Saturday, August 05, 2006

Posted by Mark at 5:11 PM

Mark at the Movies

I've been going to the movies alot here lately. Over the past few months, I have seen XMen 3, Superman Returns, Clerks 2, Pirates 2, among others. I also Over the Hedge, the lighthearted cartoon romp. I will begin with Over the Hedge.

Over the Hedge

Featuring the voices of Bruce Willis, Gary Schandling, and my personal favorite, Bill Shatner, this film tells the tale of RJ(Willis), a raccoon who is in trouble. He tried to take Vincent the bear's (Nick Nolte) food and has two weeks to replace it or else. RJ's plan, to con a group of foragers into collecting the food for him. Lead by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling), who does not trust RJ, the group is impressed with RJ's knowledge of suburbia which has recently invaded their forest and has built a hedge around of what is left of their environment. The group decides to follow RJ, but will it be their undoing?

Shatner steals the show as the fatherly possum, who overplays dead, much as Shatner has been famous for overacting. It is a lighthearted romp, a family film in the truest sense of the world.

I did not want to see the film, but my sister made me go see it with her. It was a nice little film. I loved the way it brought together all these great voices with solid characters and crafted a nice little escape of a story. I fully expected it to be preachy about how the suburbs are destroying our ecosystem blah blah blah, but that was barely hinted at. Allison Janney from the West Wing does a great turn as the head of the homeowners association, a villain if I ever saw one. The film was great, even if it is a cartoon, and I enjoyed it mightily. I recommend it to all families. It gets 3.5 out of 5 stars.

SuperHero Hits and Misses

X-Men: The Last Stand

They should have called it X-Men: Phoning It In. The performances for the most part by the principals and recurring characters was dismal, and only the surprisingly wry portrayal of the Beast by Kelsey Grammer saved this movie at all. The varying plotlines and twists all conveniently culminate in a final battle sequence meant to evoke the passion and emotion of Anakin vs. ObiWan, but all I get is heartburn, not heartache. First, the summary:

The X-Men, mutant heroes sworn to defend a world that hates and fears them, are back! This time, with the help of new recruits The Beast and Angel, they must face evolution itself in the form of their former teammate, Jean Grey. Possessed with the cosmic power of the Dark Phoenix, the resurrected Jean Grey has become a danger to herself, her mutant comrades, and the entire planet. To stave off this imminent threat to humanity, a potential cure is discovered and processed to treat -- and ultimately eliminate -- genetic mutations, once and for all. Now, as the battle lines are drawn, the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier, must contend with both Jean Grey's world-consuming powers, as well as the malevolent Brotherhood, a band of powerful mutants organized under Xavier's former ally, Magneto.

First, Bryan Singer's touch was missing from this film, though his imprint was on it. The respect for the integrity of the characters was sorely absent. Jean Grey became little more than a jilted little girl, and the normally saucy and vivacious Famke Janssen gave a lackluster performance, her sole sinister act being staring menacingly while grey veins distort her lovely features. The elimination of James Marsden's Cyclops amounts to little more than some revenge by Marvel for jumping ship with Bryan Singer to join the Superman Returns crew over at DC.

Halle Barry has no business carrying this type of movie. While she is hot, she lacks the physical skills needed and the depth to portray Storm. She is great at portraying waitresses who shack up with Billy bob Thornton, but when it comes to action heroine, she is lacking (see Die Another Day, Catwoman). Patrick Stewart, normally even his phone ins are great, gives a miserable and too short run as Professor X. Even Magneto looks tired and off character. Yes, he is evil, but would he stand by and let Jean Grey do what she did to the Professor? Probably not. Hugh Jackman is the only one of the regulars who upholds the integrity of the characters with his continued mastery of the role of Wolverine. Rebecca Romijhn would have been great as Mystique, but she is underused and her character ruined in this film.

The Beast and the Angel, the two best new additions to the film, were sorely underused, and were rushed into the plot. Where does the Beast get his authority in the team, since he hasn't appeared in the others? How is he able to mesh so quickly with the team? Why is Jean turning gray when she uses her phoenix power? how come we never see the Phoenix except twice?

This movie tried to do too much in a limited amount of time. Crossing the cure line with the rise of the brotherhood, along with the dark phoenix saga, was a horrendous mistake. Tried and true continuity and truisms of the characters were ignored for the sake of expediency; for example, the true love between Jean and Scott; Magneto's twisted honor; and the wishywashiness of Rogue. Only the Mutant Cannonball done by Wolvie and Cyclops reminded me of anything close to a great XMen adventure. The cast looked tired, the script was disjointed, and the characters were not true to their archetypes. This movie blew the franchise. The only redeeming values were the breakthrough and surprising performance by Grammer as the Beast and by the actor who played Colossus. The rest of this movie is a travesty to the Dark Phoenix saga as well as the House of M. Go get the graphic novels and rent this one cheap, or better yet, pass. Sure, there might be more X movies, but hopefully after a long enough time to forget this one. Even the device used to revive the professor was tired and too camp and predictable. I give it 2.5 stars out of 5.

Superman Returns

Though it has been about 18 years since we last saw the Man of Steel on screen, only five years have past since Superman II. Superman has been gone for five years, but then he returns. Brandon Routh portrays the Last Son of Krypton, with Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) portraying Lois Lane, and 'Cyclops' James Marsden making the comic brand jump to DC playing Richard White, nephew to Daily Planet publisher Perry White (Frank Langella). First, the summary:

After eliminating General Zod & the other Kryptonian arch-villains, Ursa & Non, Superman leaves Earth to try to find his former home world of Krypton after astronomers have supposedly found it. When he finds nothing but remnants, he returns home to Earth - to find out that Lois Lane is engaged to a relative of his boss, and that Lex Luthor is at it again - after swindling an elderly, terminally ill woman. The psychopathic Luthor, whose plans to destroy California failed because of Superman's heroics, vows vengeance against the Man of Steel and contrives a new sinister plot - using the crystals of Krypton to build a continent that will wipe out most of North America! Embedded in the continent's structure is Kryptonite - the lethal substance that is Superman's only weakness. Upon learning of Luthro's sinister scheme, Superman must again race against time to stop the psychopathic Luthor before millions - possibly billions - are killed.

I had mixed feelings about this film being made. To me, Christopher Reeve WAS Superman. Yeah, I liked George Reeves, but he fit into that whole Adam West as Batman but not the archetype mode. To me, Chris Reeve was Superman. The look, the mannerisms, the subtle differences in posture between Clark and Kal-El, the voice inflections, the whole thing. And the way he looked in the suit! Chris Reeve was and is the Man of Steel. Those movies (at least I and II) were iconic.

And the fact that this one was going to use THE THEME, the John Williams Superman theme! was something I was not impressed with. Also, who the hell was Brandon Routh?

Color me pleasantly surprised. When that theme came on, I was immediately drawn in. Seeing the old school lettering of the titles and cast, it was like those 18 years had never passed. This movie, while not on the par of I or II, is a worthy addition to the Superman pantheon (much more so than IV, oy!). This film was very well done, as director Bryan Singer brought respect for the past and an eye to the future to this franchise which has gone through so much in the last two decades.

Routh was great as Superman and as Clark. More than Dean Cain, more than the kid on Smallville, more than the kid from Superboy, Routh captured that same dichotomy of spirit that Clark/Superman has with his mannerisms as both characters. From the posture, to the gestures, you can tell where Clark ends and Supes begins. At times, I thought that I heard Chris Reeve's voice when Routh was saying lines. I almost saw and heard that same old magic from the first two movies. However, this is also a criticism. Routh needs to do more to make the character his. While an homage is great, he is going to have to fill his own boots, not Chris Reeve's. I think Routh will grow into the role much the same as Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore grew into Bond, and will make the character more his own. He gets a seal of approval for his efforts.

Kevin Spacey was BRILLIANT as Lex Luthor. He was able to bring his own evil genius as well as taking the best parts of Gene Hackman's portrayal of the bald badman. His turns as being both humorous and diabolical really capture the psychosis and the, for lack of a better word, endearing, characteristics of the evil genius. He brings both the acting chops and the actor's craft to this role, and I look forward to future encounters between the Man of Steel and Lex Luthor in the future.

The film has an epic plot, with nice subplotting thrown in. Unlike the XMen movie, it does not try to fix every little thing in two hours. They stay on point, and mix both humor and adventure, and show a great deal of respect for the original body of work. There are some nice homages to the first film, including the mentioning of Lois Lane's interview "I spent the night with Superman", Supe's monologue on the safety of flying, as well as the origin of the Kryptonite from Addis Abbaba, Africa. And, as in the previous movies, those who brought Superman to the small screen are given their rightful place--Noel Neil, the original Lois Lane, plays Luthor's wife; and Jack Larsen, the original Jimmy Olsen, plays the bartender. The film overall held the audience and crafted a nice story, with us along for the ride.

However, all was not sunshine. First, the lighting. This movie, well, was dark. No, I don't just mean that the Luthor in this one was much darker. This film was dark. Even Superman's suit was dark, too dark. Even during the day things looked like a 7 o clock world. This was a little much. Also, Kate Bosworth was terribly unbelievable as Lois Lane, although more believable than Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne's femme fatale in Batman Begins. She looked too young to be a single mother, too babyfaced to be the hardnosed reporter. I am not a big Margot Kidder fan, but she typified Lois Lane.

The blatant attempt to "modernize" Superman by making him an international, instead of an American hero was pathetic. Perry White's "Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?" reeks of political correctness. Superman himself said it. He is an American super hero first. HE grew up in the Midwest, for God's sake! This was unacceptable. There were other attempts at this which were not cool either.

Lastly, the key plot twist of Superman's possible progeny is a bit too risque and much for this iconic hero. It also throws continuity and the whole idea of Superman being the Last Son of Krypton out the window. I was not a big fan of this. Superman, folks, is an iconic figure. Making him into a possible deadbeat dad to "modernize and connect him" to us today is ridiculous. People don't go see Superman because they want connection. They go to escape. They go to see those virtues we love but so often don't practice shown before us. They go to see a guy who still says swell and aw shucks, they don't go see a guy who runs out on his commitments. This took away from the film, even though I thought the handling of it was interesting and suggests several plot twists for the love quadrilateral between Clark-Lois-Richard White-Superman.

Overall, while this movie has some minor issues in terms of continuity and the defacing of some of the veneer off of Superman's image, it is still a summer hit, a good comic hero film, and one worthy of being added to the original Reeve work. The understated but respectful tone of Singer toward the body of work that is Superman's legacy helped endear this film to me. Singer will take good care of the mythos, barring the one thing about the progeny. I think the franchise is in good hands and I look forward to the continued maturation of Routh as Superman. Hopefully, he will continue to grow into the role, and hopefully, he will add his own legend to that of Reeves, Reeve, and the rest. DC definately won the battle of summer comic movies this time. I give this film a 4 out of 5 stars, though Matt thinks it is creepy and finds the S on the belt to be totally unacceptable. :) Also, I loved the way they tied Superman in some ways to a Christian fable, and even used it as the basis for a sermon. This film was well done, and I recommend it. Not creepy at all, and it could turn the tide to DC for the best comic films.

I would review pirates, but this post is already way too long. I will leave it til later. Let's just say, I hate the middle movies in trilogies generally, at least the style that is used in terms of storytelling in the middle movies. Until then, thanks for reading.