Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

Who You Gonna Call?   3 comments

Last night I finally got to see the Avengers, my most hotly anticipated film since Conan.  I enjoyed it.  The action scenes and the special effects were outstanding–Academy Award outstanding.  The acting was superb.  The scriptwriters and director gave good lines and plenty of screen time to all the major characters.  I suppose I should stop and give a well done bit of applause to all the members of the cast.  Here’s a few of them as listed at IMDB.com.

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Evans Chris Evans
Mark Ruffalo Mark Ruffalo
Chris Hemsworth Chris Hemsworth
Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson
Jeremy Renner Jeremy Renner
Tom Hiddleston Tom Hiddleston
Clark Gregg Clark Gregg
Cobie Smulders Cobie Smulders
Stellan Skarsgård Stellan Skarsgård
Samuel L. Jackson Samuel L. Jackson
Gwyneth Paltrow Gwyneth Paltrow

I am not a Hollywood groupie, and I don’t keep track of movie stars in my daily life.  I have seen Robert Downey and Gwynneth Paltrow enough in other films to recognize their names.  I still remember the terrific performances turned in by Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Helmsworth as Thor, but if you had asked me last night before the film who played Cap and Thor in those movies, I couldn’t have told you.  Of course everyone in America knows Samuel Jackson from lots of different films–he does the Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. routine.  However, I thought the actors were very good, even the ones in throwaway bit parts.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki really carried the movie.  Super heroes require super villains, and he was great, combining arrogance, cunning, and sheer mad egotism in a bravura performance.  I think there is a tendency to overlook the bad guys in hero action films, but we members of the audience should give those actors more credit.  Without them the heroes have no reason to exist, and nothing to emote against.  Think about it.  There was one real bad guy in the film–Loki.  He took on Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury and gave them all they could handle.  One vs. seven. I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you they beat him in the end, but think of the odds.  Hero stories are usually stacked the other way–more bad guys than good guys, and in a sense this was since Loki had an army of formidable aliens to back him up, but they were just extras.  Loki, and for 2/3 of the movie, Hawkeye who had been mind-controlled by Loki, were the only real bad guys.

The plot can be summarized easily enough.  Loki and his army of alien monsters decide to conquer the Earth.  Loki’s main problem is in bringing his troops to Earth from their outer space/other dimesnional homeworld.  Nick Fury and his agents of SHIELD, including the group he pulls together as the Avengers have to stop him.  Lots of combat and property destruction ensue.  Much of the conflict occurs on a personal level.  Marvel characters are all people first, heroes second.  They have their own motivations and lives, and often resent being forced to protect the world from one threat or another, but because they are good guys at heart–at least most of them are–they get over their greivances and cooperate to save the day.  Take out all the character vs. character petty antagonisms and the movie is half as long.

I don’t know why the publicity departments for these films always choose the least interesting photos.

The movie really starts with the theft of the Tesseract (also known as the Cosmic Cube in the comics) from a SHIELD base somewhere.  Loki takes on the whole base, beats it, and gets away with the maguffin.  But it only gets interesting when we switch to the Black Widow, in her crimson underwear, tied to a chair, and being interrogated by an evil Russian general arms dealer.  She gets a call from SHIELD saying they need her to “come in” and this leads to an escape featuring the most incredible display of chair fu ever filmed.  Jackie Chan would be so proud.  That’s the scene I want a picture of, not her in a black rubber suit pointing a pistol.

The two Chrisses. Blondes rule when it comes to street-fighting in New York.

Thor and Captain America, although no dummies, spend most of their time kicking butt and looking hunky.  I suppose the beefcake is for the ladies in the audience, but there is a lot of barely concealed homoeroticism in superhero comics.  These guys are just so damn pretty.  I like it better when they’re kicking butt.

Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is a hands-on kind of guy. He does his own dirty jobs, and butt-kicking. Does he look like a mastermind to you? He doesn’t to me, but appearances can be deceiving. You can never trust a cyclops.

In the course of the film we learn that SHIELD is really run by a secret cabal who are utterly ruthless.  I guess having it just be an arm of the United Nations or the U.S. government isn’t enough any more.  We need conspiracies.  And the government looks evil enough to the American public without the movies making it worse.  Far better to have secret leaders who can’t be traced back to the Republicans or the Democrats or the Communists pulling the strings.  Fury is shown to be a devious bastard, but still a man with heart who does his best to protect people.

Alpha-males never get along when they meet each other. Give them a common foe, and they can certainly cooperate, but social situations are just plain nasty.

Thor and Iron Man go head to head in combat about half way through the movie.  I didn’t buy it.  No matter how good Stark’s technology is, Thor’s hammer should have blasted through it like it was tissue paper.  He’s a god.  So, suspend your disbelief for this part and just enjoy the smashing and bashing.

Loki has the best costumes, the best lines, and the best smile in the movie.

Remember that building in the background from the Ghostbusters? When there’s someting bad in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Bad doesn’t come much worse than Loki on a power trip.

Who ya gonna call? Iron Man, I guess. I like Iron Man–he’s witty, smart, courageous, lecherous, and rich–just like me. Heh. Well, I can match him in one of those characteristics, and it isn’t the rich one.

The movie ends in an epic battle scene.  All of our Avenging heroes fight like heroes.  Hulk and Thor do the heavy hitting.  The rest take on the alien storm troopers who are quite bad enough to give any normal human being fits.  This is the part of the movie I liked best.  Bring it on!  Take out one gigantic space dragon.  Not bad.  Here’s ten more of them.  Now what are you gonna do, Hulk?

I liked the Avengers and give it 4 stars out of 5. ****  If you like superheroes at all, don’t miss it.

One more thing:  my personal rant–People are so hypercritical of the movies these days.  The Avengers is an amazing achievement as a movie.  Can you nitpick it?  Yes you could.  I’m not going to.  Try to see the terrific acting, the great storyline, the amazing special effects (even if it was all done with computer animation), and skip over the implausibilities and impossibilities that glare out of the movie at you.  It’s a comic book world, bearing a heavy resemblance to our world, but it isn’t our world.  It’s a wilder place than our own universe, and wilder things happen.  Accept them!  Enjoy them!

Biggest surprise for me: Joss Whedon had his name all over the credits.  Wow!  He must be on top of the world right now.  He is, imnsho, the best storyteller in Hollywood, perhaps in the world.  Didn’t know he was a Marvel fan, but I stand in awe of his achievements.

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If you have anything to say about the Avengers, the Ghostbusters, or Joss Whedon, please leave a comment.

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Green Lantern–Failure of Imagination, part 2   2 comments

 

I watched Green Lantern when it came out in June, and started to review it then.  Somehow that review bogged down.  I was going to spend a lot of time blasting the movie version of Sinestro, but there really wasn’t enough to blast.  I remember being angered by the character in the film, but after a few hours the rage went away, and I didn’t have much to say.  Thus, the review languished until today when I decided to finish it as my simple reactions to the movie.  I don’t really do reviews–there are plenty of other places on the internet for straight reviews.  I do reactions–the reactions of a life-long science fiction and comics fan, who would really like to see great superhero movies.

Green Lantern is probably my favorite DC superhero.  As a science fiction fan, I always wanted to  be able to transport myself all over the galaxy to alien planets–I always wanted to be able to do anything at all through sheer willpower.  Green Lantern and Adam Strange were the ones that most appealed to me–both were adventurers whose mind was more important than their bodies.  (not that they had bad bodies–I’d like to have either one’s physique).  When the news came out that there would be a Green Lantern movie, I was pleased and excited.  I went to see it on opening week.  For the most part I liked it.  I liked the special effects–the gorgeously detailed aliens–the weirdness of Oa, the beauty of Carol Ferris.

But, I have to admit that the story was shit.  I attribute this to the fact that Hollywood simply can’t even try to produce a movie from the base material as originally written.  My guess is that the people who don’t know beans about the original property nevertheless get to say how the end product should look.  So, the script writers–if they are not at fault for warping and placing their own interpretations on things–wind up putting all sorts of crap into the movie because someone thinks the audience expects it.  Example: Hal Jordan is a hotshot test pilot.  Let’s also make him a clown and a bit of an asshole–the audience can identify with a guy like that.   Well, originally Hal Jordan was neither clown nor asshole–though his writers at DC for the last 10  years or so have been working pretty hard on making an ass out of him.  We don’t need that, or appreciate it, Hollywood.  Give us back the real Hal Jordan–the excellent test pilot who was witouut fear.

Special effects don’t impress movie critics.  Costume design, scenery, excellent acting by bit players–none of that means squat to the critics.  But it impresses me.  Green Lantern is an outer space fantasy, notable for its aliens.  And the movie has great aliens taken from the Green Lantern comics.  Take a look at Tomar Re, one of Hal Jordan’s best friends in the Green Lantern Corps.  However, the one alien who is supposed to impress we movie-goers the most is Sinestro–a crimson-hued Errol Flynn clone.  Sinestro was the greatest Green Lantern–the one guy whose approval really mattered.  He doesn’t have a very high opinion of humans, and so he thinks Hal Jordan will be a washout as a Green Lantern.  He’s almost right, but his very antagonism spurs Hal to greater efforts. 

There is, of course, a big Bad in the movie.  It is a gigantic chaotic cloud creature capable of destroying planets.  The original Parallax in the Green Lantern comics was much more than that, but let’s keep things simple for movie-goers.  Parallax is the essence of Fear itself.  (Heh, sounds like a current Marvel mega-series.)   It is more powerful than any Green Lantern, or even any team of Green Lanterns.   Sinestro can’t handle it.  Guess who does.

Why does a big chaotic cloud creature have a horrific humanoid head?

 
I’d like to see more Green Lantern movies–maybe put them up against a better enemy–say the Khunds or the Dominators.  But, actually we don’t need any more of Hal Jordan or Sinestro.  Let’s do G.L. as a chick movie featuring Arisia.  I bet it would fly.
 

Arisia--how green was my universe!

 
Movies are typically rated by stars.  On a 10 star system I’d give Green Lantern a 5.  On a 4 star system it gets a 2.  The movie is worth seeing for special effects, Carol Ferris, and a trip to Oa.  You know, I bet it would be great for a MST3000 treatement.  I do hope they carry on and make a Justice League movie with Green Lantern in it.  If Marvel can do the Avengers, surely DC, owned by Warner Brothers, could do the Justice League.
If you have some comments about the Green Lantern movie, you could put them in below. 
 
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Conan the Barbarian   1 comment

I went to see the new Conan the Barbarian movie on Sunday.  I had been looking forward to seeing Robert E. Howard’s epic hero on the big screen again for months, hoping and praying that Hollywood wouldn’t ruin it.  I was not disappointed, although I take it from the reviews that many movie critics were.  I’m not surprised.  Movie critics never get the point of fantasy or science fiction movies.  They use the wrong set of guidelines to judge the movie, and thus they fail to see the real virtues of such films.

I am not going to talk about the plot of the story.  If you want to know that stuff, go see the movie.  It is, in my humble opinion, worth the $7 it will cost you to get in.  I’d go see the ordinary 2D version–the special effects are good, but not so good that you need to see them bursting out of the screen at you.  Maybe the tentacles scene would be worth it (grin).

Critics like to see character development.  Conan isn’t about character development–the personalities of the main characters are pretty much static.  The bad guys stay bad, the tough guys stay tough, the sexy women stay sexy–and that is a good thing in a movie like this.  Critics like to see complex story lines.  Conan doesn’t do complex stories.  Conan stories, for the most part, are simple and direct–like a sword thrust to the gut.  But there is a story in this movie–a pretty strong story, even though it has been often told before.  A sorcerous threat to the world arises–a hero emerges to defeat it.  In a way, the movie has the same plot as the first Schwarzanegger movie back in 1982–bad guy destroys Conan’s family and tribe while Conan is a child.  Many years later, Conan gets his vengeance.  Same plot–different events and characters equals different story.

Let’s talk about the things that make this picture good–very good in my opinion–i give it 4 stars out of 5.  First, there is the acting.  Considering how ridiculous the fantasy is compared to the real world, the fact that the actors all really got into their parts, and portrayed all the villainy, lust, terror, courage, love that the characters in the movie were feeling really impressed me.  When you watch the movie, you believe it.  The acting isn’t wooden or hoaky–it’s real.  The less important the actor in the film, the better the acting was.  Conan the kid was fantastic.  So was Ron Perlman as his father–the blacksmith chieftain of the Cimmerian tribe.

With his village in flames, Conan as a boy is full of fight and determination.

 
Conan is renowned for his ability as a fighter.  Jason Momoa, or his stuntman, does a great job portraying a fighter.  Conan is fearless and deadly.  The critics complain that the movie is one blood-soaked battle after another.  In fact, that is what it is supposed to be.  And the battles are great–cinematic, exciting, fast.  No two fights are alike.  After reading what the critics said about bloody mess, I was kind of disappointed.  There wasn’t that much blood.  All too often the killing stroke was not shown–they were often left to the imagination of the viewer.  I was expecting great gushing fountains of blood such as you get in Japanese Samurai movies, but we never got any fountains of gore–just a stain, or a cut here and there.  So, no, the movie isn’t as gore-spattered as the critics might lead one to believe.  Use of blood was actually rather tastefully done.  But the battles were great.
 

Conan does now what Conan does best.

 
 
Another great thing about the movie was the scenery.  Much of Conan was shot on location in Eastern Europe–looks like Romania or the Carpathian Mountains.  Beautiful, wild, exciting terrain.  It looks like a primal world.  Some of it was Hollywood special effects magic–no doubt about it–but the real parts were magnificent in their own right.  Again, I think the critics fail to take into consideration the sheer beauty of the movie–the attention to detail, the splendor of the settings.   We moviegoers are so jaded.  We take the settings for granted in our films–and yet hundreds of people worked hard to make those settings believable and real for us.  They deserve some credit for doing great jobs.  A movie that looks good is not an accident, and deserves some consideration.
 

Giant tentacles are the quintessence of movie monsters!

 
Although sorcery is at the heart of the plot, the movie is a bit light on actual magic.  And there weren’t as many monsters as you would find in your average fantasy role-playing session.  No elves, dwarves, or orcs.  No dragons or trolls.  But there were some marvelous sand warriors, and there was a gigantic tentacled horror that no hero could possibly defeat.  (I have to admit that the tentacled monstrosity didn’t make much sense, but it sure was fun to watch.)  Conan lives in a world of men.  Men are enough.
 
And the movie also had what all Conan movies need–beautiful women.  I like beautiful women for their own sake–I love them in my fantasy escapist fare.  I was not unhappy with the women in the Conan movie–from the bare-breasted wenches in the beginning to the kinky evil witch to the beautiful fighting heroine–they were all great.
 

This witch girl has grown into one of the nastiest villainesses ever, but all she really wants is her father's love.

 

Marique offers herself to her father--this is kinky and could have gotten pornographic very easily. It didn't.

 
Lastly, there is a veiled element of eroticism in this and all Conan movies.  The handsome half-naked hero is attractive to both men and women–there is a homoerotic element to the movie that most people simply refuse to see.  The picture above clearly shows a kind of perverted love interest.  The beautiful women that appear all through the film are there for those of us who are straight, and also for women who like women.  Every sexual taste is subtly acknowledged and catered to in Conan the Barbarian.  You won’t see critics deigning to mention or even talk about that, but at least half of the fantasy element is these movies is the sexual fantasy part.  Sex and Death are always connected.  Conan the Barbarian carries the sexual parts of the fantasy very well.  It is erotic without ever becoming pornographic.  I say it was well done.
 
Those are the things I really liked about Conan the Barbarian.  Let me talk about the weaknesses just a little bit.  First, the story was not that original–basically the same story that they used for Arnold’s first movie–the names and places and events were different, but the plot and result were the same.  I half expected Conan to confront the villain at some point and say, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die!”  Well, he would have said Conan, not Inigo Montoya, but you know what I mean.  Second, the movie has the usual Hollywood ending–the villain’s fortress collapses and more or less explodes around the heroes at the end.  There was no need for that.  Third, they played fast and loose with the geography of the Hyborian world.  Only a dyed-in-the-wool Conan purist fan like me would notice such things.  Those things are quibbles.  The movie isn’t about revenge, or fortresses, or geography.  It is about being Conan the Barbarian in a barbaric world.
 
The movie contains one line that is pure Robert E. Howard–kudos to the script-writers for getting it in there.  Tamara asks Conan if he believes the gods have a purpose for everthing.  He answers “I know not and I care not.  I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.”  As moviegoers we get to watch him live, love, and slay, and we should be content with that.  I am.
 
 
 
 
Tell me how you liked the Conan movie or didn’t in your comments.
 
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