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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

September 16, 2007

Two Very Different Shoot-em-Ups

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

Last weekend, I saw two movies which were, at their base, shoot-em-ups. That’s about the only thing the two had in common.

The first, 3:10 to Yuma, a remake of a 1957 Glenn Ford/Van Heflin oater, is a taut Western. Christian Bale (Batman Begins) stars as Dan Evans, a Civil War veteran who lost part of his leg in the war and is about to lose his ranch to debt and the intrusion of the railroad. When notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe, Gladiator) and his gang rob a stage coach near Evans’ land, Dan aids in his capture and agrees to join the posse which will escort Wade to Contention, where he will board the 3:10 train to the army prison at Yuma.

A battle of wills and bullets ensues, as Wade tries to convince Evans to let him go, and Evans determines to do the honorable thing and see to it that Wade gets on the train. With Evans’ son, who idolizes Wade as a result of pulp magazine stories, along on the posse, and Wade’s cutthroat gang trailing closely behind, the journey becomes a race not only against time, but against life and death as well.

With outstanding, nuanced performances by Bale and Crowe, as well as Logan Lerman (Jack and Bobby) as Evans’ son William, the movie makes it clear what the right thing is for Dan to do, but provides more than enough reasons for him to not do it. The action sometimes gets hard to follow, as the Bourne-style handheld camera work gets occasionally jerky. Otherwise, the cinematography is beautiful, and the film on the whole outstanding.

Shoot ’em Up, on the otherhand, is not a film I’d call outstanding. It is a lot of fun, if you accept the premise of a non-stop, totally unbelievable gunfight, and can get past the obviously fake baby who’s present through the whole shebang.

Clive Owen (Croupier,Children of Men) stars as the mysterious Mr. Smith, who stumbles on a crew of thugs roughing up a pregnant woman, then appoints himself protector of her baby when he’s unable to prevent her death. Add in Paul (Lady in the Water) Giamatti as Hertz, the henpecked leader of the gang, and Monica Bellucci as a lactating hooker (no, there’s no way that could be a typo), and you’ve got yourself…well…a shoot ’em up.

Hertz and his men are after the baby for a very complicated reason (which you may not understand even after watching the whole movie), but that doesn’t really matter. This movie plays as though someone took a pile of action movie scripts, took every scene that anyone threw out somewhere along the line with the words “too unbelievable”, and threaded them together. And, once you accept that no attempt should be made to actually understand the movie, and that no semblence of reality should be applied to the proceedings, you can sit back and enjoy it for what it is.

This movie has nothing to recommend it except that it’s an all-out, mindless thrill ride of implausibility upon implausibility that not only doesn’t ask you to think too hard about anything, but would prefer that you not.

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