Saturday, November 03, 2007
Y’know what I liked about the FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER? Its sense of fun. This film takes plenty of time for gags, and this lightness works toward creating a pleasant, rather innocuous entry in the series.
The Silver Surfer, who actually looks more like a mercury surfer, is an extraterrestrial being who, um, surfs around the galaxy preparing life-bearing planets for consumption at the hands of another, larger extraterrestrial being. When he shows up on Earth, its up to the Fantastic Four, with a combination of help and interference from old nemeses Victor von Doom and some U.S. Army general with Canadian jump wings and jurisdiction in London and Siberia. (Aside: Andre Braugher plays the general. Whenever I see him, I recall the top-notch Iago he played in a production of Othello opposite Avery Brooks. Suffice it to say that Iago is a more interesting character than the stock “military guy as imagined by people who’ve never been in the military” he’s stuck with here.)
That’s a fine setup for a superhero movie, but what makes F2S2 a pleasant time at the movies is the interaction between the members of the Fantastic Four. These people care about one another, and I enjoyed their interactions as they tried to both save the world and lift one another up.
Is F2S2 a particularly good movie? Not really, and I’d skip right by it if I ran across it on a hotel TV. But it’s fine and, if your kids want to watch it, it won’t kill you to sit down and watch it with them. Tepid praise, but praise nonetheless.
Friday, November 02, 2007
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is true to its source material. OTP is the dourest, least entertaining of the novels up to that point, and the film is no different. It’s dour because not only does Harry feel angry and isolated, but this film takes all the wonder out of Harry’s magical world, leaving us to contemplate accepting previously unimaginable magical occurrences as everyday events. Of course, this is happening to Harry as he grows into manhood, but it’s still a bit sad to see.
This is usually the part where I recount the movie’s hook, but why bother? It’s Harry against yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, with Voldy pulling the strings. There’s some stuff about teamwork and the importance of friendship, but this film feels most like a trudge through required setup material for the last act of the series. It quickly checks in with the major characters, not giving us enough of any of them to make them worth our while. The final battle feels devoid of resonance, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care.
By far, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is the least satisfying movie of the series. Let’s hope things improve with the next outing.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I was all set to fall in love with Kenneth Branagh’s direct-to-video AS YOU LIKE IT, set in a trading colony in Meiji Japan. I’ve been a fan of Branagh’s work since I saw HENRY V in college, and I’ve had a thing for Japanese culture since I read James Clavell’s _Shogun_ in the 7th grade. Thus, when I fired up this version of AS YOU LIKE IT while staying in a hotel outside of Yokohama (coincidentally, the site of the Meiji trading colony), it seemed like the perfect combination of material and viewer.
Alas, not even Brian Blessed, Alfred Molina, and Kevin Kline could save this slow, plodding, and unsatisfying film. The film’s Anglo-Japanese setting doesn’t really work, its pacing could have used some help in the editing room, and I had a sense of the film’s self awareness that this was, indeed, Shakespeareit was giving us. As written, AS YOU LIKE IT is great fun, but this production seems to miss the point.
I’m not sure what’s happening with Branagh. His star shined so brightly, but it has been guttering these last several years. Where’s the confident, exciting filmmaker of HENRY V, DEAD AGAIN, and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING? I haven’t seen his remake of SLEUTH yet, but Time magazine’s impression does not look promising. What did he lose along the way?
Well, whatever he lost, he didn’t find it while making this latest AS YOU LIKE IT. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Kurt Russell, often the best thing about whichever movie he’s in, is easily the best thing about DEATH PROOF, Quentin Tarantino’s half of the GRINDHOUSE experiment. As the homicidal Stuntman Mike, he’s as charming, creepy, scary, pathetic, and just plain fun a villain as you could ask for. And he’s giving us this role in a film that defies narrative convention, dazzles with great practical stunts, and makes for a great time at the movies.
Here’s the deal: Stuntman Mike’s into vehicular homicide, using his superlative driving and technical skills to kill his female victims. When he targets a vehicle carrying stuntwomen, however, things don’t go his way.
And that’s pretty much it. The rest is a fun and creative misdirection gambit and an extraordinary sequence of stunts in, on, around, and with cars. It’s exciting, vibrant work, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Bring on more evil Kurt Russell!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
PLANET TERROR, Robert Rodriguez’s half of the GRINDHOUSE experiment, opens with a trailer for a Danny Trejo vehicle called MACHETE. Pay no attention to the fact that there is no actual Danny Trego vehicle named MACHETE. The trailer is enough, and the trailer alone makes PLANET TERROR worth watching. What about the feature? Well, I can tell you everything you need to know about the feature by asking you how you reacted to the posters and trailer for the film. If the image of a woman in a miniskirt with a machine gun / rocket launcher / flamethrower prosthetic leg doesn’t work for you, then PLANET TERROR has nothing to offer. If, however, that’s enough to get you to queue it up, then stand by.
You gotcher zombies. You gotcher sexy nurses. You gotcher gunplay. You gotcher Monster Bruce Willis. Hell, you even gotcher Michael Biehn. If that isn’t enough to satisfy your moviegoing jones, what the hell were you doing renting a movie whose cover featured a woman in a miniskirt with a machine gun / rocket launcher / flamethrower prosthetic leg, anyway?
So, PLANET TERROR. It is what it is, and it’s a whole lotta fun. Try it with barbecue.
Monday, October 29, 2007
THE KINGDOM, a mystery / cultural thriller set in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, follows an FBI team that receives permission from the Saudi royal family to assist in investigating a terrorist attack on Westerners living in a company compound. Complications ensue, and we’re on our way to great investigation of the clash of Muslim and Western culture. That is, until director Peter Berg decides that we in the audience are idiots who won’t sit still for a good story unless a kickass gun battle breaks out.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the United Arab Emirates, but I’ll admit to a bit of cultural prejudice. While I’ve never been treated with anything other than friendliness and respect, I never walk down the street without maintaining a complete scan of my environment and I never walk down back alleys. And that’s the UAE, where Saudis come to party. THE KINGDOM takes the sense of unease a Westerner can feel in a Gulf State and dials it up to eleven, perfectly capturing that sense of alertness, that sense of feeling like a somewhat unwelcome guest who’ll be tolerated nonetheless.
And then it throws the achievement away with a professional but pedestrian climactic battle that, seemingly, comes out of nowhere. Here we are plumbing the subtleties of the Arab mind and having a fine time doing it, then it’s all RPGs and bubblegum philosophy about turning the other cheek. Ah, well.
Two observations that I couldn’t manage to work into the body of the review: #1, Danny Elfman’s score is phenomenal. #2, Danny Huston’s “slimy guy” schtick is getting old. C’mon, Danny, you were great in THE PROPOSITION! Choose more roles that show off your range!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
1408 is my kind of horror movie. It isn’t about slashers or monsters or natural disasters. It’s about a good, old-fashioned haunting and the fear and foreboding that haunting is all about.
John Cusack delivers a first-rate performance as a jaded writer who pumps out quickie books / travel guides on haunted hotels. When he receives a mysterious postcard from the Dolphin Hotel warning him to not enter Room 1408, he takes it as a personal challenge. Soon he’s meeting hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson, who does his best to warn the writer off his project of spending a night in 1408. General note for living: when Samuel L. Jackson is afraid of something, your punk ass better be afraid of it, too.
But Cusack is undeterred, and into 1408 he goes. And then the haunting begins. From apparitions of the room’s many suicides to jump-scare shots of Clint Howard appearing out of nowhere (And hey, what isn’t more terrifying than having to share a hotel room with Clint Howard?) to a final showdown that makes us fear poor John might wind up like poor Jack from another Stephen King haunted hotel movie, 1408 does a marvelous job of keeping the viewer on edge, off balance, and delightfully scared.
I didn’t expect much from 1408, but I got the best mainstream haunting movie since THE OTHERS. What a pleasant surprise.