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Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman Returns



Arriving in theatres this week is one of......if not the biggest movies of the summer.

Warner Bros. is attempting to re-launch the Superman franchise, much in the same way that they successfully revived the Batman franchise with last year's excellent Batman Returns. Like Batman, the Superman franchise was effectively destroyed by two horrible movies. In re-launching the two franchises they tried to appeal to movie fans by using young, fresh, attractive actors in the lead, new and interesting special effects....to appeal to the younger crowd, and placed the franchise in the hands of successful, talented independent-film-minded directors who appeal to film geeks, and comic book fans.

But unlike Batman Begins which was a complete reboot of the Batman story, Superman Returns attempts to be a direct sequel to the first two Superman movies, while disregarding the unwatchable Superman 3 and Superman 4.

Tricky stuff, and Bryan Singer almost pulls it off.

Almost.

Superman Returns takes place 5 years after the events of the Superman 2 storyline. Superman a.k.a Clark Kent a.k.a. Kal-el has been away from Earth for 5 years after exploring the remains of the planet Krypton. Upon his return he finds that many things have changed. The world has become a more cynical, dangerous and darker place. Especially now, since his arch enemy Lex Luthor is a free man, and on a personal level, his one true love Lois Lane is now engaged to be married to a good hearted, attractive man. But perhaps most shocking of all to Superman is that Lois Lane is now a mother.

Obviously a lot has changed.

The movie plays out as an attempt to reboot the franchise, yet still pays homage to the first two films directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester.

The results are mixed.

What's cool about the movie is that Bryan Singer REALLY tries to tie in the first two movies.

The famous John Williams score is in place. The production design harkens back to the first two films. Even the opening credits feature the eighties movie style logo and effects.

I was surprised how sentimental I felt seeing images, and references hearken back to the original films. It's obvious that Bryan Singer really loved those movies.

Which is also a big problem with the movie.

The movie just doesn't feel confident enough to stand on it's own merits. It constantly references back to the original films....to a fault. At some point the audience starts to want something different and unique. It starts to feel like Deja Vu.....the whole movie.

Especially concerning the character of Lex Luthor. For me I would have liked Bryan Singer to reinvent the character completely. What we get here is the same character that Gene Hackman played to enjoyment in the first two movies. A Lex Luthor who is comedic, and hardly a serious criminal mastermind. Not that Kevin Spacey is that bad mind you. But for me, if the character is going to be the same, why not bring back Gene Hackman? What's the point of bringing in Spacey if he's not going to re-invent the character. I assume there was some issues with Hackman's age. But there's even a line in the film where Superman refers to Lex as old man.

Also in terms of story and script, Lex Luthor's motives, and master plan is just ridiculous, stupid and illogical. Especially considering he's apparently come into plenty of money when the movie begins. I know that some of his appeal as a bad guy in the three movies is that he's insane, and a megalomaniac. But when this movie plays out as sensitive and heart felt, it's really jarring, and disappointing that they couldn't have come up with a better motive and incentive for Lex Luthor to cause havoc.

I really think we haven't seen Lex Luthor's menacing side in these movies.

To me, as written, he just comes off as an annoying punk who didn't get enough attention when he was growing up. I think Gene Hackman really nailed the role to comic effect, but honestly Spacey struggles to find the compromise between being enjoyably slimy and insane, and being a serious threat to Superman and humanity.

I almost think.....actually I KNOW that the movie doesn't even really need Lex Luthor. There are plenty of obstacles, and drama for Superman in this film which are a lot more interesting than any kind of global megalomaniac plan that Lex Luthor has.

I think when people say that the movie feels long, it's because of the scenes with Lex Luthor. He really doesn't contribute anything to the main story. He's just a device to create havoc.

I believe the movie would have been fine as it is without Superman having Lex Luthor to deal with. The world in the movie has plenty of catastrophes and drama for Superman to try and resolve.

Especially when it comes to his personal life, which is really what appeals to the audience. It's always been the staple of the Superman story to show how he tries to balance his Clark Kent persona with his true identity as Superman. If one throws in the love story, the triangle, general crime in the city and natural catastrophes....do we really need to see Superman deal with a silly Lex Luthor and his idiotic plan?

In terms of performances, Brandon Routh does a capable job of stepping into Christopher Reeve's shoes. He doesn't have a complete grasp of the Clark Kent character yet.... but hey I'm going to cut him some slack. These are big shoes he's stepping into. Christopher Reeve really nailed the role. And it's admirable that a newcomer like Routh is boldly stepping into those shoes. I'm thinking since this is the first of several Superman movies Routh will learn to make the character his own, and really contribute something interesting to the Superman myth.

Also stepping into difficult shoes is Kate Bosworth. Whom I've always found affable, and capable in the films I've seen her in. I think Margot Kidder really created a fun kind of free spirited dame, that really complimented Superman, not to mention Clark Kent.

Kate Bosworth takes a different approach to the role. She plays her more vulnerable, and down to earth, one can say that Lois is more sensible and mature now that she's a mother, which is ironic considering Kate Bosworth is only 23 in real life and probably significantly younger than Margot Kidder when she first played the role.

Her Lois is also heartbroken since Superman left her 5 years ago without a word. Which really adds an interesting dimension to the film. The stakes are higher now in the relationship, it's not just a giddy crush.

It's hard to say which is a better approach to the character. Certainly Margot Kidder's portrayal is more enjoyable, but it's hard not to appreciate the grounded work of Bosworth.

Interesting.

I think I'll just appreciate both performances, and not really compare and contrast the characterizations. Because they are so different. I'll just say that they are both interesting performances to a complex character.

James Marsden also does fine work here. As the fiance of Lois Lane his portrayal, and the script really make his character affable, and in his own way even heroic. I really appreaciated the care given to his character. I mean it really could have been easy to make him a jerk or prototype deadbeat boyfriend that the audience can root against. But this movie doesn't sink to those depths. As in life, matters of the heart are complicated in this world. Just because one is Superman, doesn't mean he's the perfect man to have as a partner.

In terms of special effects, and action the movie is pretty great. For me it's the best movie of the summer....so far. Pirates of the Caribbean comes out next week, I'm sure that will challenge Superman for that title.

But overall I really enjoyed myself with this film. I admit I was surprised about how sentimental I felt about the Superman films. Which makes me wonder how it plays for the younger crowd, who didn't see the first movies in the theatre. I'd say that overall, it's the second best movie of the franchise with Superman 2 being my favorite of the bunch.

Now....... there is an issue that I'd like to go into that delves into spoiler territory. So if one is reading this and do not want to read a spoiler please stop reading now...... I mean it.




Major Spoiler Alert!!!!!!!!!!!!!****************





In terms of the heritage of Lois Lane's Child, I don't think the twist connects well with the other movies. For one thing, Lois supposedly forgot everything that happened after Superman kisses her in the second movie. All the events of the second film, including the love match between Superman and Lois. I guess one can make the argument that the kiss only erased the memory that Clark Kent is Superman. But how does that make sense in terms of logic? How would she know who the father is, as well as how the baby was conceived? I would think that Superman's fake identity, and those events kind of go hand in hand, don't they?

I guess..... I could be...... overanalyzing a comic book movie....just a little bit. But I wonder why the writer's didn't do something....anything really to explain that hole in the story's logic. To me it's a pretty big hole, that could easily be explained with a short speech.

In any case, it's something for me that needed to be addressed, and I was disappointed that no effort was made to explain it.....hey....maybe on the DVD Singer will say something about it on the commentary track.





End of spoilers!!!!!!!!!!!!!************




So as a summer movie I really enjoyed myself here, I'm even planning to go watch the film on Imax- 3D sometime next week. I look forward to the future of Superman on the big screen. Although it's a far cry from the amazing work of Batman Begins, and despite the fact the movie has huge holes and problems, it's still significantly better than X-men 3, and Mission Impossible 3, and a movie I recommend for everyone to check out for some summer movie popcorn fun.



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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nacho Libre



Nacho Libre is Jared Hess's follow up to his hugely successful Napoleon Dynamite.

Unfortunately.

I watched this movie several days ago, and I held off on writing my review so that I could properly absorb, and consider the film.

What was troubling to me was that so many people in the audience I was in, seemed to enjoy the movie.

I didn't.

It's confusing because I loved Napoleon Dynamite, I thought it was one of the most impressive comedic debuts by a film maker since Kevin Smith's Clerks. I like silly off the wall humor, it doesn't take much for me to laugh. Every time Anchorman is on cable I'll watch at least 30 minutes of it, and get a couple of good belly laughs and giggles.

I'll watch any Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider movie at least once.

My taste in comedies aren't limited to high brow and witty. I love toilet humor and fart jokes. I'm easy to please in that respect.

So I kept wondering why I didn't like this movie.

After days of careful thought and consideration I came to the realization that the movie was just......not funny.

It's also bad.

That simple.

Nacho Libre is the story of Nacho, a cook at a Mexican monastery, who dreams of becoming a famous Mexican wrestler. Also on his agenda is looking after the orphans at the monastary and trying to win the heart of the newly arrived....... nun. That's right....a nun. When an opportunity arises to realize all of his dreams, Nacho takes it, and hijinks ensues.

I guess.

Most of the jokes in the movie are just not humorous. I mean....they literally just fall flat.

Like a brick.

Not to mention that most of the humor in the film is racist, and mean spirited, while the characters are not likeable, and the writing is poor. The so-called comic situations in the film just aren't interesting or even slightly plausible...... even for silly comedy standards.....actually in any sense.

I don't know how much clearer I can state it.

If it wasn't for Jack Black's involvement in the movie, it would truly be a complete waste. The only thing that makes the movie watchable is witnessing Jack Black work his ass off trying to make something from absolutely nothing.

I'm not saying that the movie doesn't have a couple of laughs, it does. I laughed out loud several times. But none of the laughs are satisfying, or add up to anything significant. The movie plays out as a series of short skits with barely anything holding it together.

It's really hard to comprehend, since Napoleon Dynamite was so good. The script was tight, funny, economical, and the story really built upon each scene.

My only theory is that Jared Hess is just a victim of the sophomore slump.

Everything that went right with Napoleon Dynamite, just goes horribly wrong for Nacho Libre.

Take for example, a scene where Nacho rubs shit in the eye of his wrestling partner. With such a disgusting idea, one would suspect a truly hilarious pay off.

But what we get is nothing.

The reason why Nacho rubs shit in his partner's eyes is to temporarily blind him...so that.... um...because A.....so he A....so he.... could temporarily blind him.

Yeah...that's it.

The whole movie is like that.

Things are done, not to set up jokes or story....but just a desperate attempt to get a reaction.

Any reaction.

It's like a two year old who wants attention, and he blows his toy horn because he thinks it's funny.

Just because HE thinks it's funny doesn't mean it necessarily is.

Another troubling aspect of the film is that it seems to be directed by Wes Anderson.....without his consent.

Whereas Napoleon Dynamite seemed to be a slight tribute to Wes Anderson films, Nacho Libre straight rips off his style of movie.

From the use of slow motion, to the use of bright primary colors, and compositions, to art design, illustrations, and use of music. The movie screams Wes Anderson.

All the movie needed was Owen or Luke Wilson.

Who was Jared Hess trying to fool here?

Wes Anderson is a pretty famous film maker. How is it that Jared Hess would think he could pass off this style of film making as his own ?

Who knows. For all I know, they are good friends, and this was a conscious effort to resemble his work.

But if that's the case. It's really annoying, not to mention, not very original.

Just add this to the laundry list of problems this movie has.

I don't know what else to say. The movie is just a horrible mess.

Unfortunately.

The script, the humor, the performances. Nothing worked.

I won't go as far as to say this is the worst movie I've seen this year, (The Producers has that title, by leaps and bounds), But I will say that Nacho Libre is the most disappointing movie of the year for me.

By far.



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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Running Scared (2006)



Running Scared has such a frantic and panic filled pace, one wonders if the title refers to the characters in the film, or writer/director Wayne Kramer.

The movie is filled with so many camera tricks, special effects, action scenes, and interesting angles that one gets the sense that Kramer is hoping his directing abilities will stay two steps ahead of his mediocre script.

That's not a completely bad thing.

The film has an energy and enthusiasm that reminds Lons at Crushed by Inertia of Tony Scott's early work, most notably True Romance. While I won't go so far as to make that comparison, I will say that there is some interesting work in the film.

Paul Walker, in a surprising role, plays Joey Gazelle, a low level Mafia henchman, who gets in over his head, when a series of events, notably concerning a missing gun, spirals out of his control, and forces not only him, but his entire family, to take things into their own hands in order to survive the night.

Paul Walker, although obviously mis-cast, does his most impressive work to date. Chazz Palminteri is back finally doing respectable tough guy work. Johnny Messner continues to give audiences a glimpse of what it's like being the next big thing, and newcomer Vera Farmiga turns in a solid job as Walker's wife.

But the real star here is Wayne Kramer who does interesting, and eye opening work.

He uses the opportunity here to display all his technical skills and abilities. In a sense, the movie almost feels like it was made just so that it can be a calling card for Kramer to display in the future. To demonstrate his capabilities for higher profile work, and to showcase his visual skill and creativity.

Sort of like what El Mariachi did for Robert Rodriguez.

Although Kramer has a lot more resources, and money at his disposal.

A hell-of-a lot more.

But the film has that same desperate, and hungry sensibility of a student filmmaker who is given a chance, and will do anything and everything not to waste the opportunity.

It's clear that he tries to pull out all the stops, he mixes different genres, creates tension, sprinkles in some drama and laughs, and orchestrates action scenes with skill, and precision. All while working, with a cast of character actors and relative unknowns, with the exception of Paul Walker of course.

Which inevitably, and unfairly brought about comparisons to Quentin T's work by critics.

Although, I halfway expected to see super-titles during the film like in Q.T.'s work, the movie isn't so much a rip off, as it is playing in the same genre or vicinity of Q.T.'s work.

My chief complaint about the film may just be a personal preference.

Most of the script's technique for creating tension, and suspense is based on horror movie cliches. Specifically, the dependence of supporting characters making stupid, and illogical choices to frustratingly propel, and prolong the protagonist fear, while at the same time pushing the plot forward.

It's something that I HATE in horror movies, despise actually, and usually has me reaching for the fast forward, or worse, the eject button on the remote control. (Which I confess, I almost did throughout the course of the film.)

While one can argue that the supporting characters aren't exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer. It still doesn't make it any more enjoyable, personally, for me to watch.

There is, however, a interesting subplot in the film concerning a creepy couple, and Walker's wife that really hits all the right notes, and is a welcome diversion, to the frustrating main storyline of Walker tracking down a missing gun.

I'm not sure if it was the characters, the directing style, or just obligation to see the movie through, but there was something about the film that kept me entertained.

Which is a tiny victory for the film.

To be honest, the final act of the film is really silly, and to tell the truth just plain illogical. But, if one is able to hang in there, by the time the audience gets there, it's pretty clear this story isn't taking itself too seriously, and is just meant to be taken in as a late-night dvd popcorn film.

So although, I won't go as far as recommending the dvd, if one is looking for some mindless fun, with interesting visual stimulus, and some cheap thrills, then look no further than Running Scared.


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