Sunday, June 19, 2011

Green Lantern

           As far as stupid superhero movies go, Green Lantern was mostly watchable.  I wasn’t dying to get out of the theater five minutes in, which was a nice change of pace from most of the other summer blockbusters released so far (with the exception of Super 8).  I’m sure my expectations played a role in my enjoyment of the film.  I expected it to be god awful, and it was just semi awful.
            Obviously the acting wasn’t anything special.  Ryan Reynolds is a likeable guy, Blake Lively is gorgeous, and Tim Robbins is that guy from The Shawshank Redemption.  My favorite character had to be Peter Sarsgaard as the secondary villain, Hector Hammond.  My reason for this was that he was the only character that I hadn’t seen a million times in other superhero movies.  There’s the cocky lead that gets responsibility suddenly thrust onto him, there’s the generic love interest, there’s the nerdy comic relief friend, etc.  Sarsgaard actually thought outside the box with his character, and gave him some interesting depth that was unique in a movie like this.  In fact, I’m kind of surprised the studio executives let him get away with playing the villain as a whiny, darkly amusing nerdlinger.  However he got away with it, good for him.
            The main villain came in the form of Parallaxagam (or something like that, I’m not bothering to double check imdb for this review), a giant cloud of evil fear gas.  This villain was much scarier when it appeared 20 years ago in Fern Gully.  The only time Parallaxative was actually menacing was when it swarmed New York at the end of the movie, since the audience had something to compare it to, size wise.  This was actually a pretty intimidating visual.  For the rest of the movie, it just hung about in space, looking as ominous as a Rastafarian wig that someone dropped in a fish tank.  And for the love of God, if you’re going to make your villain a giant cloud of gas, don’t give him a tiny human head in the center.  That just looks stupid.  Seeing as how he never said anything important anyway, I’d have suggested just scrapping the head and all of its useless dialogue entirely. 
            I’d like to take a look at the comics the movie was based off of and see if there would have been a way to make the aliens look less cartoony.  There was uproarious laughter in my theater every time the “elder” aliens were shown, and stifled laughter every time Mark Strong appeared.  If they wanted the effects to look that ridiculous, the filmmakers should have made the movie itself a bit more light and fun, rather than taking itself so darn seriously. 
            All in all, if you’re expecting Green Lantern to be terrible, you’re mostly right, but maybe not completely.  And if you’re expecting Green Lantern to be a masterpiece, nothing I can say is going to dissuade you from seeing it.  Everybody wins.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Super 8

           I would like to take this opportunity to thank the makers of Super 8.  Thank you, J.J Abrams and company for allowing me the opportunity to see what it would have been like to have seen a film like E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or even Jaws in theaters.  As a guy who was born in 1991, I am very grateful.
            I understand Super 8 wasn’t quite on par with those films as far as quality, but it had the same spirit.  It was a blast of fresh air to see a summer movie that was content just having fun.  No darker themes, no sex scenes, and no leaving it open to create some sort of mega trilogy.  Just a romp through the imagination of its creator, and a nostalgic glimpse at an interesting time, especially for movies.
            It never fails to amaze me how far good characters can take a film.  It was especially surprising in this film, as I nearly always hate children in movies.  But this group of kids were instantly likable, and more importantly, realistic.  They didn’t sound like a surrogate for a screenwriter desperately trying to squeeze laughs from an audience.  They sounded like real kids, and what we hear from them was just us overhearing some of their conversations.  They don’t know we’re listening, and they don’t care.
            The scares in the film were fine, but really, the scares and the monster in general took second seat to the main bunch of characters.  At times, the monster plot almost seemed to be a distraction from the main attraction that was these kids attempts to make a zombie movie.  It never became a real issue, but the idea was there, gently tugging at my subconscious in some scenes.
            While I realize it’s impossible, I almost wish Abrams and company had refrained from using CGI at all, just for the purpose of rounding out the nostalgic 1970’s feel.  I’m probably the only one, but I would have loved to see a claymation monster, and old school effects. 
            In the end, this movie isn’t about the CGI, or the monster, or the viral marketing campaign.  It’s about a feeling, and it’s a feeling that hasn’t been experienced by audiences for a long time.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class was a unique case in that every single problem the movie had was the director’s fault.  This is strange, because at it’s worst; direction is something most viewers won’t even consciously notice.  But really, the screenplay was fine, if not extraordinary, and most of the acting was phenomenal.  All of my complaints came from the clumsy, oftentimes inept direction handled by Mr. Matthew Vaughn.
The first red flag that went up for me was the opening scene, where Magneto reveals his power to the Nazis.  The scene was lifted nearly shot-for-shot from the original X-Men movie.  “Really?”  I thought.  I understand this is vital information for the audience, but isn’t it the point of a reboot/prequel to show us things we’re familiar with already in a new and interesting way?  I shrugged it off in the hopes that it was just a minor misstep for the film, but I soon realized this scene was the least of the movie’s problems.
I don’t think there was a single scene in this movie that didn’t make me laugh.  Between cheesy reaction shots, hilariously awkward exposition scenes, or bizarre choices as far as actor handling, the entire film had an uncomfortable, humorous vibe.  It was so excessive in fact, that I began to wonder if Mr. Vaughn had intentionally decided to adopt a campier, more retro tone to fit with the 1960’s setting.  That would have been fine, but if the director doesn’t let the audience in on the joke, then the joke is on him.  It’s never a good thing if the audience can’t tell if a movie is trying to be funny or not.   And considering the hundreds of repressed chuckles I heard during the scene where Magneto’s mother is shot in front of him, I’m going to assume Vaughn didn’t know he was being funny.  The kid who played Magneto might have been a fine actor, but even Daniel Day Lewis himself couldn’t make actions like these not hilarious: “Okay kid, I want you to shout ‘AAAARGH!!!’, pause, turn, then repeat three or four times.  Action!”
Vaughn also struggled to convey a coherent narrative for the audience to follow.  During certain points of the film, it would suddenly occur to me that I had no idea what was going on.  “Kevin Bacon bad, Xavier good” was about the extent of the information I absorbed.  Any other details were lost in a myriad of dull conversations and laughably obvious exposition scenes, where we would awkwardly cut to two generals presenting a few lines for the sole purpose of setting up the next scene.
As I said, if not for the incompetent direction, First Class could have been a very enjoyable film.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were perfect as Xavier and Magneto.  I had no trouble believing that these two could grow up to be the Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen versions of the characters I was familiar with, but at the same time they brought their own traits to the roles, and made the characters more three dimensional in the process.  It’s just a shame that the man in charge of them couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag.
Oh, and one more thing.  SPOILER ALERT.
Even the movie’s “best” moment could have been tweaked to make it a hell of a lot better.  The scene where Hugh Jackman appears to turn down Xavier for the first time was undeniably funny.  So why did Vaughn feel the need to ruin the joke by staying on Wolverine for about thirty seconds too long, just to watch him order another drink?  It’s as if Vaughn was afraid people wouldn’t get it, so he beat the cameo over our heads just to make sure, and made the one enjoyable scene awkward in the process.  Thanks Vaughn.  Thanks a lot.