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 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?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

X-Men (7.14.2000)

Director: Bryan Singer
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan
Halle Berry, Famke Jansen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Anna Paquin
Watch for: Ray Park, Stan Lee
Editor(s): Steven Rosenblum, Kevin Stitt, John Wright
<--The version I own.

I decided that I'm just going to go ahead and review X-Men first. I get three DVDs from Netflix at a time, and I haven't watched any of of my current ones yet. It'll be at least 3-4 days before I could get Blade here. I'll review it, but this one'll have to be out of order.

I'm also feeling lazy. My plan was to watch each of these again and then write a review after, but I'm gonna put X-Men in right now and type while I'm watching. I've seen this thing so many times, I already have a good idea of what I'd like to talk about.

This is one of the few Marvel films I did not manage to catch in the theaters (the others being Blade and Elektra). I wanted to, believe you me, but at the time I was not yet old enough to drive myself to the theater. This would not happen for another couple of years.

Anyway. I love how this film opens up. I read the novelization before I saw the film, so I was actually surprised to already find a couple of my favorite scenes missing. We see Magneto (McKellen) and Rogue's (Paquin) first time using their mutant abilities, but in the novelization we also see Storm (Berry) and Cyclops' (Marsden) first, and if you ask me, equally if not even more dramatic experiences.
Cyclops' is a little goofy. He was at a school dance, and his woman was being dramatic about him hugging some girl in front of her the day before.
High school girls.
Pssh. I could go on a rant about that one, but I won't.
So anyway, she's hiding in the girl's bathroom, and pre-Cyclops is about to chase in after her when a chaperone says something wise like "They all have to come out sometime". So Cyke goes into the men's room for some reason, when one of his classmates notes how red his eyes are. Soon after this, his power goes into effect and he blasts a hole through the wall between the boys and girls room, prompting his g/f, among others, to scream.

Storm was born in Africa, and her origin revolves around a children's game. A rather brutal one I can't say I understand, and Storm winds up in the middle of a group of children, curled up on the ground as they beat her with sticks and other things. She has her eyes shut and crying, and soon hears the patter of hail landing all around her. Soon, the hail overtakes the other children, knocking them all unconscious, and I have an image in my head of Storm standing in the middle, and no hail has fallen in a small area just around her. I don't know if that was the book or my imagination, though. It'd still be awesome to see.

Anyway. Actual movie.
Singer's got style in the first film. The first discussion between Xavier and Magneto still sends chills down my spine. No music, just two old guys talking.
"We are the future Charles, not them! They no longer matter!"

Then, there's the continuation of Rogue's plotline, moving into Canada where she meets Wolverine. There's a sort of smoggy atmosphere in the film, just one of those cloudy days that won't end. It feels this way inside the buildings, outside, wherever.
I don't recall if Wolverine's punch sound effects are kept constant for the rest of the films, or if they're merely accentuating it in the first scene to clue us in as to why this guy's special. If they have you hear the metal skeleton, then when the main group is talking about it later you don't have to think back "Oh, that's how he beat the big guy down so quickly". You already understand this, and the film can move forward.
Good plan.

Hugh Jackman may be tall, but he's the perfect Wolverine.
Well, for a while. He starts getting mushy later, and while Wolverine did have some of these moments in the comics I read, sometimes it's a little too far.

I'd swear I've seen this bartender somewhere before. Whatever.
Anyway, I'm not going to sit here and discuss the whole film step-by-step. However, this is the strong section for me. Canada. This is the aesthetic I like, and probably a style I'll dive into at some point. Not a lot of music, dim setting, interesting shots... the whole sequence is just excellent. Highlight of the whole trilogy for me. After this, the dip more into the sci-fi action/drama. That's nice too, it it's own way, and somewhat necessary considering the characters they introduce later, but if they could've brought this back later somehow that would've been nice.

"Ah saved yer life."
"No you didn't."

Yeah. I love this part of the movie. It's the best.
I think it's the mood in this film that helped set the realistic approach to most of the latest Marvel films, in the same way people talk about how the 1989 Batman helped start a trend of darker heroes. They don't wear spandex (we all know that line), and when they're not in the basement of the mansion or hanging off the Statue of Liberty, you can almost believe these people might actually exist someday.

Ahh, here it is.
Enter Cyclops & Storm = Exit the dramatic film, enter the sci-fi/action movie.
It's okay, I still like that one too, but it loses a lot of that real world feel pretty quick. Compare Wolverine's first scene in the Mansion to his dialogue with Rogue. There's music, there's voices, there's random automatic doors... it gets very weird. Still excellently done, but it's just an interesting change to witness.
It also seems to be the side of the film people (reviewers) tend to fixate on. We do get elements of the dramatic style later, like when Jean shows Logan his room or IceMan (Mystique, rather) tells Rogue she should run away from the school.
A scene from the novelization I also wish they included would be with Jean coming to bed, with Cyclops already laying there. It was described with Cyclops having a visor on, and Jean looked at him and could see a red light in the visor flash on and off, which simply is him blinking.
I mean, come on. That's cool.

So. Do I give the film 3 stars? 4?
I don't think I'm gonna do the rating thing. There's too many variables. I've done those all over the place on my Netflix, but then I see some later with higher ratings than better films... meh. It's a silly system.

I enjoyed X-Men the first time I saw it, still enjoy it today. It's just a quality movie that firmly helped pave a road for a ridiculous streak of comic adaptations for years to come.
Still, I thank them for that.

Next time: Spider-Man.
Sorry, Blade fans. I know I've skipped right over the release date of Blade 1 & 2, chronologically, but the first won't even arrive until at least Monday. Blame Netflix (or me, for being too cheap to go rent it locally).
I'll get to it. Wesley'll just have to be out of order.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

First Post: Call Me Vapes.

BLOGGING.Honestly, I never really thought I'd have an official, public-access, 'thoughts on pixels' (Thank you, Morgan Freeman) blog. Sure, I have a LiveJournal. I even used to occasionally update with a message on MySpace, back when that was still considered cool. Never a blog, though. What am I supposed to do now? Oh, get to the point. That helps. The reason I created this blog is because my LJ, MySpace, and even's Fanfilm Forums (hi, guys) are an inadequate space for me to post my everyday thoughts in a place where it can just be about what I'm saying, without focusing on any of my particular cliques of friends. People on my LJ usually won't care about what I would talk about on TFn, and vice-versa. Anyone who knows me prolly will tell you the thing I think, reference and care most strongly about (other than certain living people/creatures) is movies. Film, cinema, movies, picture shows, whatever you want to call 'em. I love 'em. I live by 'em. Maybe someday I'll be professionally making 'em. Okay, about me. Back during high school, when I was getting into LAN parties and various other forms of gaming, my friends were telling me I needed a handle (hey Dash, Apheleon & Zaff). You know who came up with mine, though? My mother. Shut up, she's cool. When she's not being motherly. Then she's a mom, and we all know what they're like. Anyway, this is back when I had aspirations of running through the Air Force RotC (a medicated chemical imbalance will quickly shoot that one down), so while we were sitting at the drive-thru of a Rally's, she looked up and saw a plane in the sky, with the white contrails flying off behind it. "What about Vapor Trail?" mom says. "Fuck yeah!" I replied. Pfft, of course I didn't say that. You don't swear in front of your mother. Anyway, I don't remember what I said. However, it stuck. At some point I combined those into one word (looked better in Quake3, I think), and eventually one of the TFn'ers (I always forget which, I have such a bad memory) chopped that down to Vapes, hence the title of this post which I just paused in the middle of this sentence to write in. Made my LAN buddies make less fun of me for being "the guy with the long-ass handle", too. Well, I like to think it did. The power of editing. Oh! I have a degree in "Broadcast & Cable Productions" (aka a Bachelor of Arts through Western Michigan University). However, that's just what they called it during my last semester cuz of some technicality. Prior to this, it was "Film, Video & Media Studies". I minored in Writing, but let's face it. No one cares what you minored in. So what this means for you is that I have studied film theory, from concept to storywriting, all the way through the production phases to release and reception. I know what I'm talking about, so you absolutely, positively have to listen to me, and agree with what I say. Beyond any reasonable doubt, I am right. Okay, I'm not that much of an ass. You're free to your own opinions (I just hope one of them is that I'm not an ass). I want to use that degree to become a film editor for features. Being a film critic would be another way to go, but that's what this is for. Anyway. A friend of mine (hey, Ben) recently opened his own blog to review films, but he's going in the opposite direction. It's a very clean-0cut, professional read. It lets you know what he thought about the film without really telling you what happens, just in case you haven't seen it and want an opinion before you decide. Tell you what. Watch the trailer, then decide. I love my friend here, don't think it's about that, but one thing I will never do is read someone's online review to allow me to make a decision to whether or not I should see a film. They can tell me something I didn't know, remind me of interest, but odds are I'll see it or not. I'll want to see it or not, or maybe I'll be forced into it or manage to escape through the basement window. Regardless, if you are unsure about a movie, watch the trailer. Decide if there's something better you should be doing tonight. Ask yourself the last time you talked to someone of the opposite sex (about something other than your grocery total). Then decide if you want to go see it. I'm really a nice person, I swear. So what I thought would be kind of fun is to have a place where I can write as much as I want, spoilers, plot points, twists and all, about any movie that tickles my fancy. We'll probably get a lot of old mixed in with the new here. Possibly some non-movie related posts like this in-between. I'll try and warn you early on which I'm going for. I really haven't decided on a style of presentation yet. The layout's still in a default format at this moment, I'll play with that soon. When I'm writing though, I'll probably just cut loose and write what I'm thinking. There may be references you don't get, or jokes that won't seem funny. Just roll with it, it's normal. I might try to explain some of it, we'll see. If you're wondering why I said "Thank you, Morgan Freeman", one of his lines that stood out in Se7en was "His thoughts on paper", regarding Kevin Spacey's thousand notebooks. This place'll prolly be something like that. So. Seen a movie, but still excited about it? Hated it so much you just gotta find a place to rip it apart? Mildly curious about some backstories or plot-points? You've come to the right place. To start off, I'm gonna do something kind of fun. I just saw Iron Man last week, and of course I loved it. (I'm a Marvel kid. Been reading comics forever). So, for the first run of reviews I think I'll be starting with the earliest of the Marvel trend, X-Men, and working my way through chronologically to Iron Man. I know what some of you are thinking: "But Vapes, Blade started the comic film trend. It came out in 1997, and X-Men wasn't released until 2000." Well, if you ask me, it was X-Men we have to thank for this. I don't think Blade was high-profile enough, with a wide reception outside of comic fans, vampire nuts and those weird kids in high school that always wore black. Then again, I didn't really like it, even back before my film education. Maybe I'll have Netflix send it and I'll watch those too. Some of the TFn socialites have been razzin' on me for not liking those, whilst I am very fond of films such as Daredevil and Ang Lee's Hulk. (They're ART!), so maybe I should give 'em one more try, and actually see Trinity. We'll see. With a little luck, I'll finish just in time for The Incredible Hulk, and then I can start talking about, like, normal movies. Welcome to The Spenceley Spoileriffic. This oughta be fun.