fold due to lack of funds.  Seeing the crowds drawn by war-hero-turned-college-running-back Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski, The Office), Connelly comes up with a plan to take the game pro, save his team, and make a nice bankroll to boot.  Also on Rutherford’s trail is girl reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who intends to get to the truth behind his battlefield heroics.

Leatherheads obviously wants to be a screwball comedy, but that genre is characterized by fast talking and brisk action.  Under Clooney’s direction, the viewer gets glimmers of that, but the camera lingers on the double-takes a bit too long, and there are too many long gaps for any momentum to be sustained.  I also didn’t sense any real chemistry between Clooney and Zellweger, though the mentor/mentee relationship between Clooney and Krasinski was very good.  Perhaps a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels should be their next project.

Leatherheads isn’t a bad movie, and perhaps if it wasn’t trying so hard to be screwball (or, more accurately, if I didn’t perceive it as trying so hard to be screwball), I’d have enjoyed it more.  My parents saw it today and enjoyed it.  But all things being equal, I’d recommend saving this one for a snowy Sunday afternoon after the football season is over.

The 300 Project: 1/61

March 12, 2008

New Movie Trailers

Filed under: Entertainment,Movies — CPav @ 9:37 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

MTV has a handful (as in 5) of new movie trailers, including Ed Norton, Liv Tyler, and William Hurt in The Incredible Hulk; Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and James McAvoy’s summer action movie Wanted; and the long-awaited sequel to the cult favorite The Lost Boys.  Check them out at MTV.com

The 300 Project: 8/49

February 22, 2008

Indy Returns

The older I get, the less patience I have for watching the same thing over and over. That goes for tv shows with repetitive plots, and it goes for watching the same movie repeatedly. We tease my wife constantly about the fact that there are five or six “chick flicks” that she watches just about every time they’re on.

When I was younger, I had no problem with repeated viewings. One of my favorites was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think I saw it 13 times or so, and this in the days before VCRs. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time before video tape) I got to the point where I could (and often did) recite the dialogue under my breath along with the actors. (Interestingly, I haven’t seen the movie in probably 20 years, don’t recall ever watching it on videotape, and don’t own a copy of any of the trilogy.)

So I was not a dispassionate viewer when the trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was released on the internet. And let me say, it brought tears to my eyes. It started with images from the original three movies, and even did a nod to the beginning of Raiders, when you don’t see Indy’s face for the first few minutes. It looks really spectacular, and if, as rumored, this movie is intended to transition the lead role from Harrison Ford to Shia LaBeouf, looks like it could serve as the start of something really good. The film also features the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, you can check it out at Yahoo Movies.

The 300 Project: 15/38

Best Picture Marathon

This is the first of a number of posts of things that I’ve either just found out or have been meaning to post for a while. Evidently, meaning to post something isn’t the same as actually posting it. Who knew?

Anyway, this Saturday, February 23, starting at 11 a.m., AMC Theaters are presenting their second annual Best Picture Marathon. $30 gets you a collectible pass which gets you in to see all 5 Best Picture nominees and a large popcorn, which can be refilled throughout the day. The nominees, in the order that they’ll be shown, are Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, Juno, and No Country for Old Men. The pass let you come and go throughout the day, so if you’ve seen (for example) Atonement but no the rest, you can leave for that couple hours and come back. It’s quite a deal.

The boys and I will be at the Chesterfield Mall theater. For more information (actually, not much more information), showtimes, and a theater near you, check out http://www.amctheatres.com/promos/showcase/.

The 300 Project: 13/36

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