A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 451 – The Spirit (2008)

The Spirit (2008) – May 25th, 2011

Tonight Andy said he needed something that wouldn’t make him think. And we do have a multitude of non-thinky movies left on our list. Movies that won’t tax the brain when trying to understand the plot or the purpose or anything like that. No serious themes that we’d want to spend pages pondering. No deep backstory for our personal connection to the movie. Nothing like that. Just something ridiculous and silly. So I looked through the list and dismissed a few things right off the bat. Dismissed a few others after looking them up. And then saw this and suggested it. I hadn’t seen it. Andy had. I knew it had been panned. And yet we owned it. So it seemed pretty much tailor made for tonight.

And I was right! Except I did end up having to think a bit when it came to trying to explain to myself how the movie could be as bad as it is. Really, I find it baffling. I can see so many things that were attempted and could have been done well and just weren’t. I’ve seen a couple of reviews describe this movie as “fun” and I have to wonder what their basis for comparison is. A root canal? The 1040 long form? Watching paint dry? Punch Drunk Love? I mean, this movie kept attempting humor but I don’t think it ever reached more than a moment or two of funny, let alone movie-long stretches of fun. What makes it so frustrating is the attempts that were made. Attempts in so many directions I honestly don’t know if the movie knew where it was going.

That right there is, I think, a large chunk of the problem. This is a comic book movie based on a serial I’m not familiar with. So I did a little reading and as far as I can tell it was a noirish detective serial that had a good dose of humor mixed into its regular plots and storylines. So I would expect there to be some humorous lines. But there aren’t just humorous lines dropped into an otherwise serious story. It’s this bizarre mix of parody and homage that never quite works, largely because the parody aspect needs firmer ground than it’s got. What, exactly, is it parodying? Sin City? I wouldn’t say Frank Miller can’t parody his own stuff, but it’s not like the movie is a genre unto itself. If it’s parodying noir in general it misses the mark completely because the bits that read as parody aren’t the femme fatale or the tough detective or the faithful lover or the gritty and dark city streets. The bits that read as parody are the comic book parts, with the clone henchmen and the out-of-nowhere Nazi villains and the hero himself.

On top of the problem with the uncertain tone is a distinct lack of focus on the part of the actors. Now, this is a more than decent cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendez and Scarlett Johansson alone should have been able to breathe some life and vitality into this movie. But they don’t. Okay, Jackson does every so often, but he’s saddled with the most ridiculous part I think he’s ever played. And this is the man known for Snakes on a Plane. He’s playing the villain here, and he gets some great scenery chewing moments. Moments where I can see what Miller was going for. His obsession over a bizarre little failed clone that’s just a tiny head on a foot and his dislike of free range chickens? It’s so out of place and laughable but then he doesn’t get to really go anywhere with any of it. Each strange quirk gets carried for a line or two and then it’s played out. The Octopus (his character) has eight of everything? Great! Except we only hear that in the climactic fight scene. If you’re going to go whole hog and be that ridiculous then damn well do it! Don’t half-ass it and leave us hanging there, wondering if he was supposed to have eight henchmen and eight cats and eight labs or whatever. And to top it all off, remember I mentioned that the villain is an out-of-nowhere Nazi? Yeah. Complete with lightning bolt tattoo on the back of his head. What the everloving fuck? That’s not parody. That’s not canon as far as I can tell. It’s just tossed in there for no discernible reason aside from making him more of a villain? I don’t even. So all of Jackson’s hamming it up comes to naught because he’s got what is probably one of the worst roles I’ve ever witnessed on film and he can chew chew chew and it’s never going to make the role palatable.

Not that the rest of the characters are a whole lot better, but at least only one of them is an unnecessary Nazi (seriously, the Spirit himself has a cell phone so we’re not set in the 1940s). Sadly, she’s also the most lacklustre character of the bunch, and that’s saying something. My theory is that Scarlett Johansson signed on, then read the script and hoped she was missing something and by the time she realized she wasn’t it was too late to back out. It’s the only way I can explain her performance. I usually quite like her, but from her first lines it was pretty clear to me she was done with this movie. I’ve seen more interested reads done in high school English classes. She gets a couple of lines near the end that hint at the parody her character might have been trying to portray, but if a movie has to have a character flat out say that she’s a parody? The parody has failed.

The rest of the movie is just plain messy. It’s got this plot with the Spirit’s backstory and the Octopus being his nemesis and neither of them can die. But it’s also got some backstory from when the Spirit was a kid and not the Spirit yet and he had this girlfriend, Sand Saref, who ended up turning to crime. And now she’s stolen a crate with a vase full of blood in it instead of a crate full of some sort of treasure we never really find out too much about. The Octopus wants the vase full of blood and while one would think they’d arrange a trade right quick one would be wrong. Instead they faff about for an hour or so. The Octopus makes his hideous foot clone and Sand kills some people for kicks and the Spirit tries to track them down and his faithful doctor girlfriend waits for him to get carted into the hospital. And her father’s the police commissioner and he works with the Spirit, who used to be a cop before he died, but he doesn’t like his lone wolf techniques. And there’s a rookie who wishes she was Paget Brewster and a siren who’s actually death, I think, who tries to seduce the Spirit into dying whenever he gets close to death.

It’s not that it’s hard to follow! This is not a complicated movie. It’s just messily put together. Oh, visually it’s quite pretty, with the not quite black and white visuals with little hints and pops of color. Unfortunately it’s not handled as well as the other two black/white/bit-of-color movies I can think of, namely Sin City and Pleasantville. The former was stark, keeping the color to splashes and highlights. Red sneakers here, blue eyes there, yellow bastard in the corner. The latter used some more subtle and realistic shades, washing them in over skin and the pages of books and the leaves of trees. This movie hits somewhere in the middle. The Spirit’s tie is bright red, but the Octopus’ gloves have dark burgundy accents that barely read. It diminishes the whole effect and while the movie is pretty, it could have been so much more visually arresting.

I honestly don’t know what else I can say about this movie. I don’t know what else there is to say. It’s a movie that doesn’t quite know what it is. It’s got a great cast that’s wasted on clumsy lines and a messy plot. It’s got a director who has gone on record as having been so distracted by an actress in a skimpy outfit that he yelled cut instead of action (and if I was an actress in a movie where the director did that I’d be pretty pissed – just saying). It’s got flat humor and pointless Nazi villains and it is about as much fun as doing a sink full of dishes.

May 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 435 – Catwoman

Catwoman – May 9th, 2011

When this movie came out I was super excited for about two seconds. Because oh wow, it had Peter Wingfield in it! For about two seconds! That’s about as far as my excitement lasted. And then I stopped being excited because every preview I saw made it look – how do I put this? They made it look bad. And do you know why the previews made it look bad? Because it is bad! It would take a hell of a lot of work to make this movie look good in a preview. There’s so little in it that isn’t bad in some way. It’s a cavalcade of fail and it makes me shake my head that we own it. Even if it does have Peter Wingfield.

I’m going to be honest: Back when this movie came out I came across a couple of videos online that compiled every second of footage Wingfield had in the movie in one place and I watched it and since I do enjoy just plain looking at him I watched it again. And perhaps a third time. And at no point in my viewings was I ever tempted to actually watch any more of the movie. It just didn’t appeal to me on any but the most superficial of levels, which is pretty sad. I love cats and I enjoy many of the castmembers in this movie, but nothing else about it seemed worth the bother and when a movie can’t tempt me with pretty men (Benjamin Bratt and Peter Wingfield in one movie? Thank you!) or kickass women (Halle Berry is pretty damn awesome) and a pile of cats, then something is very wrong.

One would think that with two lead actors I very much like, a small role from an actor I love and a focus on cats, this would be a slam dunk for me. I mean, cats! Kickass female lead! Two female leads who talk about something other than men! That means this movie technically passes the Bechdel test! And yet it is so very vapid. Even the attempts to make it have some sort of meaning about youth and beauty and dependence on chemicals and believing in yourself and so on? They fall totally flat. A lot of it is poor writing. We get both opening and closing monologues which feel way too long and seem to be telling us things that the movie should be able to either show us visually (what with it being a visual medium) or communicate through the actions of its characters. But every line in here is so flat and so stilted and every action that follows is so affected by that flatness, it seeps through the whole movie.

The plot barely deserves mention. We’ve got a meek and awkward graphic designer, Patience, who works for a beauty product company that’s making a nasty skin cream that has horrible side effects like your face rotting off when you stop using it. She finds out about it and gets killed for her trouble, then revived by some magical cats and granted the powers of the Puma magic cat powers like being able to play basketball like a Harlem Globetrotter and eat ten cans of tuna in one sitting. She doesn’t sleep 20 hours out of the day like my little porkpies do, and she doesn’t bury dead mice in the laundry hamper (as far as we know), but before she gets down to the business of unearthing the secret of the toxic skin cream she does become a cat burglar. Ha. Ha.

Okay, so the burglar part of the story is as close to the character’s canon as we get, so I should be grateful. But at most it’s a nod. A passing nod. This movie doesn’t seem to care much about canon. And I’ve said before that I’m willing to be flexible when it comes to movie canon versus comic canon. Marvel and DC both have a habit of reinventing characters and DC is no stranger to giving numerous people the same role. How many Robins have we had, again? Right. So I’m not going to complain that we’ve got ourselves a new Catwoman with her own canon that’s completely unconnected to Batman or her original stories. I am a little miffed that the movie seems to not even bother with a pretense of being set in Gotham, but I could live with it if they’d made the origin story new and different and an interesting twist. But it’s not. There’s barely a bend, let alone a twist. I don’t dislike this version because it’s non-canonical. I dislike it because it’s boring.

The romance between Patience and the detective who’s investigating Catwoman (that would be Tom Lone, played by Benjamin Bratt) is apparently supposed to be a key point here, with his interest in her forcing Patience to decide which parts of her personality she wants to be true to. But I never really got more than the barest flicker of true conflict for Patience. Mostly the conflict comes from Tom, who clearly suspects something is up and doesn’t quite know what to do with his concerns. Would that it had been given more time to play out, but no. Instead we get scene after scene of Patience in a pleather bustier and cat mask, leaping around in all her CGI glory. We get a shaky cam basketball game between Patience and Tom that takes up an inordinate amount of time to show up Patience’s new physical skills but which could have been much shorter, giving the movie more time to actually develop the relationship or maybe Patience’s new character. It’s just all so poorly handled. And don’t even get me started on the sassy friend Patience has for plot exposition purposes.

If I’m going to be truly honest with myself, I will admit that if I flipped past this while exercising in my living room? I would probably stop on it for a few minutes. I wouldn’t stick around for the whole thing and if it was that basketball game I’d flip the hell away as soon as I could. But I will admit it’s an absolutely ridiculous movie. One of the villains is flat as a board, which is a pity because Lambert Wilson is definitely capable of being much more of a hammy bad guy. The other is Sharon Stone, who, I admit, seemed to be having a good deal of fun with the role. But Halle Berry is given so very little to work with and much as I like Benjamin Bratt, he shouldn’t have been the one doing the heavy lifting here. The movie is called Catwoman. But regardless of that, the ridiculousness of it is more on the eye-rolling side of things than last night’s offensive pile of crap. Maybe it’s all the pretty. Maybe it’s the cats. Maybe it’s the CGI. I don’t know. It’ll never be my first pick of things to watch, but unlike a few others in our collection I suppose it’s better than nothing.

May 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Catwoman

May 9, 2011

Catwoman

I think there’s something seriously wrong with us. Me and Amanda I mean. How do we recover after watching a pretty bad movie yesterday? We put in Catwoman. Yeah, I know.

I wish I knew what the thought process behind this movie was. “Let’s make a Batman movie without Batman.” I suppose you could view this as a contrast to Elektra. It’s a spin-off using a popular female character from a comic book movie. Except that the character being spun off here is not played by the same person, so maybe that’s not what it is anyhow. This isn’t even the same Catwoman depicted by Michelle Pfeifer way back in Batman Returns way back in 1992. Instead it’s a “fresh” look at the same character. Only this isn’t Selina Kyle – Halley Berry is Patience Phillips. She has pretty much the same plot arc though. She’s a quiet mousy graphic designer until she’s killed by some guards at the evil cosmetic corporation she works for.

Then she’s resurrected by a magic cat and given the power to morph into CGI and jump around like a video game character. She can see in the dark, she has super agility and can leap amazing distances. She has all the powers of the mighty puma.

What’s odd to me here is that this movie uses a well established character from the DC universe but has nobody else there. I assume it takes place in Gotham, but it’s not ever stated. There’s no sign of any of the other inhabitants of Gotham. The comic book nerd in me would like to at least have had some small nod – have a Commissioner Gordon berate the stalwart police officer who falls in love with Patience while investigating the burglary that Catwoman perpetrated. (And the murders that are later pinned on her.) Have and Oswald Cobblepot or a Dr. Crane… something!

Instead this movie tries to be a new take on the catwoman mythos. It tries to lay a groundwork that there have always been catwomen through history – women gifted with cat powers so they can release their inner wild beast. It has a little potential I suppose, but then it goes and has Halle deliver some awful cliche like “What a Purrrrrfect idea” and whatever potential it might have had vanishes. Instead what we have is a morass of pathetically predictable cat-based one-liners. Try to imagine what would happen if a room full of writers were told to think of every cat joke they could in thirty minutes and then you strung them together and made a movie about it. This is something like that.

The movie also relies heavily on cheesy looking CGI work to let Catwoman leap about, none of which is very convincing. And oh, the camera work. It’s all quick frenetic swooping shots combined with a wide angle lens for that nausea-inducing fish-eye effect. I do not subscribe to the notion that moving the camera faster makes an action scene feel like it has more action, but director “Pitof” certainly does. A quick look at IMDB reveals that Pitof started out as an effects man, working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and I can see a certain City of Lost Children vibe here, but it leaches all the fun from that movie and leaves only the jumping flea scene – for more than an hour and a half.

I feel awful for all the talented people involved in producing this litter-box fare. I generally like Halle Berry and Benjamin Bratt. This movie has a small role for one of Amanda’s favorite actors, Peter Wingfield (who does a passable American accent I think.) Lambert Wilson plays the Marovingian from the Martix sequels again – the poor typecast fellow. The only person who seems to really know what kind of movie this is and relish the scenery chewing is Sharon Stone. She’s the best thing in this as the jilted wife of the owner of the evil cosmetic corporation (and previous spokeswoman.) I’m not saying I’d watch it again for her, but she is perfectly cast and seems to truly enjoy the over-acting involved.

This movie isn’t despicable like yesterday’s movie. It’s not disappointing, really, because I have pretty low expectations for a Catwoman movie. It is simply bad. Badly written by committee. Badly directed. Badly conceived. It’s not even bad enough to really be good – it’s just lame and kind of sad. Still – it’s a comic book movie so I had to own it, right?

May 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 426 – Elektra

Elektra – April 30th, 2011

Tonight we follow up the disappointing Daredevil with a movie featuring the best part of that one: Jennifer Garner as Elektra. I’m not terribly familiar with Elektra as a character. I encountered her while reading some of the Daredevil stories but I never looked for more for her so I went into this movie with very little prior exposure. Basically what I came in knowing was that Elektra saw her mother die and has since lost her father. She’s an amazingly skilled fighter who’s been training since childhood. That about does it. Maybe it’s good for me to not know much about some characters so any divergences don’t bother me.

Now, this isn’t a great movie and it’s not trying to be. It’s aiming square at decent and hitting that mark. But I will say this: It’s a movie that knows damn well what it’s doing. This movie had its spine defined right from the outset: Redemption. And with a firm intent in place, well, it follows that the movie will be far less muddled than, say, last night’s movie that couldn’t quite settle on its purpose. We follow the character of Elektra, who’s taken all of her natural talent and years of training and begun using it for contract killing. She is excellent at it and she gets paid well for it and it has become all she knows. Since she’s the heroine of the movie obviously we’ll need to get some sympathetic backstory for her and clearly she can’t remain the coldhearted killer we meet at the outset.

The backstory reveals Elektra’s mother’s death and the mysterious figure responsible. We also see some of her early training through flashbacks Elektra has while living in a large and empty house on an island, waiting for instructions for her next job. I like this set-up because it not only gives us some view of the loneliness and isolation of Elektra’s life, but ties those qualities to her background. It’s done a lot more smoothly than many other background flashbacks I’ve seen. The redemption begins when she receives her assignment and it turns out to be Mark and Abby Miller, the father and daughter living in the cabin down the beach from the mansion she’s in. And she’s met them and spent time with them and allowed herself to become somewhat attached to them. Thanks to the background we have for Elektra we know that she’s got some personal issues with girls losing their mothers. She can’t do it. She switches sides.

It’s a credit both to Garner and the screenwriters that I didn’t ever question Elektra’s about face. She waffles. She questions her decisions and actions. She walks away from the Millers before turning back to them. And I like that. I like that it wasn’t an easy decision on her part. Had it been black and white I would have rolled my eyes. Anyhow, she goes to her associates to find help, first going to her old sensei, Stick, then to her ‘agent’, McCabe. Because there are more assassins coming after Mark and Abby, sent by the sinister Hand organization.

My one huge quibble here is McCabe. He sacrifices himself for Elektra and the Millers and that’s a great thing for him to do but why? The movie doesn’t establish enough of a personal relationship between him and Elektra to make me believe he cares about her enough to do that and he certainly doesn’t know enough about the Millers to care about them. So why? If they’d established more of him caring more about the money then I’d buy it. As it is it threw me out of a tense scene that was meant to establish something meaningful.

Fortunately, once we really get back to Stick the movie gets a needed infusion of awesome, cause Stick is played by Terence Stamp and he is awesome personified. I truly wish that he had been in Daredevil as well, because while I don’t think he could have saved that movie as it was, he certainly would have added some fun scenes. Stick in this movie is really one of my favorite character types: A manipulator. Love him. He gets to deliver sage advice and plot exposition at the same time and it just plain works. Terence Stamp needs to be in more movies. I think that’s pretty much what I’m taking away from this.

I’m not going to go into detail about just why Abby and Mark are on the run from mystical demon assassins who can kill with a touch or pull snakes out of their tattoos. Suffice it to say that they aren’t what they originally claim, which should be obvious, and eventually they figure into the larger plot a lot more. The point here is that Elektra gets back on the path she should have been on to begin with and we get plenty of fun fight scenes with flashy weapons and magical powers and multiple female characters kicking a whole lot of ass. I cannot complain about any of that, let me tell you.

Thanks to the movie’s defined purpose, the addition of a bit of a romance plot as well as some bonding between Elektra and Abby end up working towards the same goal as everything else instead of distracting from it. And I totally buy Elektra and Abby’s relationship, which is nice and I think a lot of that has to do with Kirsten Prout, who played Abby, doing a nice job as a teenager in a situation she would never have chosen. Sure, I wanted to shake her at least once, but that’s a thirteen year old for you.

I think if I was going to point a finger at any one thing in this movie that keeps it only decent instead of higher up on the scale it would have to be the lack of definition to the villains. Sure, we get these fun baddies with powers like impenetrable skin and super speed and all, but we get very little idea of who they are and why they want what they want. It’s a peeve of mine, but villainy for the sake of villainy just doesn’t cut it for me for the vast majority of stories and characters and these ones barely even get names. Sure, the Hand are from the comics and all, but without much in the way of background they’re just a bunch of evil supernatural ninjas.

Overall, however, I had fun with the movie. It was far more engaging to watch than Daredevil and it was certainly clearer in its intent. I do have to say it disappoints me to read about reports that claim Jennifer Garner only reprised her role as Elektra due to contractual obligations and that Ben Affleck was embarrassed to play a costumed superhero. It takes away from the movies and the characters, I admit. Take a look at someone like Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds and their enthusiasm is palpable. Much as I might not think Nic Cage made the perfect Ghost Rider, dude obviously loves the character. And I’d far rather see someone with a love for the character or comic books in general than someone who looks the part but doesn’t give a damn. It ended up working out okay here, but thank goodness for the upcoming super hero movies of this summer.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Elektra (2005)

April 30, 2011

Elektra

I like this movie loads more than I like the Daredevil movie that spawned it. As I said yesterday Jennifer Garner as Elektra was the best thing in Daredevil, and this movie gives her a lot of awesome stuff to do. It has some of the cooler mystical overtones of her story from the comic books without delving into the truly strange bits from the Elektra: Assassin storyline. It brings in elements like Stick and the Hand and the war between good and evil.

The film starts out with a sly bit of misdirection. In the opening preamble we’re told about a legendary warrior known as “The Treasure” and the war between the good and evil forces that want to claim her. Naturally if you are familiar with the comics you assume that Elektra is going to be this warrior. She is, after all (as shown in the opening scene) a legendary unstoppable assassin. The comic books make an issue of the battle for Elektra’s soul (and Matt Murdock’s soul for that matter.)

It is only when Elektra takes on her next contract that things begin to become clear. She has been hired to kill a thirteen year old girl named Abby Miller and her father who are on the run from something, although they won’t say what. Elektra is haunted by flashbacks of the death of her own mother and either she’s in love with Abby’s father or she has a new-found respect for life, so she decides instead to try and save them. It is only after they’ve been running for a while that we discover Abby is a martial arts prodigy – the real Treasure that everybody is trying to gain possession of.

Of course it’s all an excuse for Elektra to have a climactic battle with the Hand warriors led by the sword wielding speedster Kirigi and his henchmen Stone, Tattoo and Typhoid. It could have been an inconsequential supernatural martial arts movie, which would have been cool too, but there are a couple things that actually make the movie work.

The biggest thing this movie has in its favour is Stick – played with a sly grin by Terence Stamp. He’s not always convincing as a blind martial arts master, but he is completely awesome and cool. Simply by being Terence Stamp. I was also really impressed by the young actress playing Abby, Kirsten Prout. She does a great job portraying a impishly troublesome girl with a rebellious streak, and she has real chemistry with Jennifer Garner. If the relationship between the two of them didn’t work you wouldn’t be able to accept Elektra’s redemption arc, but as it is you get a sense that Elektra sees a lot of herself in Abby.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t great cinema. It’s a comic book inspired adventure movie and aside from a little playfulness it walks a safe and well worn path. On the other hand, it is a lot of fun to watch, with some cool fight scenes, some cool super powers, and a nice redemption arc for the lost soul of Elektra, tainted by sorrow and tragedy. I would recommend it over Daredevil any day.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 425 – Daredevil

Daredevil – April 29th, 2011

Andy introduced me to Daredevil as a comic book hero when I was in college. I read two books, Born Again and The Man Without Fear and felt like they gave me a pretty good feel for the character. I didn’t immediately feel the need to go hunt down everything else about the character, but I liked him and I liked the world he was set in. So when this movie came out and started to get not-so-great reviews I was disappointed. Not crushed like I would have been if, say, Batman Begins had stunk up the theaters, but it was sad to know that apparently a hero I quite liked hadn’t been done as well as he deserved.

So the thing is, I never bothered to watch it. Andy told me it was bad and I’m not overly fond of Ben Affleck as an actor (I’ll get into why in a moment) and I just never felt the need. Watching it tonight I decided it isn’t so much that it’s a bad movie. I think I know from bad movies, so I can say this with some authority. We have bad movies in our collection and this doesn’t even approach most of them. What it is, is something worse than bad. It’s mediocre. It is middling at best and that’s a real shame because it’s clearly had a lot of care put into homage to the comics, which says to me that the people making it actually give a damn. So how did it turn out so blah?

I found it rather hard to care about pretty much everything in this movie. Having read enough of Daredevil’s origin story to know where he comes from, I was hoping that some of that would be captured in the movie. Instead it’s whipped through in a flashback. Lots of things happen in this movie, like the people making it wanted to make sure they covered as many bases as possible. Which is likely part of the problem. Got to include the origin and the law office and Elektra and Kingpin and Bullseye and the journalist and the cops and vengeance and redemption and come in under two hours. I honestly think this might be a case of too many fans involved in the making of the movie, wanting to include too much love for the source. Looking at the trivia there’s character names based on all the various creators of the character. There’s homage to issue covers and old themes and so on. Kevin Smith, a notorious comic book fanboy, has a small role as a character named Jack Kirby. This is not a movie made by people who didn’t care, like I suspect X3 was (still bitter about Callisto) and I think it was overkill. There’s a point where when you make a movie with an iconic character who’s been around for decades and had several major storylines, you have to step back and pick and choose what to include because you can’t use 40 years of comic books as your movie storyboards. And I think that’s just what they tried to do here.

It gets messy. We start out with Daredevil, whose secret identity is Matt Murdock, a young and idealistic lawyer who was blinded as a child due to a freak accident. Said accident took away his sight but enhanced his other senses to the point where his hearing serves as a form of sonar (I know the movie and comics call it radar, but if it’s supposed to be echolocation it’s sonar and yes I will remain pedantic about that) so by using the sounds around him he’s able to “see” his surroundings. He trains hard, somehow learning martial arts in secret. The comics explain his training and I found it odd that a movie so full of homage didn’t find a way to mention his mentor, Stick. Anyhow, mild mannered lawyer by day, crime fighter by night, Daredevil exacts justice that Matt Murdock often can’t get legally due to crooked lawyers and a flawed legal system. Oh, and he’s also out for vengeance for his father, a boxer who was killed by crime boss Kingpin for not throwing a fight. Toss in a beautiful woman named Elektra, who’s thoroughly trained in martial arts herself and also the daughter of one of Kingpin’s associates, kill off her father and set her on a mission for revenge and also have a reporter trying to find out who Daredevil is and what he’s out to do and you’ve got this movie. Starts okay, then falls apart. And I totally forgot to even mention Kingpin’s hired hitman, Bullseye, in there. Cause yeah, our villain hires another villain to do his dirty work.

The result of all of this is that we get almost no time to spend on any one of these characters or plots. Murdock himself gets the origin flashback, and I admit I liked the kid they had playing him and I liked his relationship with his father and how it all played out. I liked the reveal of his sonar and the visual effect for it. But once that’s over it’s all fleeting introductions and very little in the way of character development. Elektra gets some background where we find out her mother died in front of her and her father’s had her train in self-defense since she was five. But that’s about it. We meet Murdock’s law partner, Foggy (played by Jon Favreau, who seems to do a nice job in these sidekick roles) but get no background on him whatsoever. Hell, we don’t even get to know the backgrounds for our villains. Kingpin grew up in the Bronx and Bullseye is Irish. That’s it. That’s all we get.

Aside from that it’s all fight scenes and kissing. Because there’s this dramatic romantic plot for Murdock and Elektra where he can’t tell her who he is (classic superhero trope), but then they also square off and spar in the middle of a playground full of kids. Cause yeah, Matt, that’s totally subtle and not giving anything away at all. And then there’s more action and more action and then Matt goes to confession and then there’s more action and then some poignant scenes for him and Elektra and more action. It’s uneven and undecided and frustrating.

Honestly, going into this I expected the weak point of the movie for me to be Ben Affleck. He seems like a decent guy and all and he’s been making a name for himself as a director, but most everything I’ve seen him in has him playing a version of himself and I wasn’t sure he could pull this off. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he wasn’t terrible. He didn’t nail the role but he didn’t ruin it. The only thing I disliked was his constant half-smirk, but I think that’s just how Affleck’s face is built. But really, I didn’t hate him here. I liked Jon Favreau and I liked Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin and I even kind of liked Colin Farrell’s twitchy Bullseye. Jennifer Garner as Elektra was easily my favorite role of the movie though, and given how mediocre this movie ended up being I can see why the second one wasn’t a second Daredevil movie but an Elektra movie instead.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Daredevil

April 29, 2011

Daredevil

I have a fondness for Daredevil. Not for this movie – for the Marvel comic series about a man with no fear. Before I discovered Daredevil, and the Frank Miller Daredevil in particular, I had a general disdain for Marvel. It came from years of The Incredible Hulk and Spider Man cartoons in my youth. In my mind Marvel was a technicolor world of crazy magical hijinks – the kind of thing that gave comic books a bad name. DC on the other hand was the home of Batman and Swamp Thing and the Watchmen. In the nineties DC – through the Vertigo label – became the source of all that was cool and awesome about comics. Dream and the Endless. Tim Hunter. John F-ing Constantine. Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman were in DC’s court. Then again, Frank Miller had started out over at Marvel, and around a time when I was collecting everything he had ever written I picked up a bunch of his Daredevil stuff. Sure, okay, Daredevil is a blind man whose super power is that he can see, but he’s also super cool.

As a result of my love for the comics I was looking forward to this movie, and also as a result my reaction to the film was slightly more vitriolic than it might have been if, say, an Aquaman movie had been disappointing. I have said in the past that this is an awful movie, but the truth is that it’s simply a fairly mediocre movie. It’s just a little bit less than adequate, really. But I found this to be profoundly disappointing in a Daredevil movie.

The plot is a kind of amalgam of several of the Frank Miller story lines. It has an abbreviated origin story about how the bookish young Matt Murdock was blinded (this time by liquid hazardous waste instead of a glowing green bar of radioactive waste.) We get to see his father, the washed up prize fighter who is working as muscle for a small time crime boss in Hell’s Kitchen. After Matt is blinded he discovers that his other senses have become ultra powerful. When his father is killed for refusing to throw a fight Matt becomes obsessed with justice – becoming a conscientious lawyer by day and a masked vigilante by night. We see him meet and clash with Elektra, the love of his life, and we see her swear vengeance on Daredevil because she believes that he’s responsible for the death of her father. There’s a bunch of fight scenes, some pretty cool special effects, and a very disappointing showdown between Daredevil and the Kingpin.

Part of the problem with this movie is that it can’t seem to settle on a single tone. It wants to be a serious story of a man obsessed with vengeance for his father’s death. It also wants to be a sort of romance story. It also has a lot of pure cheese – mostly on the part of Colin Farrell as Bullseye – a villain apparently more obsessed with witty one-liners than with all the casual killing he does. The movie very quickly touches on a number of iconic moments in the general Daredevil story arc from the books but doesn’t stick with any of them long enough to flesh them out. So like the digital representation of Daredevil himself in the movie the plot leaps implausibly about and looks fairly fake as it does so.

Ben Affleck is not awful in the role of Matt Murdock. He actually does a convincing job of portraying a blind man some of the time. This is one of the better aspects of the movie – it realistically portrays a blind man in a sighted man’s world. I appreciated seeing things like the braille printer in Matt’s office and the way he folds his money to distinguish denominations from each other. He has a watch with a flip top so he can feel the hands. He walks convincingly with a cane. Clearly, a lot of research was done here. Then he goes and spoils it all by having a very public fight in a playground with Elektra. (At least in the comics when Matt and Elektra battled for the first time in college he was wearing a scarf over his head as a disguise.) Really there’s not much attempt made to hide Daredevil’s “secret” identity in this movie. By the end of the film I think the only major character who doesn’t know who he really is is his old friend Foggy Nelson.

Another thing I give this movie credit for is the wonderful “sonar” effect showing us how Matt sees the world using his hearing and sense of smell. It looks cool and is entirely plausible in the world of the movie (if you can accept that Matt can somehow dodge bullets as he hears them coming.)

I just wish that the rest of the film could live up to that. It doesn’t though. It’s a bit of a mess, really. I has a great deal of narration at the start telling us what we’re seeing, which always pisses me off (except in Creeping Terror, where it makes me laugh my ass off.) It is packed with supposedly symbolic imagery which has no relevance to the film. (I dare you to count the crucifixes and angels.) If you want to drag religion into your comic book movie that’s fine with me, but at least have it make sense for the character instead of being window dressing. It ends up feeling like writer/director Mark Steven Johnson wants to make an epic film but doesn’t quite know how. There are hints at the paradox of a lawyer turned vigilante and how laws cannot be upheld by vengeance, but they, like so many little tidbits in the movie, aren’t fleshed out at all.

It frustrates me that it feels like this movie is such a near miss. It does some things right, and it has some intriguing things to say about the character of Daredevil. It is absolutely packed to the gills with homage and reference to the comic books. All the same, it falls flat and feels shallow and unfulfilling. The best thing in the entire movie is Jennifer Garner as Elektra. She’s cool and flawed and fascinating. It made me with there were a movie with just her in it – and then there was. We’ll review that tomorrow.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 410 – Superman Returns

Superman Returns – April 14th, 2011

By now if you follow my reviews at all you might have noticed that we own a lot of comic book based movies. This is, as I’ve mentioned, because Andy collected them for a while. And I supported that because it was a cool thing to do and all. Now that we’re watching everything we own, however, I have had to face up to the fact that some of them are better than others. Lots better. This, sadly is in the lower end of the middle of the pack. Good potential that’s sadly balanced by some truly unfortunate choices and holes. Alas.

I’ll warn right now that I am going to spoil this movie. And I don’t feel at all bad about it because I think the stuff I’m going to spoil was ultimately pointless and such a huge plot-hole magnet it should have been left behind in script editing. But yes, I will spoil things. Not yet, but it’s coming. First let’s go over what I enjoyed about the movie before I go and get pissy about it all.

And yes, I did enjoy some things in this movie. For one, I think Brandon Routh was fantastically cast. He might not be the best actor in the world, but he feels right in this role and he certainly looks right. I think, honestly, it’s his Clark that does it for me. He’s so earnest and fumbling and awkward and I like that. It’s what sells the “disguise” of his glasses, which was always an issue for me when it came to Superman. I mean, Batman wears a mask, the X-Men aren’t necessarily as public (okay, there’s Warren Worthington but for the most part they’re not), Iron Man’s got his face fully covered, as does Spiderman. Swamp Thing doesn’t have an alternate identity once he’s Swamp Thing and the same goes for a lot of the villains. And then there’s Superman. Who wears glasses. So it’s got to be sold to me and the movie does that. Routh does that. And that makes me happy.

I also really enjoyed Lex Luthor. Sure, he’s cartoonish and all, but I think he played. He’s got motivation and he’s got plans and he’s over the top because he’s Lex Luthor, okay? That’s how he should be and Kevin Spacey obviously had fun with him. The movie also had a number of little nods and references to the older movies and to the shows and I do like when there’s that sort of respect and knowledge in a movie like this. It makes me feel more kindly inclined towards the folks making it when they mess up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make up for the issues I’ve got.

For one, much as I liked how Clark was done, Superman bugged me. Oh, he’s great when he’s being all heroic and catching crashing airplanes and saving people from falling debris and stopping robberies, but then he goes and peeps on Lois and her new family? I get it that he’s got Issues about Lois, but um. Ew. See, this movie is set up as a sequel to Superman II (which we don’t have, and I think we should because I need some Zod in my life), sort of. There are issues. But whatever. It’s set up to start five years after Superman takes off to look for the remains of Krypton. And he’s been gone all that time and Lois moved on and got engaged to Perry White’s nephew, Richard (who is never once set up to be anything but a nice guy who just isn’t Superman), and they’ve got this kid, Jason. And, well, Clark/Superman is conflicted about that because yeah, it isn’t realistic to expect her to wait for him when he disappeared without telling her he was going anywhere and was then gone for five years. But then too, he loves her and here she is with a family that he’s not a part of. Thing is, I don’t care how conflicted he is. Hovering outside their house and eavesdropping on their conversations and looking into their living room through the walls? That’s creepy, Clark. Knock it off.

That creepiness right there is sort of an indication of there being something amiss with the emotional plot of the movie. Now, the action plot? With Lex Luthor stealing pieces of the Fortress of Solitude and somehow melding them with green kryptonite to make a new landmass that he can rule? Dude, that is so a comic book villain thing to do and I am all over it. I do regret that such a nice model train set had to be ruined in the process, but so it goes. This whole plot and the conflicts in the Daily Planet office with Lois wanting to follow a story about a blackout that occurred when Luthor was testing his new tech but Perry wanting her to cover Superman? That’s good stuff. And it definitely could have carried a little more of the Clark and Lois storyline and relationship. But instead of using what was already there, the movie has another subplot. And this is where I get grumbly and start spoiling things.

You know, I was doing okay with the movie. I wasn’t blown away by it and it had that regrettable bit where Superman totally took a page from Edward Cullen’s book and got all creepy peeper on Lois, but I was coping. It had some fun moments and I was enjoying Jimmy Olsen and all. And then. And then. Oh movie. I’m not best pleased with your biology here. I think someone involved in this film needed to brush up on their Larry Niven. So there are some extenuating circumstances if we’re taking this movie as a direct follow-up to some of the earlier movies, but still. Fail. And that’s just on the biological front. There are plot holes a mile wide here any way you try to put it together. Some gaps just can’t all be filled at the same time. And Really, it all just seems to be tossed in there to try and add a “human” element to the plot, so there can be some nod to daddy issues. I could have done without it and I think the movie could have done without it too.

It’s a pity really, because I think it ends up adding time to what was already going to be a longish movie. And it doesn’t also add enough positive interest to make that time worth it. It weighs the movie down and makes it sag in the middle. And in the end. It’s disappointing, really, because this movie has all the right pieces to make a fun Superman movie and then it sticks all these superfluous plot holes in between them. Take out the kid, or have him be less super, and it would be a hell of a lot better. Superman spying on his ex would still be creepy, though, so I guess that would still be a problem.

April 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Superman Returns

April 14, 2011

Superman Returns

I am extremely conflicted about this movie. It has parts that are like an inspired return to the magic of the first two movies back in the eighties back before the Superman films descended into camp. It manages, briefly, to make Superman cool again. It awakens in me a nostalgia for a simpler time and it pays homage to the first movies wonderfully. It can’t maintain that level though. Once the nostalgia wears off though this movie squanders the good will it has built up for me with the usual ludicrous silliness that plagues the Superman movies and the issues that it tries to address about home and family don’t coalesce well and end up making me feel disappointed and uncomfortable.

It’s pretty interesting to watch this so soon after watching the Tron reboot. Both are full of references to movies from the eighties. Both involve issues of parenthood (in a way.) Both involve absentee fathers. (Okay, yeah, spoilers. Sorry about that. You can stop reading now if you really care.) Flynn, however, reconnects with his son and realizes that the “perfect world” he wants to create has to incorporate the imperfections of biology. Superman is just a creepy stalker who breaks into his son’s room at night. It’s just not the same.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. This movie starts out really well. It starts out with the familiar John Williams score and the swooping credits of the original movies. Kal-el, the alien orphan known to us Earthians as Superman returns to the planet after a lengthy sojourn abroad. He had gone to investigate reports that the shattered remains of his home planet of Krypton had been discovered by astronomers, but it was kind of a dump so he came back. The general thrust of the first half of the movie is that things have changed in the time since Superman left, but it sure is awesome to have him back and kicking all kinds of ass. He stops a plane crash, foils a ridiculously over armed bank robbery, catches a man falling from a German skyscraper…in short he generally does the day-to-day heroing that the world desperately needs done. All the while he is angsting over the fact that Lois Lane, in the years that he was absent, has had a son and has a steady boyfriend.

I’ll be frank: I don’t really want angst in my Superman movie. It’s only been a couple weeks since we watched the three Spiderman movies and that was more than enough superhero angst for a good long while. I really enjoy the bits of this movie that involve Superman being Superman. Brandon Routh is fantastic both as Superman and as his bumbling alter-ego Clark Kent. It’s frightening how much he resembles Christopher Reeve. I also love Sam Huntington as Clark’s pal Jimmy Olson. He delivers a lot of the best laughs in the movie and is just fun to watch. Kevin Spacy’s Lex Luthor is also a high point. He’s just so wise in the ways of a Superman movie – he knows exactly which way the wind is blowing at all times, and he frequently expresses the feelings of the audience.

Sadly this is not a perfect Superman movie. It has several flaws. Some of them, like the ridiculous climactic “action” scene I can kind of forgive. It’s almost traditional for a Superman movie to conclude with him doing something completely impossible. I can’t claim that him throwing a cryptonite-laden mountain into space is any stranger than him turning back time by spinning the planet backwards.

The movie begins to lose its way, though, where Lois Lane’s son is involved. Superman stalks her, floating outside the home she shares with her son and boyfriend Richard (an all around nice guy) and watching the family through the walls using his x-ray vision. Creepy. I understand the entire theme of how things change when we’re away for a while – but I liked it better in Grosse Pointe Blank, where at least it made sense. I suppose it’s an attempt to inject mature adult ideas into a superhero movie, which is what all the cool kids are doing these days, but it just makes the movie feel bogged down and vaguely unfocused. Part of the problem is that nothing is really resolved at the end of the movie. Superman is still stalking Lane and her family, Richard is still dating Lois, even though he has no chance to measure up to her almost worshipful love of the alien stud, and her son is still a wheezing nerd kid who will be ostracized by his classmates because of his long hair. Maybe they were planning to resolve things in the never-produced sequel? I guess we’ll never know.

April 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 392 – Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 – March 27th, 2011

I did not want to watch this tonight. Actually, after the last two movies I didn’t ever want to watch this. The first movie wasn’t great. The second one was thoroughly unpleasant. I mean, it was irritating. And annoying. And from what I had heard, I expected this one to be abysmal. The downward trend seemed a little too steep to correct in the space of one movie. And I can’t believe that anything done in this movie was supposed to make anything better. Much like the Venom symbiont, it amplified characteristics of its host. Negative ones. But not aggression. More like suckage. It has everything I disliked about the first and second and more. In one overlong, overcomplicated morass.

When we start with this movie, Peter is on top of the world. Which is a nice change from the last one, but it’s like he’s a pendulum and we only get to see him at one extreme or the other, never in the middle. He’s either an ego-maniac smarming for his crowds of adoring fans (or horrified onlookers) or he’s Mopey McMoperson, Mayor of Mopeville. But hey, I’ll take what I can get, you know? And what I can get is at least a few minutes where Peter’s not making me wince for one reason or another. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long. I understand the Venom plot and Peter’s personality getting amped up by the symbiont, but that doesn’t explain his performance in the park when Gwen Stacey gives him the key to the city and they smooch. Basically, the movie is setting him up as a douche. And then it goes and introduces a bigger douche and then gives them both super douche powers. But I’m getting ahead of myself! We’ve got a bunch of other plots to cover before we get to Venom.

First of all, let’s talk about Harry. We left off with him having delusions of his father talking to him and telling him to avenge his murder. So, yeah, Harry’s gone the way of the Goblin and attacks Peter a few times, both physically and emotionally through MJ. Next we’ve got Flint Marko, an escaped convict who, it turns out, was actually responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. But Marko’s a bit of a question mark as a character cause he claims it wasn’t the way it’s been presented and sadly, he doesn’t get much time on screen to be a character. Because before we get to know much more than that he’s escaped from jail and his daughter’s dying, he gets caught up in some particle physics experiment with sand and suddenly we have a walking dune. He wants to get money to save his daughter but Spider Man won’t let him steal it, so what’s a guy to do, right? Then we forget about him for a while because Harry’s got amnesia and can’t remember his vendetta against Peter. Then he remembers it again. Peter gets shut out of a job at the Bugle by the douchetastic Eddie Brock, whom he then exposes as a fraud and who then goes way overboard by wanting Peter dead. Yeah, that’s a healthy response there, Brock.

If all that wasn’t enough, through it all is MJ, whom Peter wants to propose to but he’s never around for her and keeps making everything about himself (douche!). The addition of Gwen Stacey as a pawn in the whole romance plot makes sense, but I don’t really like it. She deserves a little better. At least the movie tacitly admits that when she walks out on Peter after his incredibly gross display in MJ’s nightclub. The whole Venom plot, with Peter’s suit (and Peter himself) getting infected by a nasty symbiont from outer space that amplifies characteristics, specifically aggression (apparently in all forms) ties into this here, with him acting out all over the place. And then it infects Brock, so we get another villain on top of our new Goblin and Sandman. The trouble is, that while Peter’s infected, the only people left to root for are MJ, Gwen and Jonah, who are all given so little time it barely counts. And oh, oh do I weep for the lack of awesome Jonah, who is toned way down in this movie because he’s on blood pressure meds. Yes, really.

What a muddled mess of a movie. The relationship issues with MJ, Harry taking up his father’s mantle then getting amnesia, Sandman, Venom, smug celebrity Spidey, Gwen Stacey? Of course it’s the longest of the three thus far. It would have to be to have all of that. But really, come on. Pick a plotline, or a pair of plots! Run with Harry and Sandman! Or Venom and Stacey! MJ would certainly end up involved with either. But bundling them all together into a single movie doesn’t work. More plot doesn’t mean a better movie. Oh, it’s bodged into a semblance of coherence, with the Venom stuff seeping into the other parts. But it ends up feeling like every plot in the movie is lessened for there being so many plots.

The really sad part? Is that the end, with Sandman and Spider Man and the whole culmination of their plot once Venom and Harry are out of the way and MJ’s safe? It has some good emotional impact and Sandman/Marko and Spider Man/Peter have some similarities that echo nicely. Neither of them asked for their powers. Both of them want to help someone they care about. And the end for Harry and Peter brings things to a nicely bittersweet close. The endings aren’t spectacular, but they work. The problem is that those endings along with the endings for Venom and for Peter and MJ, we had to have four! If the movie had somehow managed to have all of the various plotlines come together for one actual ending with a coda after the fact? I’d have at least had to concede that they’d been tied together. Having to end them all separately is an admission that they were only loosely spun and easily unraveled.

March 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment