Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elektra (1.14.05)

Director: Rob Bowman Starring: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kristen Prout Co-Starring: Terrance Stamp, Will Yun Lee Watch for: Marvel character roster galore! Editor(s): Kevin Stitt <-- The Version I own. I have a theory about where they got the story for Elektra, though feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, since this is one of the Marvel characters I'm fairly in the dark on. Everyone remembers Daredevil, her fight with Bullseye, and one of his final lines to her: "You're good baby, I'll give you that. But me? I'm magic." Then we get the Daredevil spin-off, which pretty much tears away the semi-plausible world they'd established, and dives leotard first into a world of mysticism, where people we don't even know can walk in slow-motion, and we'll assume they're badasses. Still, the idea of Elektra getting beaten by magic, then devoting her life to understanding makes for a very cool idea. It's just unfortunate that if this is actually what they were going for, they didn't really make a point of telling their audience. They got the first five minutes right. It'd have made a good teaser trailer on it's own, actually. "DeMarco's End", as it's called in the score. Elektra sneaks in, we're learning she's become an assassin, and a good one, with a reputation (and description) that precedes her. The whole bit about "whispers in your ear before she kills you" was just creepy. I loved it, this scene is what I think about when someone mentions this movie, and generally prompts me to defend it. Then a couple minutes later, the bad guys walk in and we realize they have to figure out how to make a whole movie in this style. And yeah, bad guys, not "the bad guy". Not the Kingpin rappin' out, not Norman Osborn having a fatherly chat with his son, or even a tired soul tipping his hat to the enemy (You got that, right? Magneto? Just checkin'), but no. Slow-motion ensemble. You may recognize who they are if you're familiar with Marvel at all (Typhoid Mary was the only one that I really knew about, but I think I'd heard of a couple of the others.), but this sort of entrance pretty much beats you over the head with the idea that 12-year-olds are supposed to think these guys are awesome. This is how we received Bullseye, and even Ghost Rider did the very same thing, actually. I'll get to that later (damn you, MSJ. I'll give you Bullseye's, cuz that made sense. The character is always thinking about how he looks like a badass). Anyway. Ensemble villains, often representing a variation of abilities, usually elemental in nature, well.... suck. These are March issue bottom-of-the-dollar-bin villains, guys. What the hell are they doing in a feature film that's trying desperately to keep a franchise going? Hell, having Elektra attempt revenge on the Kingpin as a subplot would've been more interesting. Anyway. So we get into that. We find out Elektra's actually got an ailment, OCD (which the spell out blatantly later on. PG-13, w/e. I'll give it to 'em). This, of course, happens after the second biggest mistake of the film: Child co-star. It is exceedingly difficult to take anyone's performance seriously when you have level them in a scene with a "trying-to-prove-she's-hip" brat. Take that, and slap the word "prodigy" on it, and you have Prout's character. This may very well have been one of the more engaging storylines in the comics, and while it does hold potential to dig into a theme of how Elektra is really only a beginner herself, I find using the youngster in the way they do, giving her action scenes where she stands up fairly well against people "E" has been having trouble with, makes our main character feel aged, and honestly, slow. And that's not how one should be thinking of one of the world's premiere assassins. The rest of the story is pure haberdash, though it was cool they worked Stick in, despite the fact he was actually Matt Murdock's mentor. However, everyone in the audience did get to feel smart for knowing the twist early on. "The bad guy actually killed her mom. Yeah, I knew that the first time I saw him. Fo' sho'." Thus we have a final conflict with emotion, or something. Like, they totally have this connection now and she just absolutely has to hate him so much for how her life turned out. Wait. I'm channelling the little girl. Hang on a sec. Alright. I can understand putting out a script that's rather unoriginal. Happens all the time. The trick is presenting a used story in a unique way, which this... sort of does. Sometimes. If they hadn't cut the "pre-cognition" bit, or done a little more with it, that could've been pretty interesting. I actually enjoyed the director's cut, during the scene where Elektra defends Abby and her father from the demon-ninjas, and the first thing we see is how the fight could go if she were to do nothing. Granted, I understood it right away (cuz I'd already seen the original, but let's just pretend I would've gotten it anyway), but a more casual film-goer, like let's say my g/f, would watch this and think "WTF? It's been like 20 minutes, and they just killed the main character! I didn't know I was watching freakin' Hitchcock stuff over here!" Well, okay that last bit was me again. Anyway, the villains all have decently cool powers, though I'm not quite sure how they're connected with the green explosion thingies when they die ($10 says that's how they kept their PG-13), but the problem is that they quickly become equivalent with a villain in a Megaman game; you just have to figure out the trick before you move on to the next level. Meh. I don't mind that Jennifer Garner didn't want to wear the leotard. All the superhero outfits need a little updating, and Elektra's honestly would've been a little difficult to pull off. Granted, the corset they gave her looks uncomfortable and often pokes over her stomach rather than fitting to it, but whatever. That's fine. What bothers me is that Jennifer Garner is not Elektra. Jennifer Garner, bless her "Alias-led-me-to-action-movies" heart, has done her best in roles that suit her looks: soccer mom. Well, almost-mom in Juno, but she was great at it. Heartless assassin? Not so much. I think she even stopped being Greek in this one. I at least caught hints of it in DD. The must've hid it wherever they're keeping Storm's accent. So now we have a soccer mom wearing jeans and the leather jacket ripped off of a forever-young former sorority chick, who was too busy watching "Grey's Anatomy" to notice, trying to protect a teenager and his weeping widower of a dad (who I actually liked in ER, btw) from a slew of seen-it-before slow-mo villains, released in the holiday film falloff, which it's source film barely managed in just a couple years earlier. This movie never stood a chance. I seriously bought it for the first five minutes. And it was on sale. Plus, the score is excellent.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spider-Man 2 (6.30.2004)

Director: Sam Raimi Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina  Co-Starring:  Rosemay Harris, J.K. Simmons  Watch for: Stan Lee. Ted Raimi and the news room team, at it again. Editor(s): Bob Murawski  <-- The version I own.

Some have said, since the release, that this is the best superhero movie ever. Before The Dark Knight, it's probably true that most people agreed on it. I'd like to think that such a thing is measurable, but I'm a hardcore comic fan, so I tend to separate the genre into sub-genres. 

What Sam Raimi has done with Spider-Man and comic movies is sort of what Marvel did with comics back in the day... he made it about a dramatic story for the 'secret identity', and the superhero, at times, is almost the second thought. I think this is a good way to do it though, since if you decide you want to do the superhero action first and the story second, you wind up with stories that are similar, and possibly even uninteresting. (Having multiple villains that you methodically take out one by one is a theme I've noticed in the less-popular Marvel productions, such as Elektra, Ghost Rider and The Invincible Iron Man animated feature. Having some of them be 'elementals', which you must use your powers differently in order to "figure out how to win" is even worse). 

Honestly though, Spider-Man keeps it simple. The plot is interesting, something we can relate to more than flying through the sky whilst being a successful journalist. Parker works multiple jobs, (tries to) attend school, and still struggles to make rent. He has the classic 'in love with a girl, but doesn't want to endanger her' thing going on, which they actually dragged on through a couple of films rather than other hero flicks that have the couple together by the end, along with Spider-Man's credo of great power and great responsibility. It is in this film that Parker ultimately realizes that yes, he is Spider-Man, however he is still a man who has limits. If he's stretching himself so thin that he cannot keep his life, regular, hero or otherwise, together, than he's really no good to anyone. 

Luckily, we have the wonderful Mary Jane Watson who finally shows up "standing in his doorway", and essentially bops him on the head saying "It's okay to have to rely on others". He still doesn't quite get this on the Spidey side of things until the next film, but that's another story for later.

Y'know, of the whole film, I think Mary Jane's little speech at the end is the part that bugs me a little bit. Well, not the whole speech. Mostly "I've always been standing in your doorway". 

No, MJ. You really haven't. I took "Here I am, standing in your doorway" to mean something like "I've come for you", "I'm here for you", "Ready to be with you". Most of the film, she spends her time complaining about how Peter is never there for her, never once concerning herself with his problems. Hey, red, maybe there's a really good reason he keeps missing your shows and standing you up. He always calls to apologize, doesn't he? Perhaps there's a little more here than a scatter-brained work-a-holic, eh?

No, no. That's not it. He's just a "great big jerk".


Another thing Spider-Man 2 has working for it is the ever-awesome Dr. Octavius. I was quite happy when J. Jonah finally brought up the question "A man named Octavius winds up with 8 limbs. What're the odds?"

In the Marvel Universe? Quite good. *cough, Jubilation Lee, Johnny Blaze and Mar-Vell come to mind.  At any rate, I think Doc Ock is one of the most cinematic villains we've had in any of the comic films that have come out. It was quite a change from the neon Goblin of the first film, probably due to complaints on the changes (he could've still work a purple tunic, or something over all that green. I mean, why not?) Ock tended to wear a green jumpsuit as well, so the change is understandable. Having him hiding out, a big coat (that somehow even hides his tentacles in the bank robbery scene, not sure how he go those to fit in there), seems the most functional for someone in his physilogical predicament. Plus, Alfred Molina just rocks as Ock. It was a little odd to me when he was happy and charming to begin with, but then again these are things I've never really seen from Ock in the comics. Once he becomes Dr. Octopus, from there on out he was, more or less, perfect.

Then there's what they do with him for us comic nerds. Fighting on a building (twice!), fighting on and on the side of a train, along with a couple of good ol' brawls. The fights were amazing, and still stand up as one of the best hero/villain fights, like, ever. Forget Superman, all he did was lift stuff. Spidey has to work for it.

I suppose that's what people like about Spider-Man. He's one of us, just caught in an extraordinary situation. He's not an alien-turned-reporter, who has it extremely easy, except for when a certain green rock is around. Every time Spider-Man is in a fight, he has to do something amazing to win. He can't walk up to a guy shooting at him and stare him down, he has to dodge bullets and take away the weapon first. This is why I like Spider-Man, and Marvel in general I think. 


There's really not much to say about this movie. I loved it, it is certainly the strongest in the Spider-Man series thus far, and arguably the best Marvel has come out with so far. I can't sit down and watch it too often however, because with all of the story for the characters between the superhero action, it does feel like a long movie after repeated viewings. It's different for the first screening, since you don't know what happens next and you're excited to find out, but any good director will tell you that a good film is only meant to be seen once.

The home video market has sort of drowned out that mindset, and the editor in me loves to watch good things multiple times, but I still try to keep that in mind whenver I watch something again and catch onto something that bugs me the next time around.

There aren't many for Spider-Man 2 though, let me assure you of that.

Oh, and for the record, the cover-art for the DVD, which was one of the theatrical posters, is probably my favorite for Marvel thus far. Actually, that's kind of sad to think about, since Spider-Man 3 had my least favorite.

Iron Man had a pretty good one too, but we're not talking about him just yet.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (6.13.2008)

Director: Louis Leterrier
Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Co-Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell
Watch for: Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, Robert Downey Jr.
Editor(s): Rick Shaine, John Wright
Would I buy it: Hoping for an extended cut, but yes.

what Ang Lee's Hulk would've been like if you removed the entire storyline regarding Bruce Banner's upbringing, and shortened the origin to be contained within the opening credits, and you'll roughly have the same plot as The Incredible Hulk.
While this is surely a summer action movie, with some very impressive visuals and a style that's very easy to get into, I found myself lacking any sort of pull for any of the characters. I didn't really learn anything about them that the two-minute trailer didn't already tell me.
Banner is the Hulk, and wants to cure himself of it. Betty Ross is the girlfriend, who is ready to do anything to help him. Her father is the general who is after the Hulk, seeking to regain military property, and Tim Roth is an aging soldier, who after learning of the Hulk's powers, is unwilling to allow himself to remain as another normal person.
And that's about it. In the opening credits we see a nice twist, in that Hulk severely injured Betty during his first transformation, and though we don't realize this until later, she has never actually seen what he's like during the change. They really didn't tell us that at all, until we get a line from General Ross to the effect of "Now she'll see him". I was like "Oh, wait. She hasn't yet? Weird."
Tyler and Norton's interaction throughout the movie is awkward at best. While their characters have been apart for a while, if they were anything like my friends from my hometown, no matter how long we spend apart, when we meet back up again we always fall right into the same familiar groove. I'm not sure what was missing here, but I didn't feel any sort of strong emotion from either side.
When they start leading into "the sex scene", I basically thought to myself "Well, this is completely necessary." They ended it with a humorous note though, rather than taking it too seriously, so I suppose that makes up for it.

Hulk himself does look pretty good. I think the CGI was better in the last film, which may be attributed to its larger budget, but I do like the more lean, grittier styling of the character. There were some amazing close-ups of him, not even necessarily of his face (i.e. when we see his massive arm sitting next to Betty in the cave), that really sold it for me.
I think I ruined some of the movie with expectations, as I thought I had read somewhere that the Hulk/Abomination fight was like twenty minutes long. I don't think it was even five. It was cool, nice seeing these two brutes pounding on each other, but I really wanted more action out of this movie.
They did chop out a few shots from the trailers that looked kinda rushed, and that makes me wonder if maybe those shots were just for the trailers since they easily show the versions in the film (like what Hulk does to Blonsky at the end of their second encounter, or Banner's fall from the helicopter).

The BIG thing I was looking forward to with Hulk was the Marvel tie-in. While
Iron Man pushed the limits by bringing in Nick Fury, that's a character who doesn't currently have a running series. It's a nod to the universe, but not something previously established. Right before the credits, we get a scene with Tony Stark, as played by Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man.
I was so. Freaking. Happy. It's not even a big important scene, but the simple fact that the Marvel universe is finally tying into itself in the film world is a very big step for comic movies everywhere. I have high hopes for where they're going with this. In the opening credits, the "Stark Industries" as well as S.H.I.E.L.D. logos appeared over tech screens showcasing blueprints, among other things. Very nice.

The Incredible Hulk did reference a lot of it's own history as well. Edward Norton has a brief scene with Lou Ferrigno (who played the Hulk when he'd transformed in the old TV show), where they have a cute exchange with something along the lines of "You're the man." Then there was a moment featuring a nod to the TV show's old theme as well. What I didn't realize until today when I looked it up on IMDB is that Betty Ross' boyfriend in the movie is 'Dr. Samson'.
Doc Samson is a supporting character in the Hulk storylines, I think sometimes helping him as well as fighting against him. This is probably equivalent to featuring Dr. Connors in the Spider-Man films. You just
know they'll get to the Lizard later.
I was looking forward to a Hulk film with the Leader, but I believe that a storyline could easily feature the both of them if they wanted.
EDIT: Wow, I totally missed it. I was reading Wikipedia, and going from topic to topic, as it's done there. Through a line of Marvel topics, I found the Leader's page... and I totally forgot the moment with Samuel Stearns, Mr. Blue, being infected with Banner's blood. His head swells.
Well, given that I only have a basic understanding of the Leader, I didn't realize Samuel Stearns was his real name.
Excellent. I can't believe they just slipped two of Hulk's future villains into this movie. Excellent work, guys.

So, basically the things I like about this film are the action, though it could have had more, the style in which it was presented, and the Marvel universe tie-ins.
What I want out of it is more story. What they showed us was interesting, but it wasn't really anything along the lines of character development. It was more like watching them move through a situation.
From reading the net, I learned that the "Edward Norton cut" of the movie was close to three hours, but his much-rumored dispute with the filmmakers lose out, and they chopped it down to a much more managable two hours.
There were several shots and even scenes from the trailers that were not present in the final screening. I think that releasing an extended cut to show us exactly what was missing would be a very wise decision.

My guess is that this is where all of my character development went.
Oh, and before I forget, one of my absolute favorite things about Hulk was his voice. Lou Ferrigno also supplied that again for this movie. In
Hulk we only hear him speak a couple times, "Puny human", and "Take it all!!". While there aren't many more lines in The Incredible Hulk, I have to say that the first time he speaks just plain gave me chills.

"Leave me alone."

No way, Hulk. You're coming back for more.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Punisher (4.16.2004)

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Rebecca Romijn
Co-Starring: Eddie Jemison, Ben Foster, John Pinette, Laura Harring
Watch for: Roy Scheider
Editor(s): Jeff Gullo, Steven Kemper
<-- The version I own.

Where the style
of this film comes from, I am not really sure. A small part of it feels like an old gangster movie. One man against the mob, everything's personal for him while it's business for everyone else. Then there's elements of comic, such as the two hitmen we see attempt to take out our hero. With the one's guitar playing antics, and the others Dick Tracy villain-esque transformation right before his death, I couldn't help but think of noir satire as an inspiration. Then there's everything else, which simply put, is plain good old fashioned action movie. You'll see a lot more practical effects than CGI here, that's for certain.

So Marvel made an R-rated film, which was allowed to be released that way. When I first heard of this movie back in the day, along with it's rating, I instantly had confidence in it. The Punisher is not a character you water down for the middle schoolers.
Actually, we still got complaints of this from the good old internets:
"Why would he torture Mickey with a popsicle? The REAL Punisher would've actually tortured him."
There's two reasons this works.
A) If you actually torture a guy, getting him to help you out in with your plan for revenge prolly isn't going to be a very welcome request. If you reveal to him you simply wanted information, and have no problem with him (outside of a dark sense of humor), he'll prolly take your request with a little more finesse.
B) Take this, skeptics. I haven't read it, but the Punisher did torture someone with a popsicle in the comics, in a storyline from Chuck Dixon (Thank you, IMDB).

So, suck it. Anyway, the scene worked for me.
The movie as a whole seems to take the source material very seriously. It's a cliche story by now, man loses his family and seeks revenge, but their manner of portraying it kept me interested the entire time.
Granted, there are a few moments that cause me to step out and feel as though they could've done better ("We are blessed." Ugh), but overall I was sucked into this.
John Travolta, who I've been paying attention to since I saw Grease in my pre-teen years, just makes for such a good villain. Even watching Battlefield Earth was semi-alright during his scenes. I won't go into the rest of it. And while his character is very formulaic (well, all of them are really), including your 'mob boss who references famous historical figures/events before he kills a supporting character' scene, it's still very enjoyable. (I still have a few shallow idea of who Jim Booey (sp?) was, but whatever. Cool monologue.)
Thomas Jane, who apparently is usually blonde or something, made for the perfect moody "good guy that kills" character that the Punisher is. Sure, he busts into a club and slaughters a bunch of people (Is it me, or was the guy who got the arrow through the neck just a waiter who was on duty that night?), but you're sitting there rooting him on.

And also, we do get a couple of comic-like moments that help ground us in that sort of reality. You won't see John McClane bullet-proofing his car, or inserting all sorts of last resort gadgets into his house. It's a shame none of Castle's little innovations to his home security system worked out too well for him.
Ex: Emergency door worked, but the grenade flies back in through the window.
Or there's the gun tray, but unfortunately the Russian was strong enough that he was able to render the gun useless.

There's not too much to say about this one, it mostly explains itself. This is the first time I've had to wait a day after watching it again to write a review. I just couldn't think of anything to say, short of giving a moment-by-moment commentary.

Whatever emotion surges through you when you watch this, sadness, humor, whatever, I'm right there with you.
Well, as long as it's not some sort of vile hatred for the film's cast and creators. You start thinking like that, and I may just have to go load up and throw on a half dozen bullet-proof vests. Then we'll see what's up.

Watching it again, I remembered that I really do love this movie. The fact that Thomas Jane turned down the role of the sequel, claiming it 'is not a worthwhile story', tells me I prolly shouldn't expect anything quite like this in the near future.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

X2: X-Men United (5.2.2003)

Director: Bryan Singer
Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan
Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Bryan Cox, Alan Cumming, John Allerdyce, Kelly Hu
Watch for: Mutant cameos, characterized and listed.
Editor(s): John Ottman, Elliot Graham
<-- The version I own.

Sequels should
always be better than the original. Granted, sometimes this is difficult to pull off, or maybe even if it is "better", fans will always hold the original in higher regard simply for being the first.
X-Men 2 has been highly regarded as the sequel the original film deserved, better than the original. Great story, more action, interesting dynamic between all the characters, along with a good progression for them as well.

It was a big deal when it came out, especially for Wolverine. Bryan Singer "finally explained Wolverine's origin". Y'know, I read a few X-Men comics in my day, watched the kid's show in the 90's, and while I never really read anything about Wolverine's past, I still felt like I didn't really learn anything new about him. We'd known he was a government experiment who set free, which he was. The only difference is that in this film Logan gets to see where this happened, and meet who was responsible. It works, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't seem like they really told us anything we didn't know. I'm not sure what role Stryker played in the comics, maybe that's what the big deal was.

There are a few things that bother me about this movie. One thing is Storm.
Ms. Berry, you know I love you, but where the hell did your accent go? One of the great things about X-Men back in the comics, and even the show, was the different nationalities of all the characters. Rogue was southern. Nightcrawler was German. Storm is African. I think Rogue keeps her accent in this one, but Storm just sounds like a regular American, and I think her role suffers for it. She definitely sounded more interesting in X1.

Oh well.
Another thing that gets to me is the "out-of-nowhere" saves. A couple come to mind, like when the jet nearly avoids getting hit with a missile and begins crashing and Magneto just happens to be standing in a close enough region to catch it before it lands.
I guess that prison of his must've been fairly close to the mansion.
Then, Rogue manages to clumsily fly the Blackbird to the location to pick up all of the mutants that escape the underground base. I mean, it's possible that the X-Men's comlinks have tracking devices which the jet could pick up, but we don't even get a quick shot or line to explain how she knew she had to get there in order to save everyone.

Those are small detail, however. Plenty of movies have last-minute saves like this that aren't explained, so it is forgivable as convention.

I'd say the thing I like about the first X-Men is the style. The first half, like I said. Nice, quiet drama. There is some good action present, but once you see X2 you realize the action in the first was them trying to really get their feet wet with this sort of thing. They definitely stepped it up, even with the first scene and Nightcrawler's amazing assault on the White House.
I didn't pay close enough attention when I saw the trailer, originally I thought he was going to be in the X-mansion helping fight off the invading forces.

Which brings me to my next point. That scene, where Styker's men take over, is just plain awesome. There is something amazingly creepy about watching the villain walk into the hero's secret base when nobody's home, like Styker walking into a dark Cerebro. Bone-chilling.

In this scene, we also get some good mutant cameos from the comics. We see the film series' second Shadowcat, along with Siryn and Colossus. The sound they came up with for Siryn's sonic scream just makes me so happy. It's excellent. I did want to see more of Colossus, but they got to him in the next film. It was a nice touch though, early in the film where they show him as having a flair for the artistic, as he did in the comics.
I think Lady Deathstrike was probably the biggest departure from the original character. I'd heard about her before the movie, had her trading card I believe. She does have some adamantium enhancements, but the big thing about her is that she was a cyborg. I don't believe she was ever a mutant before, but I could be wrong.
Still, watching her early on in the waiting room, cracking her knuckles, you can just picture her segmented talons shifting inside her fingers. Nice.

They definitely were familiar with their source material for the first two films. I could go on and on, and praise every scene, but I think I'll keep it short for this one. Only a few light problems with it, but it's a lot of fun. Very high on the list of good superhero films, for sure.

It's unfortunate they rushed X3 and gave it to Ratner, and kinda screwed up the series after that. I'll have more on this later, I'm sure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hulk (6.20.2003)

Director: Ang Lee
Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot
Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte,
Watch for: Lou Ferrigno, Stan Lee
Editor(s): Tim Squyres
<-- The version I own.

The bold move
of creating a film based off of a comic book franchise which focuses on the drama more than the action is the reason this movie gets so much crap. Reading about the internet, I see these complaints "We don't even get to SEE him for the first 40 minutes", or "What were those stupid transitions for?", "More fighting less talking", or whatever.

There are a few things I think about every time I watch this movie:
1) Hulk looks amazing.
2) This is an artistic film, not afraid to try something new.
3) God, I love Jennifer Connelly.

Considering her previous body of work, you can probably tell early on that this isn't going to be your standard summer action-thumper. We get an interesting intro with the credits, which establishes the visual 'comic book' style as well as takes a semi-unique approach to Hulk's origin, stating it wasn't just the gamma radiation which causes his origin. It helps make up for Stan Lee's "gamma sounded like a cool word" approach to the science in the past. I mean, God bless him for it, but people are pickier nowadays.

I wonder if the reason this movie pulled in less than it cost to make is because of Ang Lee's style, and the word of mouth surrounding it, or if the character just isn't as interesting to the public as some of the others.
Admittedly, I never really watched/read the Hulk before this movie, and I still don't really, but this movie is interesting. I love the story, the transitions, everything.

In fact, while this is unconfirmed, I do wonder if it's a mixture of Dick Tracy's colorization and Hulk's kooky transitioning shots that we received the equally less-than-popular Speed Racer this year. It's a theory, I dunno. I get into these things, I guess.

Is it me, or could you take Josh Lucas and the guy who played Dr. Doom, swap the actors, and still have the roles feel fairly similar? Josh Lucas does have a couple good angry shouting fests later on, but they really seem like they could be partnered as uber-slimeballs.

Ignore the story and the style for a bit, which you basically have to sit and watch (with an open mind) to understand why I enjoy them, and let's cut to the action.
Walking out of the theatre, my friend said to me "It got kind of boring watching bullets bouncing off him all the time".
I do agree that as a superhero, "being really strong" does leave it difficult to bring something fresh to the table. Just look at Superman Returns, and all the really big action moments being centered around lifting something heavier and heavier each time. And he has several other powers which Hulk does not.
As many have said before me, it's the Jekyl/Hyde aspect of Hulk, which any hero with a secret identity has to face in some way, which makes him so interesting. The one thing that Ang Lee did which I'd never heard of before, for only a moment, he showed Hulk looking calm.

Right before those spiffy helicopters (Comanche?) pop up behind the plateau, Hulk is sitting and looking at a plant, thinking about something... and he seems calm. Perhaps if the helicopter hadn't arrived, he would've dissolved back into Bruce. Like with Betty later on, right before the dogs arrive... maybe he would've shrunk down then, too.
Or maybe it takes a while to calm down enough that this change occurs. It's hard to say. I guess it's not just an on/off switch.

That reminds me. My friend wasn't exactly right. While Hulk does get his fair share of bullets fired in his direction, we do get a couple of super villains as well. The trio of dogs, for one, which was just plain creepy at times. Then there was his father, who I still don't know who he was supposed to be in the comics. Seems like a familiar concept, being able to shift into any form of matter he touches, but I can't put my finger on who it is.

The way the military attacks actually presented another theory to me. Like, General Ross seems to want to test him as much as he wants to destroy him. I doubt this is what they were going for, but the big Hulk action scene in the desert feels like a really good example of escalation in order to show us just how powerful he is.
It starts indoors, with small weapons fire including machine guns (and one hilariously misused shell-launcher), which pretty much do as my friend said.. the bullets bounce off, occasionally making him bigger and stronger.
As soon as Ross says "show him the way out", and Hulk gives him this look through the monitor demanding this, that's when it seems like a test.

So he breaks outside, and soon comes up against tanks, which he handles pretty amusingly.
Then comes the aircraft, using the top-of-the-line Comanches and their slick manuverability, which he more or less outruns and dodges all of their weapons fire.
Then we even get an F-22 taking shots at him, which he has one of his few actual heroic moments, in saving the pilot from crashing into the bridge.

That's one thing that separates Hulk from the other Marvel films. Hulk spends more time dealing with himself and the people after him, rather than setting out to save people. It's a different situation, sure, but I wonder if seeing more of Hulk = hero in the later films wouldn't be such a bad thing.
I know in Ultimate Hulk, something went nasty and he wound up killing like 800 people, but things like this are the reason I hate the Ultimate series. I don't know if that ever happened in the older storylines, but meh.

Hulk may be angry, but he's hardly a monster. He took deliberate actions in his battles to avoid killing people, like dragging the helicopter to the ground, or spitting the tip of the missile at the tail of another. He did throw a tank into a mountain, but we do see that at least one member of the crew seems (amazingly) unscathed.

I love every character in this movie, by the way. David Banner just blows me away with his performance, he's so awesomely intense. He's like Magneto (in the comics). He always has a really long speech that sucks you in every time. Josh Lucas is intense also, but in a different, greedier kind of way.
And is it me, or do all the guys have a really raspy voice when they get angry? Awesome.
Then there's Jennifer Connelly, who is pretty much the girl you get when you need someone to play upset really well. Her "GET OUT!!" when the gamma's about to go off... wow.
And they're going to replace her with Liv Tyler. What a bloody freakin' waste.

There are some shots in this film which just blow me away. When Hulk ends his first rampage for a moment and his father puts his hand on his face... wow. He just looks so freakin' good. I have yet to see a shot that compares to this in the new film, but all I've seen is trailers so far, so we'll see.

One thing that bothered me about this movie was the fact that Hulk only spoke once. I'd swear I've heard that Hulk voice before, but I have no idea where.
He follows the traditional 'big strong guy' stereotype in the comics, and speaks dumbed-down, fragmented sentences... but I dunno. I'd like to hear Hulk talk. Hold a conversation. Taunt his enemies.

Maybe next time.
Overall, I'd say I watch this movie for the story, not the action. Don't get me wrong, I love the whole movie. The action is excellent, but I think that when they set out to make this, the story loomed large in their minds.

And you know what?
I applaud them for it. Too often I've seen movies like this getting caught up on the action side of things, and it feels like it's just another recycled story set up for a different character.
I mean, honestly. How many corporate hostile takeovers have we seen in the recent superhero flicks. Even Hulk mentions one, though they don't really focus on it.

I'ts like, c'mon, folks. Think harder. You'll be better off for it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Daredevil (2.14.2003)

Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Ben Affleck, Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Garner
Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau, Colin Farell
Watch for: Kevin Smith, and characters named after writers of the comics.
Editor(s): Dennis Virkler A.C.E., Armen Minasian
<-- The version I own.

My first date back in high school was an interesting one. I called her up one evening and asked her what movie she'd like to see, and while I still think she was trying to appeal to my tastes more than seeing something she wanted, her first choice was Daredevil. Of course I readily agreed, and so off we went.
The fun part about this that I never really pieced together until now is that this was a blind date. And we went to Daredevil.

Come on. That's classic.
However, despite the focus on the titular character and his loss of vision, the most impressive thing to me has always been the sound.
I forget who said it first, but it's stuck with me ever since. Daredevil is a rock anthem. We get so much good rock in this movie. The score, or the lyric-free tracks from the soundtrack's artists, I was definitely jamming during this movie. Plus we got the now-famous Evanescence performing their breakout track, "Bring Me to Life". On Friday, I saw the movie, on Saturday I bought the soundtrack.

This film has a very strong introduction. A nice and moody score accompanies 'cooler than Spider-Man' credit graphics (I love that the music goes evil for a second when we see "Colin Farrel as Bullseye"), leading right into an immediate comic cover homage with the very first shot of our hero.
If you're going to do an origin story, sometimes it can get a little dull waiting to see the hero. Flashing forward to him being already in trouble somehow works very well, though the melodramatic voice-overs always felt like a little too much. Obviously, he's not going to die. This is a potential franchise here.

Visually, I don't know what the proper term is for the lighting, grading, film they used, whatever, but this film looks just like a Daredevil film should. Even daylight seems dim and moody somehow. That's not a blind reference, I mean that Daredevil has always seemed to be the dark, noir (and sometimes abstract) counter-part to Marvel's flagship Spider-Man titles.

Well, he seemed this way once I started reading him, anyway. I didn't get into DD until after I saw the movie, but that's part of the reason we have these films, isn't it?

Matt Murdock, the boy, is excellently portrayed. He seems like one of the ones who was smart, fairly casual, you'd probably get along with unless you're a bully. Stuck in a bad part of town with his has-been father, but hardly a naive child.
The actor here is very convincing, I never once stopped and thought about his performance, I just accepted it. Well, except for one unconvincing move during his brawl with the other kids, and no, I don't mean the flip.

In one of my early film courses where we discussed story and shot elements and what they mean, I remember being taught that one of the possible meanings of a crooked angle is evil. Mark Steven Johnson seems to be familiar with this as well, as there are all sorts of thematic uses of camera angles, but most prevalent seems to be the evil angle.
"I'm not the bad guy."
Daredevil spends much of this film establishing exactly what kind of hero he's trying to be. There's a fine line between fighting criminals and brutally attacking them, and DD spends much of the first half of this movie on the dark side of it.
Red is also prominently displayed, though I haven't decided exactly what it stands for yet. Anyone who's watched bonus feature for The Sixth Sense knows that it meant something bad was going to happen, but in Daredevil I believe it has to do more with passion, or some sort of rooted emotion that you'd do anything to hold onto.
That's just my theory though.

There are a couple flaws in the style of this film, as it does lose it for a few moments.
One thing I might've done differently is the Matt/Elektra battle early on is, well, not make it so ridiculous. While the first fight in the bar does feature quite a few flashy moves in an eccentrically lit environment, trying to pull this same style in a playground in the middle of the day doesn't really flow as well. The scene is trying to be playful, yes, but perhaps is just a little too playful.

DD's confontation with Quesada (a nice nod to one of the comic writers, btw) in the subway was excellently planned. From the shot of DD hoping onto the pool table, having his reflection show up in a puddle which he then jumps into, plus the slow stalking down into the tunnel, well. Wow.
I still get chills, it's just a good sequence.
You don't get the happy feeling one gets watching Spider-Man pound the baddies. I watch this scene and even without thinking about the ending, you just see that DD hates this man. This one man who did these bad things is all of DD's anger, vengeance, and I'm sorry to say it, but for this moment, his warped sense of justice, personified. And he unleashes it, without hesitation.

We see this again with the loan shark scene, who DD takes out his frustrations again, this time without realizing a young boy (the shark's son?) is sitting there watching the whole time.
"Please, please don't hurt me," the boy says, shaking in fear.
"I'm not the bad guy, kid."

Oddly, despite the higher stakes in the first battle with Bullseye, Daredevil does seem to be handling it with a little more finesse. Easily dodging a ninja star (man, look out behind him. We hear it hitting metal, but Bullseye so easily could've taken out Elektra or her father if they'd been standing at this point). Then with minimal effort, DD dismounts him from his bike. However, he seems to have underestimated his foe, and while he doesn't lose the fight so to speak, he does fail both himself and his new love, whether she knows who's under the mask or not.
Elektra somehow doesn't see Bullseye (or the bike's massive explosion, but eh. For all she knows DD blew up some random guy's bike) and assumes DD killed her father.

What I like about the ending of the movie is just how many fights we get here, without it feeling like it's running on. I mean, by the time DD realizes who the Kingpin is, there is a moment of "Wow, he's going to go do that now?" The boss fight at the end of a long level, I suppose.
It works for me though.

Aside from the fact that movie Elektra at this point feels like a rank amateur compared to comic Elektra, which might be the point, the fight are all just as visually interesting as the rest of the movie. I get sucked right into them every time.

Bullseye is just pure evil. Colin Farrel rocks, I don't care how much you (or I) didn't like Alexander. However, as evil as he is, the moment of him giving the 'padre' a warning to leave is a moment which showcases he's not entirely ruthless.

I'll have more to say when I review the Director's Cut, I was trying hard not to make comparisons the whole time in this review. I'll get to it later, I've got a few films that come up between DD and the Director's Cut, which was put out basically as a promo for Elektra.

I'm still waiting for my Daredevil sequel.

Sure, it hasn't been even talked about on any respectable news site in years, but I like to hope. It's a solid film, and doesn't at all deserve the crap it gets. I have friends who just plain hated it, and I turn and look them right in the eye and simply ask "Why?"
I think the biggest problem with this movie is that somebody thought it was a good idea to release it on Valentine's Day. If this was a mid-spring or even summer release, it would've done much better.
Just like Ghost Rider, but I'll get to that later.

What a good movie. There are days I'll even rank this above even Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins. This is by far one of my favorite superhero films.

Well well. Ask, and thou shalt recieve.
I was browsing the Marvel film list on Wikipedia today, and found out a very exciting piece of news.

Daredevil 2 has been announced!!
According to the article, Marvel Studios is waiting for the unused rights to revert to them, and then they'll get on it. I'm not sure how long this takes, but it's been around five years since the last film... so maybe that's all it is. Could be a few years yet, but I'm so excited to finally have some news on this.
The article also mentions Affleck has repeatedly said he's not interested, however Michael Clarke Duncan has expressed interest.
Mark Steven Johnson stated he'd also like to return, using one of Frank Miller's storylines from the 80's.

Sounds good to me. I hope they talk Affleck into it, but if not, I'm sure there's another Matt Murdock out there somewhere.
The fact that the director is wanting to come makes me feel safe that it'll be true to the first film in style, which is what I really want.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (5.22.2008)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Karen Allen, Ray Whinstone, John Hurt,
Watch for: Homages to former Indy moments/cast members and Sasha Spielberg (So I hear?)
Editor(s): Michael Khan.
Would I buy it: Deluxe multi-disc special edition. And again when I upgrade to Blu-Ray.

And you were
When it comes to certain movies coming out, such as this, where there's a lot of anticipation behind them, and it's been a long time since the last one, people start to wonder if it'll be as good as the last one, or will it go the way of, say, the Star Wars prequels. (I love those, by the way, but the general consensus seems to be that they are crap compared to the originals.)

Well, whatever.
With Indiana Jones, in my opinion, they got it right.
I, along with some of my filmmaking colleagues, did notice a couple of flubs with the compositing. Such as the very first scene even, there was a low-angle shot with Cate Blanchett, and the sunset behind her seemed comp'ed in, while everything around her felt like it was a set.
A thought I had was that this was intentionally done, as it really felt like an older shot from a 70's/80's movie where compositing wasn't as good as it is now. However, I may just be dreaming.
The visual style could almost be like something out of the 80's, but some of the CGI moments (not as many as you might think) bring you back to the present.

I gotta say, the 'jungle car escape' is one of the most over-the-top, yet somehow outrageously amazing sequences we've seen in an Indiana Jones film. We haven't seen anything like this since the "Truck? What truck?" chase in Raiders. The tank bit in Last Crusade comes close, but I always felt like Indiana kicking, what, 7 Nazi's out of their own truck trumped that.

This goes way beyond.
First, we get these tree threshers, which are kind of cool, but not really used after Indy blows it up with a bazooka. Nicely done, I love how it comes spinning back and hits every vehicle on the way.
Then there's punching out the henchmen, and Mutt picks up a sword and you just know he's gonna be duelling the russian chick before long. I thought they'd save it for later, but no.
They did it right there, on top of the cars.
George Lucas' quote "I have a fascination with speed" goes right here. I bet he had something to do with this.

Actually, I think they rolled on top of, over and inside three cars during that fight. Then of course, poor Shia's balls and all the plants that meet them head-on.
And instantly I had to think of Short Round being pulled between to rail carts, but at least they didn't hurt him. It was very reminiscent of that, but a little more modern in the style of the fight.
Then this sequence climaxes in the "Indiana has to fight the big guy" + "Dangerous creatures scene" wrapped up into one. Each film has one of these, but combining them was an interesting way to go.
I would hate to be around those ants. Nasty. The effects were obviously digital, but they were still presented in a gross yet frightening manner. It felt like real danger, unlike certain films (coughTheMummycough) where the digital creatures are simply there to be hurt, rather than hurting back.

Put a pause on the action, and let's back up to the archeology.
One thing that I wish they would've done is to explain the natives. Who is this skullmask-wearing blow-dart swallowing assassin that attacked Mutt and Indiana in the tombs? Was he there to protect the grounds/the skull, or was he something else entirely?
Was he affiliated with the natives by the temple?

Actually, this bugged me a little. The natives in the temple, where the hell did they come from? The were breaking out of these blocks of stone. Were these tunnels? Whatever they did, it wasn't like a trap door, they actually broke part of the temple in order to crawl out and stalk our heroes. I don't get what the director/writer were going for with this.

The things like going to the warehouse and getting a glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant were perfect. I knew that's what this building was based on the trailer, but then again, I'm pretty sure everyone else did too. I thought he'd be there needing the ark for some reason, but I'm kind of glad they just left it as a little nod to the original film.
They maintained/raised the bar on the idea of ancient temples come with puzzles and traps. Oddly, I didn't see it coming when Indy was crawling into the tight space w/ Mutt telling him it wasn't big enough, and then it leans down. I just thought he'd poke through. That was a nice idea, and a good moment for some light comedy.

The whole Marion + Henry Jones III storyline worked fine. Actually, I was so into the movie that I almost forgot that she was going to be coming into it at some point. And I'd heard the theory that she was Mutt's mom / Indy was the father, but I really was so engrossed in this film that until they brought it up, I didn't think about it. Good show. It definitely works.

The one moment where I thought about Indiana being more like a/his father though, was near the end of the on-campus chase.
When Mutt knocks down a statue of the dearly departed Marcus Brody... actually, back up.

Briefly, I thought the man flagging down Indy in the classroom was Marcus yet again, having aged 20 years, but this sadly wasn't the case. This new character takes on Marcus' role in the first film as the person who sort of helps shove Indy out the door. It seems the actor protraying Marcus, Denholm Elliott, passed away in 1992. I wasn't aware of this until just now on IMDB, but what they did to keep his character alive in the series was nice.

So, the statue. Mutt causes the Russkies to hit it, Marcus' head falling into their windshield. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the look they share in this moment is exactly like the look Henry Jones Sr. gives Indy after sticking a flagpole into a Nazi motorcycle. Mutt's look of being utterly pleased with himself fits Indy's look in that classes scene as well.
I noticed mostly here that Indiana was becoming his father, not so much that they were becoming like father and son, but it was a nice touch.

"Why didn't you let him finish school?!?" Perfect.

I'm not going to rip apart the 'supernatural' aspect too much, because really, it works for me. I think they only reason aliens (excuse me, interdimensional beings) might be controversial here is because they are such a part of mainstream society that they're often considered a joke.
If you ask me, they're simply another human legend. The modern "Area 51" legend is comparable to searching for a golden city, or a Holy Grail, fountain of eternal youth, whaever. People used to think those actually existed too. And even now, who's to say they don't?
Indiana Jones has dealt with ghosts, magic, immortals and religious forces, so really, a supernatural alien species really isn't that far of a stretch.

The skeletons looked absolutely amazing, too. That was such a cool idea, having the 13 of them sitting around each other like that. When they talked about the skeleton being made of quartz, this did seem a little weird, but if it's more of a paradimensional entity instead of a lifeform from a different galaxy, then this does stand up for a little bit of extra wiggle room as far as suspension of disbelief is concerned.

They looked cool. I love the design. The body Irina Spalko shows Indy looked better than the final close-up near the end, but whatever. It's a classic symbol adapted into a new hypothesis of what they could be like, just like how they took the Holy Grail and made it into a cup.

Excellent film, if you ask me. It stands up just as well as the old ones.
My favorite shots of it, by far, have got to be the two longer wideshots of destruction:
1) Indy stepping out of the fridge to see the nuclear explosion. Like, seriously. Indy/Harrison simply will never die.
2) The 'UFO' takeoff. The ending was a little reminiscent of end of the first X-Files movie, but their presentation was still done in a fresh and interesting way that I didn't notice until later.

There's so much more I enjoyed, but you know what? I might as well just list every scene.

Let me delve into acting for a bit:
Harrison Ford: great. He's done a lot of roles, but this one still felt like Indy more than any other Harrison role.
Karen Allen: Seemed fine. I love her dynamic with Indy, and her son also.
Cate Blanchett: A classic actress, she was wonderful in the role. I love how when they're solving the puzzles she seems like she forgets she has to keep a gun pointed at Indy's head, and gets right in there and interested with him. Kind of like the Austrian girl in Last Crusade, before we see her turn Nazi.
Shia LeBeouf: I wasn't sure how he'd perform here. The only things I've really seen him in were Constantine, as the sidekick 'Chaz', and as Sam in Transformers. Anyone who's seen both can prolly say those are fairly similar characters. He definitely felt like a greaser to me. A little bit of "The Outsiders" and Danny Zucko, but speaking in Shia's voice.
Also, moments that were great from me (aside from the look after Brody's statue) were how torn up he seemed when he saw his teacher all crazied out. He did a good job.
That first shot of him riding in on his bike, well. I went with a group so my girl was sitting in the seat in front of me, but I would swear I could feel her heart pounding faster in that moment. ;)

The greaser/jock bit in the diner was awesome. It's like the whole room was involved in that scene.

Anyway, hats off to you, Indy.
Despite other attempts at reviving and modernizing older films, that you can more or less remain the same and still be just as entertaining as the original.

Obviously special effects have changed, but this really did feel like it was rightly the next chapter. They kept the style consistent enough that I can proudly put this right up there with the originals.

Thanks guys.
It was great.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blade (8.21.1998)

Director: Stephen Norrington
Wesley Snipes, N'Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff
Kris Kristofferson, Donal Logue
Watch for: Something better.
Editor: Paul Rubel
Would I buy it: Rent on occasion.

Vampires have it easy. Actually, they have it really easy, if you take a look around during Blade. This is what I noticed most out of the movie, is how effortless everything appears to be.
I don't mean physical feats and poorly staged martial arts, I mean how everything they need to know or do is just a breeze.

Head Vampire: "You'll never figure it out. It's a dead language."
It's okay, my fancy computer will do all this work for me. Click, click, deciphered.
The little things like that bother me in any movie.

The bad blood effects are quite outdated, but I'm sure they were considered somewhat impressive in '98, even if they were still very obviously an effect. The vampire death effect is a fun concept, but after it's used it quickly becomes the focus of every fight scene. Let's see how many cool ways we can kill a vampire by chopping off dissolving pieces one at a time.
I tell ya, it gets old.
The exploding vamps were a bit overboard. About as much as 'Pearl', the grotesque "That's gotta be pushing it, even for an immortal" character.

I don't understand why a film which has been shot so beautifully can be ruined so quickly by the little things that would've taken just a bit more planning to do right.
There's little moments like "the badass Blade" and his first fight, in which he remains the strong silent type, until he manages to throw a
second silver stake into the opposite shoulder of Donal Logue and gives the camera a hearty, well-posed "Yes!"
C'mon, boyscout. How many times must you have done this before? Let's not waste time patting ourselves on the back.

Then there's the 'car chase', which actually is "Driving, fast-forwarded". I can't believe this is a legitimate sequence they thought would look normal to the average viewer. Grandma could tell you not to speed your footage up. They had so many stunt fighters in the movie (so many thugs, omg), you'd think they could afford a stunt driver for the chases, too.

Blade seems to exist in the era where they weren't quite taking everything to the computers yet. There was a lot of CGI for bits of fancy vampiric destruction, none of it that great, but everything else, sets, stunts, etc., seemed to be good old fashioned live-action, sometimes with a touch of compositing, such as Blade's leap from the hospital.
Trinity (and a couple Agents) do this much better about a year after he pulls this stunt. Grow as we go, I suppose.

All in all, it's not a
terrible film. The villain struggles to use the f-word in a convincing tone, the story has several gaps and takes it's time to explain a few things that the tagline on the poster has already told us (Duh, he's a vampire. That took you what, 40 minutes to get to?), the spins aren't surprising (or even all that exciting) and some of the action is poorly edited and hard to follow (or just looks plain stupid), but it's alright.
Definitely not something I'd watch again and again, for the little things tend to drive me up the wall, but hey. I'm picky.

I wish I could define somehow the look of the movie. Older cameras or film stock, perhaps. It has the lighting and look of something shot in the mid 80s rather than late 90s, which definitely works for me. It helps with the tone they've attempted to set, but there's just too many poor moments to make up for the rather standard good ones.

I delayed
Daredevil yet again so I could catch up on my chronological order a bit. Spider-Man came out just after Blade II, so it'll either be that or DD coming up. I think.
We'll see.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer (5.9.2008)

Director: The Wachowski Bros.
Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Matthew Fox
Roger Allam, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Paulie Lit
Watch for: Benno Furman
Editor(s): Roger Barton, Zach Staenburg
Would I buy it: Discount Bin.

I just saw on IMDB.com that there is in fact such a thing as "Speed Racer: The IMAX Experience". I didn't really think about it before, but now that I have seen both this and the film as of tonight, I have to say... someone will die watching this movie.

Speed Racer is kind of like that really long song you like, but only for the chorus, because the parts in between are just too convoluted.

I definitely felt the Wachowski's hand in this, and I mean that in both good and bad ways.
Let's start with the fun stuff first:

The action:
They really outdid themselves here. Yes, just about everything but the people seemed to be CGI for many of these scenes. Regardless of whether or not the cars were done in a computer, coming up with some of this stuff takes a mind of action. This is why I went. I wanted to see how this unique, live-action Anime presentation would translate. The races are dizzying at best. I had to take some time to orient myself to the primary colors of the cars so I could keep track of who was who.
I still said "Wow" or reacted in other surprised ways during it, so definitely, the action was cool.
I'm trying to decide if Speed 'racing his brother's ghost' was just something for us, the audience, to see, or if the racetrack was projecting a hologram of his brother's car onto the track for their audience. Regardless, that was sweet.
Very video game of them.

The story:
Considering how fast this film felt overall, there were moments of drag resistance during some of the early scenes. The film opens strong, simultaneously showing a big win for Speed whilst splicing back to not just Speed's flashbacks, but also Pop and Mom's memories of these events as well.
Then, after all that, the film slows down. It starts with a silly scene with Spritle and Chim Chim watching/living out an old cartoon, then Royalton shows up, and how you hate him from the very first scene, and not even because he's mean. He's too freakin' nice. He gets mean later.
Anyway, we see his scenes and then some bits with Speed trying to decide if he's going to join up or not, then when he shows up to refuse, the Wachowskis took over.
Royalton telling Speed about 'the dark side' of racing essentially is the same thing as the Architect telling Neo that he's not living in the first Zion. The only problem we face here is that this revelation comes way too early in the movie. For a payoff such as this to work, you have to first establish that it isn't this way in the common belief. Speed's very upset by it, but I was just sitting there (trying to keep my head on pace w/ so much information so fast) thinking "Wait, didn't we know this?"

So there goes that twist.
Then there's the second revelation: Who is Racer X?
This one I'm very upset about. It was very obvious early on that Racer X = Rex. As soon as Speed starts talking about the coincidences, I started thinking "Oh, maybe they'll go for the original road and it won't be him". However, before the 'big action closer', we find out it's not.
Which, essentially means that it is simply because there's room in the story for one last spin. I swear, the cars spun less than this storyline.
Anyway. So he is his brother. And as soon as he says it, I'm thinking "facial reconstructive surgery. No, don't go there". But they did. That's exactly how they did it.

I mean, this is the best they could do? A double-reversal with a cheap cop-out? I've even used the surgery thing, but then I decided that script sucked and I rewrote it to turn it into something practical. Sheesh.
What they should've done is drop about 10 minutes out of the film, stop having Speed and X leave so many obvious clues about it, and then just have the one big surprise at the end. That's all it needed. Tricking and re-tricking just beats the horse to death.

Too much story way too fast.
Beyond the big revelations and fancy character-wipes, the story is a little simple, but I honestly think people will have a hard time following it due to the complexity of everything else. It allows for lengthy wonderful action scenes in the second half, but you can't just cram a whole movie's worth of exposition into the first half after an opening that is already playing two scenes at once.
My girlfriend kept asking me what was going on during that, she was incredibly lost.

I suppose this is what the remarkably old-fashioned humor surrounding Spritle and Chim-Chim was for. Admittedly, I laughed at some of it... but I'd say their purpose was to water down the intensity.

The movie was racing itself.
Lucky for me, I didn't at all feel dizzy watching it. I hadn't even had much to eat, and I was doing okay throughout it nausea-wise.
What finally gave me a little headache was sitting through the credits. And I mean the second half, not the flashy first half. There was a gaussian-blurred race taking place in the lettering that made the whole thing difficult to read, let alone look at.
Ugh, whose idea was that?

I don't know who came up with the visual style for this film, but that's what made it for me. I enjoyed looking at it immensely. As someone I know who recently commented on the Wachowski's earlier work said
No, the problem was, is, and will always be the scripts."
He was talking about the Matrix sequels, but I believe that applies here also. I liked the first scene, with the two scenes playing at once. Even when they did it later with Speed losing a race while Royalton tells him this is exactly what will happen was okay, but somewhere in-between that, I was just having trouble focusing on everything they were trying to make me understand so quickly.

***I know I said I was going to be doing all the Marvel films first, but I just saw it and had to get it out while it was still fresh in mind. I'll still be doing Daredevil next, and Netflix says Blade should arrive tomorrow.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spider-Man (5.3.2002)

Director: Sam Raimi
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe
James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons
Watch for: Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Macy Gray
Editor(s): Arthur Coburn, Bob Murawski
<--The version I own.

Let's be clear about this.
Spiders freak me out. I've never liked them. I don't know if it's the feeling of them crawling over my skin, how big and itchy their bites are, the fact that there's breeds of them that can just downright kill you, or what, but I frakkin'
hate spiders.

Spider-Man, however, I've loved since I was a child. I wonder where that widespread appeal comes from, considering he's a character thematically based on an insect (excuse me, arachnid) in which most people would share my sentiments.

I think part of it is the purity of the alter-ego. Peter Parker is merely a high school student when he receives the infamous spider-bite. He may be a genius, acing all his tests and getting all the science awards, but this is still something we can relate to. Even if we weren't that guy, we
knew that guy.
And honestly, with the exception of the moron Flash Thompson types, who actually didn't like that guy?
Maybe you didn't hang out with him much, but he was okay to be around in the classes you had with him... like gym, for example.

Let me dwell on that. Flash Thompson.
He's played out here and there in the comics, but so far his little existence in the beginning of Spidey 1 is all we've gotten. In the sixties, Flash was your varsity-letter-sweater, red curly-haired, cocky but somewhat nice all-star jock hero. Flash Thompson in SM1 is the guy my brother hung out with in high school back in '01, essentially.
Slick wheels (he didn't buy), rap music, metal dog-tag style chain wrapped around his wrist, spikey hair and I'm guessing
way too much cologne. Y'know, it works though. They modernized it. From what I've seen, the jock isn't necessarily the modern popular guy. Oddly, it's the party-thug douche.

You can attribute that, along with the wrestling scene to "we have to modernize it". Which I can understand. Still, there was part of me watching "Bonesaw McGraw" that wished they had found Crusher Hogan and put him in there. This is Raimi's thing with Spider-Man that I've noticed. Every film has at least one completely ridiculous scene, which is totally intended to be this way.
For Spidey 1, this is the wrestling match.

Okay, I'll just tell you now:
Spidey 3's ridiculous scene is obviously the Parker = Player montage. Almost no one likes that, but admit it. You laughed.
Spidey 2...
isn't the Parker "Raindrops keep dropping on my head" montage. Believe it or not. That was the first sequence like this, and it was a very good way of showing how he felt this massive weight shoved off his shoulders. Plus, everyone liked that scene so far as I know. It was cute.
ridiculous scene harkens back to Raimi's horror Evil Dead days. The attack of Doc Ock's tentacles. Man, was that a purely awesome cheesefest. I love it.

But we're talking about Spidey 1 today.
This film introduced the mainstream audience to a few new people. I believe Kirsten Dunst was one of those girls who you know you'd seen (
Virgin Suicides, Jumanji), but prolly couldn't name. This helped. I had seen Willem Dafoe in Boondock Saints (excellent role for him, too), and Tobey in Pleasantville... so I was fairly familiar with the main cast here. I think I was too geeked out by the intense trailers to really be disappointed in this movie, though.

In fact, that was the thing. The first time I saw this movie, sure I had some surprises, but overall I felt like I'd seen it before. Like, I wasn't surprised in the slightest when Uncle Ben's killer turned out to be the guy who Parker let go earlier. Anyone who's read the origin comic knew that. I also had a feeling that Goblin would die impaled on his goblin glider. That's just kind of what those things wind up being for in the comics. It had a lot of surprises in the action and individual scenes, but the movie felt short because I was so familiar with this character and his history.
I still loved it though.

I didn't realize it then, but noticing the pattern of disgust has revealed to me that I
hate, like just cannot stand, lengthy animated openings to live-action films. Leaving, my buddy said something to me that stuck for a while:

"That has nothing to do with the actual movie."

But you know what? Yes, it does. It's part of the movie, they put it there intentionally. X-Men did it, Spidey, Daredevil, Ghost Rider... all of 'em bug me. They have cool elements, like the braile in Daredevil, which formed out of lit windows of skyscrapers, and then into the actors' names. It's a cool concept, but is it necessary? Even
Juno had one that got kind of boring after the first 30 seconds. You just sit there and think "Come on, already. I came here to see the actress in the role, not her cardboard cut-out." I don't mind having credits in the opening of the movie, that's fine. I think this is a requirement of one of the American director groups... I forget who.
Anyway, the heavily dramatic impact of the recent
Iron Man's intro is something I feel can be attributed to it's simplicity. They leave the flashy credits for the end, and simply have a black title screen say "Iron Man", and then the movie keeps running. Why can't it be like that? The cool factor is there, which for some reason these earlier Marvel flicks feel can be achieved through a 3-4 minute "hint of things to come". Meh.
Michael Mann (dir.
Collateral, Miami Vice) didn't even have titles until the movie was over. Batman Begins had a very quick and cool shot of CGI bats forming the logo before the first scene. Simplicity is key, and I think this is something that all sci-fi/action/Marvel films should try to remember in the future.
Actually, now that I think of it... I wonder if it's Tim Burton's logo opener from
Batman that we have to thank for this trend. Hmmm.

I'm not going to really talk about the Green Goblin's design or Spidey's internalized webbing much. This was done to death before, during and after the film's release. If you don't know about it, here's the skinny:
-Goblin's mask used to be rubber, move when he talked. The movie gave him a helmet and green body armor. They cheesed him up.
-Spider-Man's webbing used to be a device he created, conveniently (and in one brief mention in one panel of the origin story) to assist him in his ventures. In the movie, his webbing is biologically produced.
What's kind of fun is that the comics later took this concept and wrapped an entire storyline on all the spider-like qualities Peter didn't really get, and what happens when he later gets them. ("The Others". Check it out.)

The Goblin outfit worked for me, but not in daylight. Nighttime scenes brought out it's latent awesomeness. I still think it could use a purple tunic and a bag for pumpkin bombs, but that might just be me.

Spider-Man's costume upgrades (raised webbing, white sunglass lenses rather than see-through fabric) were excellent. The only pet peeve I have with them is actually the marketing, merchandising. The webbing on his outfit is BLACK! Not white. It was never white. It will never be white. However, since the rubber-like material they used to make it stand out reflects light in a very cool way, all the toys, posters, whatever, decided that maybe the webs should just be white. Even my 12" Spider-Man figure (second movie, tho) has a black spider logo on the chest, but all the webbing is white/gray. If I had a steadier hand, I'd paint those in.

That's just me being a dork though. This actually DOES have nothing to do with the movie.

Basically, we got what we wanted. The story of the teenager who becomes the hero. "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility". All that jazz. I think this was one of the first hero films to tease the romance all the way through to the second, and that's a trend that's definitely been picked up. Like, no one gets the girl anymore. It's all this Facebook-style complicated story crap. It still works, I guess. Whatever.

One thing I thought they were going to do in the sequels, but it didn't really play out past the first Spidey, is keep going with this theme of objects dissolving past Peter as he thought about them. There was the MJ / get a car sequence early, but there was also the moment just after Norman dies where the Goblin mask shows up. I had this idea of all the guilt and secrets Parker has to keep building up on him. "Don't tell Harry" would've been a pretty big deal later, but they covered it fairly quick and my little theory got squashed, well, like a bug.
They did drop the dissolves in the sequels, which I think was a mistake. It was part of the style of this film, and a little bit of what separated it from other films like it. There's the costume design/get a car sequence, the "Who is Spider-Man?" montage (which I'm guessing is a quick replacement for the pulled World Trade Center sequence).
I'm guessing the guy who talked them into getting rid of these sorts of scenes is the same one who thought of shooting the sequels in 2.35:1 rather than SM1's 16:9.
I'd like to know who had these ideas, as I'm not certain I agree with the changes they brought.

Another thing about this movie that I noticed is that it is definitely what I would call "post-
Matrix". We don't get any bullet-time per say, but just look at every slow-mo shot in this film and tell me what you think of. If you haven't seen the Matrix, well trust me. The slow-mo is reminiscent of the Matrix, except for the ridiculous camera moves. I honestly believe if the Matrix hadn't happened, these action sequences would be a bit different.
I mean, they even do the Neo backwards bend at one point, except the reason Spidey's awesome is that he doesn't fall over afterwards. So that was kinda neat. Being able to stick to surfaces with your hands and feet is generally good for stuff like that.

Still. Film should inspire others to create and adapt. Ripping off completely is something else, and that's not what I'm saying is happening here. I love the action, it's all excellent. There's a couple of moments where you think "Grrr, CG" (which I think is how that same buddy phrased it), but it was 2002. It's forgivable.

Then there's the moments in which I got entirely choked up, because they were so very what I had been waiting my whole life to see.
1) The first time he web-swings. Not the goofy one where he slams into a wall, but when he's chasing Uncle Ben's killer. Sometimes the choir in the score bugs me. They might as well be singing "ooooh... he's so greeeaaat". Music like that in a film about one person always seems a little preachy. I can understand it in a war movie, perhaps.
Anyway, just how he moves in this scene is very fluid, but not too practiced yet. I mean, he dodges the street lamps for crying out loud. It's definitely an upgrade on the animated series, where even the TV spots made fun of how the web always just kind of attached to nothing.
2) "C'mon, move kid!" During the first battle with the Goblin, when Spidey saves the young boy from the falling stage. That whole bit is just so perfectly executed. Well, actually the money shot of him grabbing the boy doesn't transition well into him handing him off to the mother, but it's easily overlooked. Even watching it today, I still get chills from the moment that girl points and shouts "It's Spider-Man!" all the way through the kid's rescue. Perfect.
3) Duplicating the death of Gwen Stacy scene. Those who know their Spider-history are prolly familiar with the Goblin dropping Gwen off the bridge. It's possible she dies because Spider-Man shoots his web down to catch her, and it's possible the resulting jerk snaps her neck. Later in the comics (one of the ones I had as a youth), Peter's dressed in the Scarlet Spider outfit and a clone of Gwen falls off this same bridge (ah, fate), and the writing around the pictures is "He only knows what not to do this time." One of my favorite moments, and while the scene with MJ isn't shot-for-shot, they still pulled the scene off rather well.
The falling tram and MJ in each of his eyes is a little campy, but they used do things like that in the comics all the time (like when someone mentioned Spidey to Parker, his face would be drawn in half a mask to show he was thinking about it).
4) J.J. Jameson. They could not have found a better person to play him. Also, they managed to show that J.J. is really a good guy under all this. He does have a strong sense of morality, we just don't always see this side of him when he's playing the editor. When Gobby busts into his office, and J.J. refuses to give up Parker, that's very J.J. Then there's Ted Raimi (director's brother, but I know him from "SeaQuest DSV") who shows up as a quirky little office-goer. Greatness.
5) "There's someone still up there!" "I'm going." "I'll be here when you get back." "Not coming back, Chief." "Go, go!"

'nuff said.
5) The final shot. One-shots floor me, they're just pure artistry. It's a little easier to do when it's entirely CGI like this scene, but that was a great sequence. I was just so ridiculously happy, I could've cried.

I <3>

For some reason, Blogger is shrinking my text after this point when I look at it in the previews, so I'm gonna take that cue and try to wrap this up. I could talk about Spidey forever.

See how I did the exact opposite of what I did with X-Men, and I focused on all the comic/sci-fi fanboy goodness rather than the slower, dramatic moments? Spider-Man definitely has these, but unlike X-Men, these are not the things I've remembered it for.
They're necessary, and it is wonderful Raimi holds Peter Parker so close to his heart that the story is more about him than it is Spider-Man, but they didn't pop out in the same way that they did in

Different directors, different styles. My favorite film professor would tell you I lean towards the darker styles anyway, so this is a normal and expected preference on my part.

Okay, so something I noticed, but I'm not sure if I'm just overthinking it.
There's a shot of MJ's diner that she walks out of, putting a coat over hear Spidey-colored waitress outfit, and we see Spidey's eyes go wide, so I'm guessing that means spider-sense has just told him she's right there. So, he turns around and goes after her.
MJ makes a little motion to her head, "Buzz off!"

Comic joke? The little squiggly lines? "My spider-sense is tingling/buzzing"? Anyone get what I mean here?
I thought make they were having a little fun, I'm not sure.

So, no rating system.
It's a quality superhero flick. Definitely better than the crap they made in the 70's. A lot better still than some of the more recent releases. The family can watch it, two civilized adults can watch it (I would think), and come away feeling satisfied.
I'm assuming you've seen it, since that's the theme around here, but if you haven't... what're you waiting for?

//obligatory thwip

Next time:
It's Friday.
Blade won't be here until at least Monday. What do you want from me?