Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

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The Clone Wars

August 23, 2008

The Clone Wars is not a good film. I knew this before I saw it yesterday, just as I know that the animated series is going to dissapoint me. Despite that, I went to see the movie and I’m going to watch the series – most likely via Xbox Live. Why?

I’m a fan. At this point I’m not even a fan of the movies; statistically speaking the amount of screentime I find frustrating and annoying is beginning to overwhelm the amount of Star Wars movie screentime I enjoy. But I do love the world, I love the setting. There’s a lot to like in the Expanded Universe, and the basic concept of a space opera gone magical is a firm foundation for storytelling.

That said, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of trying to enjoy the Star Wars universe despite the machinations of George Lucas. If you look around the absolutely terrible dialogue in Clone Wars, there was a pretty great experience to be had there. High adventure,  a war story in an evocative setting, and absolutely beautiful imagery. I really like the movie’s artistic sensibility – it was like watching moving concept art, almost. Jabba, particularly, looked really cool. His flabby chin had some scaly definition in the film, resulting in a look not unlike some sort of dragon.

To be honest, I really want to see Lucas done with the world. Give it up, let other people run it from now on. I think it’s a fantastic setting, I think there should be people telling stories there … but I just don’t think he’s the right person to do it anymore. Let some other people deal with it in an intelligent and forward-thinking fashion. Please!

That said, looking twenty years into the future, I can already forsee the ‘re-envisioning’ that will happen after Lucas has stopped meddling. Folks are going to come back to the series to retool, straighten, and strengthen the tatters of story and simply incomprehensible core components. Much as I expect we’ll see Abrhams doing with Star Trek early next year, all it takes is a singular vision to breathe life back into a beloved franchise. I guess I can wait if I have to.

But I don’t wanna.

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Prince Caspian

May 26, 2008

I’ve been really enjoying all this movie-going. It’s been years since there were a string of films I was interest enough in to go see, so this is a really wonderful change of pace. And (so far) I haven’t been abjectly disappointed by anything. I’m a cynical old man when it comes to media, but Iron Man, Indy, and now Prince Caspian have all been fairly entertaining. At the least, I have felt I got my money’s worth.

Sunday Katie and I had dinner over at the Great Dane in Fitchburg. The Dane downtown is a Madison institution, and the one in Fitchburg has had a lot to live up to. I think it’s done so admirably, with a great blend of family-style restaurant and pub atmosphere. It was beautiful yesterday, so we were kind of hoping to get window seats, but instead ended up in the bar area. That ended up mostly fine; walking through the dining room proper on the way to the bathroom I noticed there were a bunch of whiney kids making noise.

The bar area, itself, is plenty nice enough. And the food was more than distracting enough. We had some cheese curds to start, and I had a pint of their Oatmeal Stout. For dinner I had a Brat and Bacon Pretzel Burger, which is just as complicated as it sounds. It’s got a Pretzeled Bun, cheese, bacon, burger patty, and then a thinly-sliced bratwurst layer. I always cut my sandwiches in half, and ended up tackling the second half with a fork; messy but delicious business. Katie had Brats and mashed potatoes, and the potatoes were probably the best thing on the table. Light, fluffy, garlic/buttery and very very flavourful.

Caspian itself was a lot of fun too. The first book in the Narnia series has never been my favorite, and so I just generally didn’t enjoy the movie all that much either. Caspian, now, that’s a good un’. I recall enjoying the book a bit better than this movie adaptation, but the cinema experience was well done also:

  • The four protagonists were just generally better actors this time around; more experience points help a lot.
  • Really liked seeing Edward being so asskicking; highlight of the film for me.
  • I love seeing the Minotaurs from WETA, as I mentally see them as Beta tests for Tauren in the World of Warcraft movie.
  • All of the weapon and armor props were really beautiful; perhaps the aforementioned WoW has conditioned me this way but I really liked the shoulder pads especially.
  • They really evoked a feeling of loss amongst the Narnians; the ruins and sour demeanor among the people was well done.
  • Reepicheep was pretty cute, I’ll admit it.
  • Generally could have done with a less overwrought Azlan, and some of those speeches between Caspian and Peter were a bit overdone.

Katie and I don’t get out on dates much, but it was a great evening. I’m glad we took the time to hang out.

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystall Skull

May 22, 2008

I knocked another Summer blockbuster off my list tonight, watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with some of my chums. I thought, for what it was and needed to be, it was alright. Not stellar, but not bad either. ‘Big Deal’ spoiler-free bullet pointy thoughts below:

  • They used the classic Paramount logo to start the film; really liked that.
  • Never got tired of hearing the music; everybody bags on John Williams nowadays, but I still like his style.
  • The action, I felt, never got ‘too’ over the top. They always kept it firmly in the realm of Adventure pulp and (something I was worried about) didn’t make it ultra-violent. I was really afraid that the PG-13 sticker it got would be more like the PG-13s of today than the PG-13s of the 80s. It was all good fun; actually was less gritty than Last Crusade.
  • For the first quarter of the movie Harrison Ford didn’t really sound like Indiana Jones to me. Dunno what the deal was? Maybe some weird ADR, or just that I wasn’t used to hearing his voice with that tone. Everything got back to where it should have been soon enough, though.
  • They didn’t once go to Europe, and it just didn’t feel right not seeing Indy across the pond.
  • I really like history-based Adventure Pulp movies; this film made me look forward to the next Mummy flick. A lot. Why don’t folks make more of these things?
  • If anything, they underused the whip.
  • There was quite a bit of CG, and I really could have done without that. I’d have loved it if they went back to models and stuff for this; reused the same level of tech they had on Last Crusade. The screen lost focus halfway through, and the slight fuzz didn’t help in the slightest.
  • Ending was a very mixed bag. Lots of the aforementioned CG, which felt like a bit of a cop-out.
  • Overall well worth watching if you’re a fan of the other movies (and who in the US isn’t, really). Probably better seen on a high-def television, something I’m really looking forward to.
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Cue the Black Sabbath

May 14, 2008

I just arrived home having watched an extremely stimulating showing of Iron Man. I enjoyed it a great deal, on multiple levels.

  • Nerdery is the new lingua franca of American culture. Nearly every flick previewed before the main event was a nerd culture trope. This summer there’s a metric crapton of movies coming out that I’m looking forward to seeing. My people, I believe, have arrived.
  • Technology is treated with the combination of respect and reverence I think it deserves. While the message is clear that misapplied science is the cause of a great deal of trouble, ultimately Stark’s science saves the day.
  • It’s a beautiful movie. The suit is, in and of itself, an unreal apparition of science given form. The CG representation of the suit, therefore, looks almost completely natural. Most excellent.
  • Nick Fury. ‘Nuff said, true believer.

It’s well worth a watch, and is a most auspicious kickoff to a movie-filled summer.

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Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest

July 25, 2006

Yo ho, me hearties.

It was kind of a given that I would enjoy the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl at least a little. Even if Dead Man’s Chest wasn’t very good, my fond petting of the original movie has developed a sort of Dr. Evil quality to it over the last few years. Pearl was so much better than it had any right to be, that it made me a believer in the goodness of movies again. I’ve recently seen X-Men 3, of course, so that’s no longer a flaw I have to contend with.

Dead Man’s Chest is a perfectly framed mid-part to a three-part story, with the only real complaint I can offer being its sometimes surprisingly slow pace. The problem, if you can call it that, stems from the sheer amount of stuff-doing that the writers must pack into the two and half hours of screentime. There are something like a dozen important characters to keep track of, lots of sea and ground to cover, shipwrecks, assaults, kissing, reveals, swordplay, treasure, and an undead monkey. It’s a busy film.

For the most part, this formula works extremely well. While there were several over-the-top moments, they all felt perfectly ‘natural’ in the context of the film. Like the antics of western heroes, the piratey spirit keeps fools, captains, and cuties safe when they should really be otherwise. I particularly enjoyed the mind-bending ‘rolling wheel’ sequence, which should have just been ridiculous. Instead, it managed to be exciting, funny, and completely enjoyable.

I also really enjoyed the art design displayed in and around Davey Jones’ ship and crew. Every time they were on screen I found myself appreciating a new and creepily unnerving detail. Next year’s planned trilogy topper will probably only exceed the level of detail shown in this outing, and the ghoulish results will no doubt be something to look forward to.

This film, and Pearl, are in no way shape or form classic cinema. They’re pure popcorn, and I’m very glad to say I can enjoy them as much as I do. This film lacked the lip-smacking newness of the original (we already know you can make a good modern pirate film), but still brought out a lot of shine in the antique tropes of the pirate story. Well worth a look, and more than enough fun for me to be looking forward to the next entry in the series.

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Cars

July 13, 2006

I’ve been a fan of Pixar’s work for over a decade now. ‘Toy Story’ was a truly eye-opening experience for me … and, I imagine, for many other moviegoers as well. Since then, a combination of technical wizardry and great storytelling has kept them at the top of a very short list of folks who (in my opinion) could do no wrong.

I was frustrated tonight, then, by the viewing of ‘Cars’ I attended with my wife and Ben Davenport.

The most frustrating thing is that I know there are lots of people for whom Pixar has lived up to their standards. ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘The Incredibles’ rank right up there with some of the finest movies I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure that for some people ‘Cars’ is right there too. For me, though, this movie was a peak into a world I don’t understand, talking about things I don’t care about, with a tone of voice I found kind of annoying.

‘Cars’ speaks to people on many levels. The most obvious are the ones right there on the screen. Car followers, racing fans, desert-dwellers, and smalltown boys and gals will all have familiar subjects to deal with. I’m a Yankee middle-class city kid who finds cars merely a conveyance, has never watched a race in his life, and loves the climate of the Pacific Northwest.

This movie was just not for me, and that’s very frustrating. ‘Nemo’, ‘Bug’s Life’, ‘Toy Story’ … these films spoke to (I feel) more or less everyone. We’ve all been too scared to do something, we’ve all felt like the outsider, and we’ve all had friends in trouble.

The contextual language here seemed much more limited in ‘Cars’. The elements of ‘the wise sage teaches the young man’ were certainly universally applicable, but I already knew that. There was a lot of visual and literal language analogous to a sporting event, and I just don’t care about sports. Most frustrating for me was the message of ‘old things aren’t bad things’ and ‘small town living is a good thing’. I just don’t have that kind of thinking in my background or my psyche. I don’t appreciate antiques, and find small towns pretty ho-hum.

Beyond the context and message, I found the tone of the movie very grating. Every film they’ve made has been (arguably) a children’s film. ‘The Incredibles’ probably less so, but certainly ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ are appropriate for pretty much anyone over the age of about 5 or so. The thing that I love about those movies are that they don’t talk down to kids by watering down anything or adding in some schmaltz. ‘Cars’ was laiden with schmaltz, and the characters felt incredibly flat compared to many of the other memorable bit parts we’ve seen in Pixar flicks.

Visually, of course, the movie was stunning, and the folks there at Pixar have a lot to be proud of. Even here, though, I felt cheated by the flim’s focus and context. Cars (even anthropomorphized), just aren’t as expressive as some other creatures. The desert just bores me, so all those sweeping vistas and panoramic views were completely lost on me.

I know I’m just a wet blanket, a whiny elitist who can’t appreciate the care and beauty of this film and its message. Feel free to say so in a comment. Just the same, there it is. I heard someone say about this film that it was like “an A student coming home with a B on their report card.” I’m going to be a prick and say that that’s generous. ‘Cars’ was a C effort, and I’m looking forward to future films to wash the fumes out of my mouth.

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Superman Returns

July 2, 2006

Sitting in the theatre, smelling deeply of popcorn and air conditioning, I ponder the moviegoing experience. It’s been a while since I last sat in a theatre, and I’m nervous. I always am, just before a movie. Whether it’s a G-rated Pixar romp or an R-rated horror flick, I get butterflies in my stomach. I know why, too: anticipation. I love having things to look forward to, and sitting in the dimly lit theatre means that the anticipation is over; I’m going to see a movie.

Amusing, then, that the movie I saw yesterday took so long to come to fruition. The long and sordid tale of what took so long can be read elsewhere. As someone who more enjoys the bug in red and black than the boy scout in blue and red, I’ve largely escaped the agony Supe fans must have felt waiting for this movie to come out. Just the same, I was well aware of the big shoes this flick had to fill. I saw the original films as a kid, and despite the sad state the franchise ended in I have fond memories of the first two movies.

You can imagine my smile, then, when the theme music began and the hokey titles began flashing onscreen. With the titular theme in full swing, I turned to another friend who greatly enjoys film music to see that we were both grinning like idiots.

Aside from a few minor complaints (I could have lived without the ‘son of Superman’ question), I kept smiling for another two hours or so. The film was, of course, visually spectacular. From the swift trip back to Earth to the last sight of that red cape, the movie was nothing short of breathtaking to behold. There were many shots, specifically, that seemed designed to make sure the audience knew it had gotten it’s moneys worth. Posing in the doorway of a just-rescued plane, holding an entire island continent aloft at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere, or gracefully floating with a swept-off-her-feet Lois Lane … Singer cribbed the best visual shorthand from the comic book and past movies and delivered it in one neat package.

Happily, this film is more than a summer FX piece. Routh’s Kal-El is an almost eerie channeling of the best of Reeves, while his Clark Kent is as goofy as Dean Cain ever was. My use of past actors to compare is simply a testament to his skill; This Superman has very much his own presence and way of holding himself. Especially in his flight, I thought, Routh emotes a quiet at the center of Kal-El’s strength. The result of five years in space, I imagine. The rest of the crew at the Daily Planet is just as well cast. Perry is appropriately gruff, Lois has a good hard mad on, and Jimmy’s comic relief manages to be goofy without being annoying. My wife especially enjoyed Lois, who does a tremendous job of standing up to the boy in blue’s sheepish apologies. I was even impressed with James Marsden, who portrayed Lois’s new beau. Even though it was a given from the moment the film started that she would end up expressing feelings for Kal-El, you never got the impresion that Marsden was onscreen as some sort of sacrificial lamb. His character had stuff to do, a clear personality, and even managed some cool hero moments in the same film as the ultimate hero.

Did you know that Kevin Spacey played Lex Luthor? If you did, then you know that there’s nothing really more for me to say about that. I really enjoyed seeing Parker Posey in a movie again. She’s had a long and often confusing career, and it’s always awesome to see someone whose acting you enjoy appear in a pure money film.

Scott Kurtz, of PVP, has done me the favour of providing a wordless review. I’ll add a subtitle to his images: Superman Returns made me feel like a kid again. A real Hero does heroic things, with enough subtlety to keep the part of my brain that isn’t ten quite happy. I highly recommend the movie, as a happy ride and a direct injection of nostalgia. You have to love a movie that flies.