Wolverine (2009) Review

August 27, 2009

"I want my pony now, bub! Rawr!

While this movie came out months ago, I still can’t resist commenting on this summer action flick. After Three X-Men flicks with varying reception. The first two of course were part of the great comicbook movie revival. The third one seemed to miss the mark, and suggest that the franchise was running dry. Well, a great deal of time has passed, and  Wolverine (2009) has been released. Did Hugh Jackman’s uber-masculine alter ego cure the X-Men movie slump?

Oh Heavens, no.

At least, it didn’t bring it back to the level of Bryan Singer’s installments. That much is clear. But it doesn’t seem like it was ever meant to do that either. It was just made into a standard, blockbuster action movie to provide a summer special effects extravaganza. And it did just that, although it unfortunately didn’t even do that all that well.

Anyone familiar to the X-Men plot so far can easily guess what Wolverine deals with. The prequel deals with Wolverine’s past life, especially leading up to the mysterious Weapon X program that the mutant has been having trouble remembering for the whole trilogy. At last, the answer that so many fanboys dreamed of seeing on the big screen. Unfortunately, this flick has little bearing on the original Weapon X plot. You can definitely count this as one of those superhero flicks where the filmmakers took an awful lot of creative license with source material. For all of you fans of Deadpool….I’m sorry. Better luck with the hopeful Deadpool movie.

One thing that was disappointing that alot of people don’t seem to bring up is the claws themselves. Sometimes they looked okay, but much of the time the blades were rendered with bad CGI. It was a disappointing departure from previous X-Men movies, where so much of every character was so well done. Now, the main character’s namesake is reduced to bad graphical effects.

The really great effects in the movie are often handled oddly too. Gambit comes to mind. See, Gambit is a mutant whose powers is that he can charge objects with kinetic energy, causing them to explode after a few seconds or if they are thrown at something. He can do this to the point that he can flick a card and make it soar like a rocket, and explode spectacularly. This is obviously a reason for why he calls himself Gambit (the other is his rogue-ish nature). Well, apparently the makers of this film decided they didn’t like the card throwing thing that much. He often uses his powers in a variety of ways, which is good in theory. It would be good in practice had his debut fight sequence not been so abysmally goofy. I almost never mention little continuity errors or trivial screw-ups, because 90 % of the time I hardly notice and I doubt the average person would care. But one of the scenes invovled the biggest continuity error I think I’ve ever seen in a blockbuster style movie. In a fight between Wolverine, Gambit, and Sabertooth, Sabertooth manages to knock out Gambit or something at close range. Then all of a sudden Gambits leaping over rooftops from way in the distance. How did that happen? Seriously, it was confusing.

The good news is that the foul ups and silly moments are funny as Hell. This thing could almost qualify as a comedy in some points. Sometimes I even wonder if the director wasn’t flat out having fun with the movie’s most ridiculous moments. Such as seeing little kid Logan doing the murderous rage schtick in a red night gown, or the infamous “memories growing back” line. You’ve probably seen the best example in the trailer itself. Wolverine is clinging desperately to some military style hummer, and an attack helicopter fires a rocket, destroying the car and catapulting ole Wolvie into the Helicopter. Not into the air, where he can catch the chopper, mind you. No he makes a direct bee line into the offending aircraft. And of course, thats how he disposes of it. By accident. Trust me, when my friend and I saw it in the theater, we laughed for several minutes straight. It looks incredibly ridiculous.

At least Hugh Jackman seemed to really be into his role. The performance might not have been perfect, but physically speaking he sure did look the part. Out of all the superhero movie stars, I’d say Hugh Jackman looked most like the musclebound comicbook stud. He put in some serious time in a gym and you can most certainly tell in the movie.

I imagine Canadians beemed with tremendous pride watching this movie, too. Not only did Canada get some quality time in an American movie- but the biggest badass in the Marvel universe points out the land of his birth with dramatic flair. Best of all, the gritty do-gooder serves as definitive proof that Canucks don’t say “aboot” after all. Of course, the movie doesn’t portray any of the conspirators as being Canadian, just the badass hero. As usual, the American federal government is out to get everyone.

If you haven’t seen any of the films of this franchise, do yourself a favor and see the first two before you decide whether or not to see this one. Really, this is something you might want to save if you are a true die-hard X-Men fan or if you want to watch something relatively light.

4.5 out of 10.

I guess I get to say I called this one. Well, kind of anyway.

It turns out that not only are they going to remake Barbarella  and Plan 9 from Outer Space, but there are possible plans underway to remake one of the movies on my poll in the last post. Believe it or not, J. Michael Straczynski has been publicly talking about redoing Forbidden Planet. However, according to Filmstaker.co.uk, he says that what he is planning isn’t truly a remake, and it won’t even involve the same plot or the same look as the original. The site also hints at the possibility of producer Joel Silver being involved somehow.

The trouble is that if screenwriter claims that what he’s working on is no remake nor  re imagining, what the hell is it? No one seems to know, and many seem to have become rather cynical about it. To be fair, many remakes of classic sci-fi movies don’t really turn out so great. Steven Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds (2005) comes to mind. There is a certain point where a filmmaker takes a little too much creative licence sometimes.

In any case, the amount of science fiction remakes is becoming quite large. Lets take a look…

  • War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Forbidden Planet (1954 )
  • Lost in Space (1998 )
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 )
  • Barbarella (2009)
  • Plan 9 (2009)
  • Godzilla (1998 )
  • the original version of Star Trek (2009)
  • King Kong (2005)

Now, of course, this list is not in any particular order. They also are not all coming from the 50’s.  Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that as time goes on, the more of a trend this becomes. All of these remakes have been done in the last decade, so clearly these things do have a following of some sort. The obvious explanation is that Hollywood figured post 9/11 America would eat up re-interpretations of these movies the same way Cold War era America indulged in the originals. While this is certainly true to a certain extent, it still leaves one wondering why it is so necessary to alter so much of the original movies’ plots.

Ghosts of Sci-fi past

December 7, 2008

So why am I on this kick about old 50’s monster flicks?

Well, because for some reason filmmakers feel the need to revive all of these old dinosaurs. They even decided to redo some of the cheesier ones. For instance, director Robert Rodriguez is in the process of filming Barbarella, with Rosie McGowan as the seductive spacewoman. The original Barbarella (1968) was an erotic science fiction-comedy which starred Jane Fonda, and wasn’t only cheesy but featured infamously suggestive content. It generally had that corny Flash Gordon look and its thematic elements, but with sexuality injected into the mix. At one point, there’s is even a strange torture senario invovlving a device that causes its victim to experience sexual pleasure so intense it is practically fatal.  While this film may have a special niche in the cinematic world, it seems rather random to do a remake of it. Yet, they even got the original’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis, to produce the remake as well. The writers of Casino Royale (2006) are also invovled in this new sci-fi flick.

But it gets even weirder than Barbarella. If you’ll remember, it wasn’t too long ago that I reviewed one of the 50’s most laughable science fiction films; Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Well, rumor has it someone intends to do a remake of that, too. John Johnson and Darkstone Productions not only plan to recreate the film in honor of Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood, they want to make a serious horror movie out of it. According to the film’s website (that’s right, its far along enough they already have a web site for it) the movie will be released on the 9th of September next year, titled simply as Plan 9.

http://www.plan9movie.com/

But not all of the coming sci-fi remakes are based on silly movies. After all, in just five days we will get to see the remake of one of the 50’s greatest alien hits, the Day the Earth Stood Still. While they changed the form that the ship comes in, they have otherwise seemingly remained faithful to the original. This film truly did have a fairly intelligent subtext to it, and the remake will retain that. They even kept the original look for the giant robot, and it doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous in the trailer. I would have never thought that would be possible. Apparently, they decided to go with Keanu Reeves hoping his experience playing Neo from the Matrix (1999). The choice might be a little obvious and cliche, but at least there’s a good chance it’ll work.

This isn’t the first time that one of the more serious classic sci-fi movies have been remade. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was remade on several occasions, the latest being the Invasion in (2007).If the Day the Earth Stood Still is successful, it will bring a great deal of dignity to a genre that had none for a good long while. Unfortunately, that dignity may soon dissapear the following year. It will be interesting to see what happens.

“Quantum Solace” (2008)

November 24, 2008

Something was certainly shaken, but I'm not talking about the martinis.

 

I remember the time when I, like many others, eagerly awaited the opening of Casino Royale. Not only was there a new Bond to carry on the 007 legacy, but the entire franchise was moving in a new, more realistic direction. It was very successful, too. It may have been a change of pace, but it brought a great deal of seriousness to the James Bond characters while retaining the intense action sequences. While the new Bond was alien to us, it was clear that in time he would grow into the smirking British spy we have all come to know and love.

Quantum of Solace (2008) was supposed to be the bridge between Bond the heart broken and Bond the badass.  I excitedly awaited this movie just as I did when Casino Royale came out, even though I saw it a week after its initial release. Unfortunately, the twenty-second entry in the 007 franchise was not what I thought it would be.

The plot is pretty similar to the classic Bond movies. MI-6 finds out that the villians are part of a huge global secret organization, and they don’t know much about them other than the organization is evil. Bond is constantly chastized for being too reckless (and rightly so), but nonetheless goes in to check things out.  If anything, he is still eager to get revenge for the murder of Vespa, his lover from Casino Royale. Of course, he picks up one or two other chicks along the way, one of them being another spy. Throughout the movie M is constantly panicing from her little safe haven, falling easily for the villians’ misinformation. After confronting a series of loathsome baddies, Bond is able to find out more about the organization and comes closer to finding Vespa’s killer. The extra element of revenge gives the plot a little more dimension, especially since Bond is still a bit young and inexperienced.

While the storyline might be normal for a Bond flick, the cinematography and editing are very different from the traditional 007 movies. This is particularly true for the action sequences. Director Marc Forster and his production team went with the dirty, intense cinetographic style as the Bourne franchise. Although this look might be getting popular with action films, it usually doesn’t work, and Quantum of Solace features several chase scenes that can be more disorienting than entertaining. Many shots throughout the film are so quick and sloppy that it hurts the film more than helps, which is sad because some of the visuals are truly creative and interesting. Most people would rather see a Bond film for the action and excitement, and unfortunately they are going to be disappointed. The action itself is often lame and nonsensical, even for a Bond movie. We’ve seen far better boat chases in many other Bond flicks, all of them with proper composition. Sure, these movies often are cheesy and over the top, but why is a villian taking refuge in a hotel with exploding walls, and why the Hell is it in the middle of a desert?

Once again, Daniel Craig pulls off the intense and convincing performance we saw in Casino Royale. Pyshically, he is also the most impressive actor to ever play Bond. Craig performs many of his own stunts. Towards the end, he injured his hand during a fight scene. You don’t get many actors that are that hardcore.

However, the things the spy does in this film are very erratic, even for a reckless 007. He acts more like a murderous thug than a spy. Everytime he encounters a suspicious character he instinctively kills them, without bothering to investigate. he a special agent, or an assasin? He was never this inept at spywork, even when he started out in Casino Royale. I’m guessing that these rampages are the result of Bond’s thirst for revenge, but he seems awfully cool and detacted for that to be the case. The concept might be there, but the execution is off. Meanwhile, M is on the other end of the spectrum, and never seems to calm down. Bond’s CIA friend, felix, simply drinks himself silly. My, what a cheery little group of people! For once I’m starting to miss the charming campiness of Thunderball (1965).

Yet, this flick isn’t all doom and gloom. While Bond might be a little crazy, he still manages to seduce beautiful women and pull off an amusing pun every once in a while. Everyone’s favorite swanky Brit undergoes a great deal of character growth, and eventually evovles into the womanizing do-gooder we recognize, but up until then he is an entirely different creature. The film was always supposed to be dark, but there is so much anxiety built up in this film that it becomes too dark and nihilistic. The negativity is obvious, but the character development is not.

5.0 out of 10

“Watchmen” Preview

November 22, 2008

watchmen1

Well, I posted my preview of the Spirit and it seems like few people were actually looking forward to it. I am skeptical of it myself. However, it was only shortly after I posted about that particular film that I discovered the anti-Spirit. In May of next year, Watchmen will show up on the big screen.

Watchmenis obviously based on the graphic novel with the same name, and there seems that most people that are familiar with the comic book medium know about Watchmen. For the ones that are not, this collection is basically about what happens when superheroes exist in the real world, and whether they would be a boon or a curse on society. However, it is much more complex than that isn’t it? The story also takes place over several decades leading to the year 1985, the year prior to the novel’s release. There is a great deal that has to do with the doomsday clock and the threat of nuclear holocaust-a threat that superheroes are essentially powerless to face. This, and each characters’ personal issues and neuroses cause them to behave more like imperfect beings, sometimes even as criminals. This wasn’t typical for comicbooks at the time, and still isn’t today, although Marvel Comics is going that direction, especially after Moon Knight’s reemergence and the “Civil War” they went through.

The project of filming this graphic novel isn’t a new idea. In fact, its been on the table for forever. Many big names has been attached to it-including Joaquin Phoenix, John Cusack, Daniel Craig, and Terry Gilliam. None of them are involved with this shoot. Gilliam reportedly even declared the thing unfilmable. Then, a new up and coming director signed on-Zack Snyder, director of Dawn of the Dead  (2004) and 300 (2006). While this particular filmmaker may not have much experience, what he has done is amazing. Let’s not forget that  300was a comic-book movie, and darn good one at that.  The cast he has is full of relatively unknowns and lesser knowns, but there is quite a bit to suggest that they are very capable of pulling this off. There is even an Oscar nominee among them. Like 300, Watchmen will look as much like the graphic novel as possible, even in terms of color and lighting. Exact images from the book are replicated here.

However, the expectations for such a movie are incredibly high. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Zack Snyder and his crew can pull this off brilliantly.There is a lot of promise here.  Alan Moore has expressed his excitement for the movie, and Kevin Smith has also seen an early screening and was very impressed with it. It might be difficult to create the cinematic equivalent of the “most celebrated graphic novel of all time”, though.

Whatever the case may be, it surely will be better than the Spirit.     Be sure to vote on my poll, please.

Special Note: This trailer is the first of three. The latest can be found at: http://watchmenmovie.warnerbros.com/

“Toys” (1992)

November 17, 2008

Robin Williams and his tiny mechanical friends.

Robin Williams and his tiny mechanical friends.

 

Now here is a movie time forgot, isn’t it?

Toys (1992) seems to have fallen into obscurity after it’s brief success on VHS. After having seen it, I can certainly understand why. This unusual Robin Williams movie is both spectacular and puerile at the same time. It excels heavily in terms of art direction and sheer visual novelty. From what I understand, it was even nominated for an Oscar for the set design.  At the same time, the plot is predictable and cheesy.

The Zevo family maintains a monumental toy factory far, far away from the rest of civilization. An innocent dreamland, you might say. The paternal figure in the family, Kenneth Zevo, is dying and needs to name a successor as the head of the company. The obvious choice is his son Leslie (Robin Williams), but Leslie is young and inexperienced. Instead, he names his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon), his heir. While the general is a complete stranger to the toy business, he is much older and presumably wiser than Leslie. Not surprisingly, Kenneth dies soon after.

The general immediately decides to start producing war toys, which is unheard of in Zevo Toys. To avoid industrial espionage, he brings in his son Captain Patrick Zevo (LL Cool J), and has him maintain strict security.  Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack) realize something is wrong. Over time, the general goes crazy and decides to convert the toy factory into a military weapons factory, with the idea that toy armies would be more efficient than regular ones. Obviously, Leslie and his entourage of toy factory employees must intervene and save the companies delightful innocence.

The overall plot of the film is a little childish and predictable. Every once and awhile there will be a worthy gag or joke to spice things up a little, but more often than not the jokes do little more than reveal the juvenile character of the factory employees. It is somehow appropiate that they are childlike, and it does give the film an unusual charm. However, the kiddy humor is excessive. The story is shoddy, and it isn’t the core concept at all. The problem is poor execution.  They explain Gambon’s accent despite the fact that he is supposed to be an American, and the gag is even pretty funny. However, the relationship between Gambon and LL Cool J is very unconvincing. You’d think this was a children’s film, but then there is a creepy sex scene and a little innuendo. So what target audience is this movie intended for? The world may never know.

Some of the things that the film says about toys are interesting though, because some of it came true. At one point, the general brings in kids as test players for video games like first person shooters and flight simulators, and these types of games are popular now. Many games involve the over the top violence that desensitizes the youngsters in the general’s war rooms. At the time of the movie’s release, there certainly was already huge a shift to action figures like GI Joe’s.

While the plot is lackluster, the visual aesthetic is marvelous. The toy world is brilliantly conceived, and the look of this film is truly memorable. The inventive and animated environments are striking, as are the more unusual of Williams’ gadgets, such as a noisy jacket. My one of my favorite scenes is one where where Kenneth’s widow is adjusting a large, paper doll house, and the camera reveals that she herself is sheltered a life sized version of the same house. The effect on screen is interesting. It is the visual inventiveness in which this movies soul really lies.

While this is the most light-hearted, carefree film I have reviewed thus far, I believe it is also the weakest. Artistic beauty of this level is always welcome, but it is much more appreciable when the story is more refined. However, if you are in the mood for something peppy and not very demanding, this might be worth a gander.

5. 8

“Barton Fink”

September 10, 2008

While a number of films created by Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success, many seem to have forgotten most of their work prior to Fargo (1996). The obvious explanation is that several of them didn’t do all that well at the box office, but then so did the Big Lebowski (1998). Among the more obscure of these is  Barton Fink (1991), a strange psychological drama with dark comedic elements. It has been a fairly rare find until it was included in a DVD collection of Coen Brother movies. Is it worth while addition?

That depends on tastes. Barton Fink is hard to classify because it is so unusual and unique. Chances are that anyone who liked Fight Club (1999) or the Secret Window (2004) will enjoy this movie, because it shares the psychological breakdown those two later films did. In fact, John Turturro played crucial roles in both the Secret Window and Barton Fink. However, it was much more subtle and abstract in Barton Fink, which was probably why it lost money. It also functions as a dark comedy rather than a suspense thiller, so that makes the experience even more unusual. Barton Fink did win an award at the Cannes Film Festival, though.

This film is about a popular and ambitious Broadway playwright in the 1930’s, who tries to make the transition into Hollywood and immediately starts to have problems. Barton Fink, played by John Turturro, has made his big name writing plays about “the common man”, but is disatisfied with his work despite his success. When he decides to go to Hollywood, He arrives at an old, seemingly empty hotel. Over time, the hotel becomes something of a character itself. When he establishes his stay there, he finally recieves his assignment from the product studio- a Wallace Beery wrestling picture. Never having seen any movies before, Fink quickly succumbs to writer’s block. Big time writer’s block, too. John Goodman plays Fink’s neighbor, Charlie Meadows, who despite his good intentions always manages to distract Fink. Ironically, he also happens to personify the “common man” Fink aspires to write about. Eventually, the pressure gets to Fink and things start to go a little crazy.

The characters that populate Fink’s world are brilliant charactures of Hollywood. It is really easy to see how Barton Fink can be so confused by studio protocol. These people are brutal, complicated, and extremely unpredictable! Turturro himself won Best Actor at the Cannes for his performance, but I think John Goodman was at his best in this movie. Even Walter Sobchak isn’t quite as…dynamic, as Charlie is. Trust me. Sobchak was unpredictable and intense, but Charlie can be almost terrifying sometimes. There were moments where Goodman was truly awesome to behold, particularly in the film’s climax.

Of course, there is always the eerie, haunted hotel. The hotel is by far the most memorable part of the film, if only because it is so creepy. Entire academic papers could be written about enviroments like this hotel. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, this is the part that gets rather abstract. You see, it is probably best to think of the hotel as being Fink’s mind. As he experiences writer’s block for the first time, the room itself starts to come undone. As Barton Fink becomes more stressed, the hotel becomes more like Hell.

The only real problem with this film is that sometimes things happen that don’t make much sense, at least not at first. It has its abstract moments. There is alot to interpret here, whether you’re looking for some deep artsy meaning or just trying to figure out what is going on. This does not make the movie unwatchable by any means, but it will distract some viewers.

I personally had a bad case of writer’s block several months ago, so I could relate with anxiety that comes with it. Perhaps that experience has influenced my view of Barton Fink, but even so this was a very interesting and exceptionally unique movie for its time. Like I said, if you liked the Secret Window, chances are you will like this as well. Every once in a while it is good to watch a movie that can make you think, like the Sixth Sense, and like the Sixth Sense (1999), you may even find yourself watching this twice.

8.0 out of 10.0