May Movie Journal - Xanadon't
At the Movies
Caught 'em on the big screen :)
2127 7.9 8.31. The Avengers (2012)
What can I possibly say about The Avengers that you haven't already read somewhere else? Probably nothing. But I'll throw my two cents in anyway...
Over the years Marvel Studios has captured the imagination of both comic-book nerds and normal people alike (I kid, I kid) to an insanely impressive degree. How? Well by spending a shit-load of money, acquiring many top-notch talents, and taking a few well-calculated risks -basically all of which have paid off incredibly. (Only ONE film cost more than it grossed, and it was a co-production that suffered a mere 25-million dollar loss. Bonus points to whomever can name that movie.) By now Marvel has created a movie-making empire that knows no bounds. I predict that summer block-buster super-hero movies will NEVER GO AWAY. Ever. Great news to some. And honestly I don't particularly mind.
So, how did the latest entry into the spandex-hype Olympics go over for me? Just fine. Er, no, I mean it was fine, but that's about it. And really, that's okay.
What I mean to say is that The Avengers is not my new favorite movie and I won't be purchasing a copy on Blu-ray. But it was a mostly enjoyable time at the theater and a pretty good popcorn movie. I still think Thor was a better film and I always will, but I consider The Avengers to be a good deal more impressive than Captain America. Putting it on a par with the Iron Man films might be a stretch, but even as I write this I'm beginning to suspect that possibly none of them would have more or less "staying power" with me than the other. So yeah, you know The Avengers, for all its hype, ranks somewhere in the middle for me.
I will say that, on the whole, the film did a rather impressive job of providing ample screen-time to all its heroes and not short-changing anyone in particular. It needed all of its 142 minutes to do it, but even so, the pacing was never a real issue and I didn't check my watch once. That may sound like modest praise, but I do mean this as a noteworthy achievement. That said, the film felt a bit stale at times in its scene transitions and in terms of tone and content. I'll go ahead and assign some of my trouble with this to Joss Wheedon, whom I simply don't ever foresee becoming one of my personal favorite director/writers. For one thing, I don't find his humor as clever or as... well, funny as most seem to. I did laugh a number of times throughout the film, but generally not with any real amount of mirth. The quips eventually feel showy and bland at the same time, and if even one of you knows what I mean by this then consider me thrilled.
Also, while the final third of the film does deliver some excitement, the action sequences eventually over-stay their welcome by nearly an entire reel and began to feel silly and slightly redundant. I can only watch so many giant flying prehistoric fish robots tear open the sides of Manhattan skyscrapers without a single observable casualty for so long. But again, I'm nit-picking. More exciting were certain instances of in-fighting and smart-ass-ery between our heroes. The way some of our characters' reputations proceed them made for genuinely interesting fare. And the idea of our superheroes questioning one another's abilities and usefulness provided some very entertaining and captivating exchanges. It was often these moments that the film was at its strongest.
But with so much happening on screen, I think the usefulness of a typical review is limited. So from here I'll run through the characters and offer my observations. (Below, from left to right)
Black Widow: The most pleasant surprise of the film. Scarlett Johansson's character wasn't given much to do in Iron Man 2 so hers was the returning character with the most to gain. And indeed it was nice to see Black Widow fleshed out here. (No, I don't mean to suggest a semi-nude Scarlett scene.) I enjoyed her back-story well enough and I believed her character (which actually becomes key and even more fun in a couple of "interrogation" scenes) Johansson looks about as beautiful as I've seen her and she does a very good job with her material.
Thor: Thor remained agreeably dorky in that Norse god way of his, though with fewer "fish out of water" jokes, as this marks his second visit to Earth. Actor Chris Hemsworth once again gives off a charming, good-natured, semi-dullard, but decidedly likeable vibe without sacrificing anything in the way of badassness. This comes as some relief when positioned alongside Tony Stark's -nah, let's face it- Robert Downey Jr's douche-baggery.
Captain America: Still boring, still kind of a tool, still overwhelmingly dull at his core and bland around the edges. If planet Earth could be saved by good-looks alone, Chris Evans would probably be your guy. Hell, he'd likely have his own monument in every major city. Just don't ever ask him to save a movie. In fact, if he begins to show up on screens all over the place, why hell, just give Loki the damn planet. Anyway, the film tries to give Skippy DoRight stuff to do, but as often as not it seems a bit forced. "Sure Captain, your shield can boomerang back to you the way Thor's hammer does. Fine, whatever."
Hawkeye: I'll admit to not knowing shit about Hawkeye going into the film. And guess what? I still don't know the first damn thing about him. Except for he's a master marks-man with a bow and that what looks like two dozen arrows are in fact two thousand. I've enjoyed Jeremy Renner in previous roles. Nothing about his performance really stood out here.
Iron Man: Tony Stark naturally remains the smug, overly-pleased with himself, given most of the "best" lines in the movie, douche-bag that we've all grown to love/hate. Frankly this persona has worn thin with me and I find it increasingly difficult to find much amusement in Downey's portrayal. I understand that he's probably no better or worse here, but I've just grown tired of the character. (Similarly I've never seen Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I'm only slightly more inclined to see Iron Man 3. What? There's 4 Pirate movies? Get outta here.) That said, watching Iron Man fly around and blow stuff up is still really fucking cool looking.
The Hulk: I actually haven't seen either of the Hulk films. So yes, I suck. But if you asked me who my favorite character in The Avengers is, I'd have to say Mark Ruffalo's Dr. Bruce Banner, no contest. Given the somewhat limited screen-time given him, Ruffalo absolutely owns this role as the tortured and emotionally repressed super-genius (who holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics). Ruffalo possesses a certain easy world-weariness that lends itself perfectly to the role, as well as suggestion of emotional depth and mystery that one can never quite perceive but is nonetheless always aware of. And the raging green Hulk monster looked really impressive, whether in frantic action moments or standing still. Nice job all around with this character.
This brings us to Nick Fury who I won't say much about other than that from beginning to end I was mostly conscious of Samuel L. cashing a paycheck. Hate me if you must, but nothing really excited me about his character. The fact that he often shares his scenes with Cobie Smulders (how's that for a name?) helped. She plays Agent Maria Hill -essentially the ship's first-mate for all intents and purposes. Looking really, really pretty accounts for any remaining purpose and she excels at it.
Finally we have Loki, our primary villain. Loki still exudes some of that bitter, trench-coat wearing (c'mon, look at his costume-design) high school outcast turned high school shooter persona that we met in last year's Thor. Understand I'm not making light of such atrocities. It's literally one of the major things that come to mind -or mine, anyway- when observing his character. Played by Tom Hiddleston he remains something of a lackluster villain here. Not sure what it is, just lacking that certain something. But he's crazy and jealous and power-hungry, and a little pathetic and that adds up to dangerous. Or just dangerous enough to make the film get by. And certain camera treatments of his character (particularly high-angle shots) helped with any convincing that still needed doing. But I don't think there's much mileage left in his character.
Ah, but that brings me to the mid-credit scene and I wouldn't dare spoil it here. Let's just say I immediately recognized the character in question -which, more than anything else, reveals a certain level of dork in me that I wasn't fully aware of. You know, just in case my uncharacteristically long treatment of this film left any doubt.
231 7.5 7.32. The Kid With A Bike (2011)
A positively wonderful little film that's certain to land a spot in my top 10 list at the end of the year. This movie traverses a wide range of emotions and I genuinely felt every last one of them.
Young Thomas Doret is marvelous as the central character. It's one of the most natural and believable performances I've ever seen from a child actor. And while the film is rather small in story, it invites much broader musings about far larger ideas. I really can't find anything to fault in its tidy 87 minutes.
427 6 6.33. The Raven (2012)
Well I'm a big Cusak fan, genre film fan, and something of a Poe fan. So there's a chance that I'm more friendly to this film than most.
Also, the more seriously you take it, the less likely I think you are to be terribly pleased with it. It's glossy, schlocky fun. Sort of an updated Hammer horror meets Zodiac -but set in the mid 19th century. Opinions will vary on how satisfying the final revelations are. Even so, it's a fun time getting there.
96 6.2 5.94. Damsels in Distress (2011)
Whip-smart from its surface down to its core and highly original. So many indie movies is this vein wish they could achieve the fresh quirk and intelligence that this film exudes, but so few bother to put the work in.
Damsels in Distress plays like a coming of age social satire crossed with Jane Austen updated for the 21st century but it's vision and methods are so uniformly pronounced and entirely their own that it almost bleeds into fantasy. It's a real treat of contemporary cinema that will no doubt taste sweeter to some than others. I relished it.
1382 6.3 6.35. Dark Shadows (2012)
Many of the things that I've always loved about Tim Burton's films are very much intact here: extravagantly gothic set-design, social outcast themes, a colorful ensemble of characters, and one Mr. Johnny Depp at the center in a performance that oozes with conviction. Yet I couldn't help but feel that while Dark Shadows may not be Burton's weakest film overall, it's certainly his laziest effort to date. And 'lazy' isn't an attribute that one would ever expect this director to be branded with -even by Burton haters. One can imagine then that by the end of the film I was more than a little disappointed.
The impressiveness and promise shown by the film's first 15 minutes makes this eventual disappointment an even more bitter pill to swallow. Our introduction to the story of Barnabas Collins is a visual triumph and presented with a blend of gloomy romance and cheerfully sinister fantasy that few other filmmakers would be able to duplicate. By the time we are transported from the Victorian age to 1972 I'd just begun to think that Burton has rediscovered the full heft of his visionary genius. And then mediocrity began to nibble away at the edges and from all sides, only stopping short at the core of the film, which is Depp's masterful command of his craft and character -that much remained untarnished. Johnny Depp holds up his end of the bargain throughout, despite the ways Tim Burton underachieves.
The problem here doesn't seem to be the source-material, nor the decision to set the story in a 1972 Maine fishing town. Some of the film's strongest elements come from it's firm sense of time and place -as well as a surprisingly effective soundtrack. But blending reality with fantasy in a way that generates excitement toward both sides of the story can be a difficult and delicate task, though Tim Burton has often made it appear easy in the past. Here Burton doesn't seem to want to be bothered -it truly feels as though he's simply too busy having fun making a movie with his buddy to give the larger story at work its full due. When nearly every other character on screen feels like a hastily conceived sketch, we sense there may be a problem. When nothing remarkable is achieved through the unique talents of his own wife (Helena Bonham Carter) we damn-well know something's amiss.
The romance at the center of the film is the true indicator that Burton is off his game here. When Barnabas returns to his run-down Victorian estate, he is transfixed by the recently employed Victoria Winters. Indeed, she seems to encapsulate everything he loved about his dearly departed Josette from 200 years earlier. This could've provided for all sorts of interesting and satisfying story. Sadly, it's development is severely lacking. By the end we are told that their love for one another is some monumental thing, but we're never provided even a hint of the admittedly cute and fairy-tale-like, but ultimately warm and deceptively rich romance that Burton has shown us before in films ranging from Edward Scissorhands to Sleepy Hollow, to Corpse Bride.
In the end Dark Shadows falls more in line with Mars Attacks than any of Burton's other titles - it's largely a comedic satire of a well-established genre-film. The problem is not only that this movie sets out to achieve considerably more and fails, but that by this point Burton-fans (or this one, anyway) indeed needed more from their once beloved director. My interest is rapidly fading.
668 5.7 6.46. The Dictator (2012)
Meh. It was fine. Likely would offend a good many people -except most of those people aren't likely to ever see it. The rest of us will get a few laughs out of the deal but nobody is likely to be a different person walking out of the movie than they were coming into it. Anna Farris is fucking annoying. And a pretty crummy actress.
Regrettably missed their theatrical run. Or sometimes just "impulse rentals".
530 6.7 6.97. Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
235 5.2 5.68. The Sitter (2011)
307 7 79. Perfect Sense (2011)
Critics are widely divided on this one, as are audiences, though to a seemingly lesser extent. I thought it was a perfectly good film when judged on its own merits.
706 6.8 7.110. Chronicle (2012)
Thought there was a chance this would be worth my while (why, I'm not sure), but no. The found-footage genre remains the same colossal joke its been on us movie-watchers all along, with precious few exceptions. Chronicle not among them. One of these days I'll stop falling for this, I swear. But... glad I didn't see it in theaters.
In fact, anyone care to join me in never contributing to a "found-footage" movie's box-office return from here on out? Let's put an end to this shitty trend.
468 7.5 7.611. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Written but not directed by Hayao Miyazaki, The Secret World of Arriety has much of the same look, feel, and tone of Miyazaki's collection of work so it should play mostly well toward his fans. However it is a bit lacking in the darker elements found throughout many Studio Ghibli films -a fact which I personally consider rather unfortunate. Also the music choices are a bit weak, disruptive, or just too sugary and obvious at times. This is fine when a approaching the movie as a "kid's film" but it's likely to put off a few other viewers to at least a slight extent.
But with those complaints out of the way, we're once again left with a thoughtful, touching, nice looking animated film rounded out by strong (though again, not as great as we've been treated with before from this animation studio) voice-acting. There are plenty of scenes that played out with more tension or emotion than I've felt from quite a number of live-action films this month.
121 5.5 5.912. Rampart (2011)
Catching up with some of those movies that got away from me
234 5.9 613. Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Nicole Kidman stuck in a tree? Or trying to imagine herself in a better film?
There are moments of cleverness at work here, but only moments, and even lumped together they're nowhere near enough to make up for the overwhelming fact that I really didn't enjoy spending any time with these people. It's not just that everyone is a mean-spirited, self-deluded, dysfunctional asshole. That might still make for a watchable film. It's that everyone is a boring mean-spirited, self-deluded, dysfunctional asshole.
526 7.2 7.414. Freedom Writers (2007)
An unimaginative "one-size-fits-all" style of direction impedes this film from becoming something a bit more powerful and noteworthy. Certainly it's a story we've encountered before, in one variation or another. But the specific story behind this film is a fascinating and moving one and I'm glad I watched the movie. There's no shortage of strong performances from non-professional actors here, and Swank gives us something that, while not arresting and magnificent, gets the job done well enough.
There are plenty of cliches that come with this kind of territory, but that's to be expected. A more creative and self-assured approach to telling the story could've helped matters. But still, I was moved by the film overall, even if I found myself groaning at certain scenes. And there's one confrontation in the movie that really stood out to me as something special.
879 6 6.415. The Interpreter (2005)
A rather lack-luster political thriller that can be smart and effective at times, but ultimately lacks any real punch. I enjoyed Sean Penn more than I typically do, but didn't get as much from Nicole Kidman's performance as I'd hoped. Catherine Keener is always good, but unfortunately she's a bit underused here. If you missed this one don't lose any sleep over it.
763 4.8 4.816. The Spirit (2008)
Front-runner for most misunderstood film of its decade. Yes, I'm serious.
This movie is 10x more fun and 10x smarter than most any critic gave it credit for upon its release. Not only is this movie fresh and unpredictable and exciting in its own right, but it will get appreciative viewers excited about film itself -or genre films, anyway. How do I describe it?
Okay. Here's the thing. If you tell me that you enjoy Film Noir and then you tell me that you enjoy the old Batman serials and then you tell me that you enjoy Robert Rodriguez and then you tell me that you enjoy Tim Burton's first decade of work and then you tell me that you enjoy comic-book films that don't take themselves too seriously (Why So Serious, Christopher Nolan?) BUT then you tell me that you thought The Spirit sucked... well. I'd say you're definitely wrong somewhere in there and that you ought to give this movie another look.
Thank friggin christ for a movie that understands exactly what it is and then goes about its business with a healthy pulse, an appreciation for style, and a true sense of fun and mischievousness. If only every comic-book/graphic novel adaptation could be so over-achieving!
I'll be watching it again.
757 7.3 7.417. 2046 (2004)
Video Store Rental
There's a great film buried somewhere in here. But the entire project is hijacked by pacing issues and an unnecessarily convoluted narrative structure. There are some awe-inspiring sequences. Unfortunately, they're too transient. They're isolated here and there in an uneven celluloid sea. But what a beautiful, colorful sea it is.
76 6.9 618. Circumstance (2011)
Tightrope walks a line between sensationally erotic and serious examination of contrasting social forces in contemporary Iranian culture. This film is intensely sexy and wonderfully subversive. So yes, this is exciting cinema.
The performances from each and every major player is very strong and there's an observant and sensitive emotional core to the entire film. Definitely recommended!
91 4.9 5.219. Donkey Punch (2008)
567 6.2 6.320. Underworld: Awakening (2012)
Cult Flicks and Assorted Obscurities
15 6.7 6.321. Late Bloomer (2004)
Video Store Rental
Late Bloomer is a tale of loneliness and rage that's a little bit like Taxi Driver, a bit like Tetsuo, a little bit like Tod Browning's Freaks, and a lot unlike anything you've seen before. That much I can promise. I found it compelling and admirably original and ambitious. It may not hold your attention, and even if it does, it still may not "work" for you. But I think it's a rewarding enough watch for the cinematically adventurous.
4 8.7 7.322. Classic Albums: Lou Reed - Transformer (2001)
Fans of Lou Reed (like myself) will find this worthwhile, though probably not life-changing. I happen to love "Transformer" so I definitely enjoyed this.
People who voted for this also voted for