In what should be no surprise revalation to Loyal Readers, I have a bit of an eclectic taste in movies. However, this doesn't mean that I actually *go* to many in the theater since "eclectic" should never be confused with "bad." There have been years where I didn't see any movie in the theater simply because there was nothing interesting playing. For some reason I found myself seeing more movies this summer than I have in many years. So I figured I might as well innaugurate the "Movie Reviews" category with my thoughts on some of this past summers offerings.
There are spoilers abound in this post, so if you're interested in seeing any of the following movies, you might want to skip this post (also skip A Scanner Darkly while you're at it).
- X-Men 3: The Last Stand
- Superman Returns
- A Scanner Darkly
- A Prairie Home Companion
- V For Vendetta
- Little Miss Sunshine
X-Men: The Last Stand
There was a lot of negative buzz around this film mostly for the directorial switch from Bryan Singer to Brett Ratner. Singer directed the first two X-Men movies but left the project and went on to Superman Returns so the franchise was left to the director best known for Rush Hour. Singer's first X-Men movie was excellent and the sequel was superlative, so fans and critics held Ratner to a high but obviously achievable standard.
X-Men 3 clearly fell short of its prequels, but it wasn't a horrible movie. The basic plot point were there, albeit watered down a bit. Characters were introduced more for their different powers than for anything meaningful, but Kelsey Grammer did a very nice job of playing Beast. And aside from Professor X putting Jean Grey as second in command knowing she's an apocalyptic time bomb, the movie did make sense in the context of the most important parts of the narrative.
While I don't think it was a bad as many critics said it was I can't recommend it to anyone except the comic fans who saw the previous two and have a misguided need for closure.
YUTOPIA Grade: B- (Not great, not horrible)
For all the brouhaha about Singer leaving the X-Men to its ultimate destruction one would expect that Singer's replacement project would be the paragon of Superhero movies. In fact, I'm willing to conjecture that it's because of Singer's reputation that Superman Returns was rated as highly as it was.
This is unfortunate, because by the standards I have of evaluation comic book movies, Superman Returns was not only disappointing, but outright horrible.
All comic book type of movies require a degree of suspending disbelief. Getting bitten by a radioactive spider gives you super powers and massive doses of gamma radiation tuns you into a really angry juggernaut as opposed to a cancer patient. I can buy all that, but there have got to be limits. For example, Superman has all his powers and he's vulnerable to Kryptonite. Lex Luthor creates a whole island made laced with the green stuff - enough such that simply standing on it renders the Man Of Steel to a puny mortal. That being the case, how could Superman possibly lift up THE ENTIRE ISLAND into outer space? Superhero movies can take some liberties with the laws of physics, but they still have to be consistent internally.
Actually Superman Returns takes some significant creative liberties in the area of real-world physics as well. For example, there is no possible way the nose of the airplane would be able to sustain the PSI of landing into Superman.
Then let's get back to the Island of Kryptonite again. Even forgetting the whole "supposed to kill Superman" part, how is it that he's able to lift up the Island without it cracking in half and falling back down to the ocean? Then there's the non-superpowered Luthor punching a weakened Superman on said Island 20 feet backwards!
Even if we let that all that slide, can anyone explain to me how Lois managed to walk away from the plane crash without a scratch? Unless she somehow got infused with super powers herself, she should have been killed or at least paralyzed from the neck trauma.
The thing is, these oversights didn't bother me all that much relatively. I'm a reasonable person who enjoys movies and I will easily trade the laws of nature for a meaningful or intelligent story. Here's where Superman Returns fails miserably - the plot only works if everyone is a complete idiot. You have the protector of his adopted home world just picking up and leaving without telling anyone, as if people wouldn't notice if the invincible flying worldwide crime fighter would be missing. Then Lois, on the night she's going to accept her Pulitzer Prize, decides to take her son on a little breaking and entering excursion which *shockingly* doesn't turn out all that well.
Alright, I'm done.
YUTOPIA Grade: C- (The eye stopping the bullet was a pretty cool effect)
A Scanner Darkly
Translating Philip K. Dick stories to the screen has always been a tricky endeavor and the results have been somewhat mixed. Compare for example Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. For Scanner I was attracted by the pictures and trailers and I was intrigued by the Rotoshop animation of the characters over their actual live performances. According to one review "Each minute of animation took 500 hours of work."
Now if only they worked on the rest of the movie.
This was by far the absolute worst movie I have seen in the theater ever, which is a strong statement considering how much tripe I've absorbed over the years. I nearly walked out at several points of the movie, but I figured I might as well stick it out - I paid for it I might as well max out. Others were more daring than myself; two people did in fact walk out of the movie prompting one viewer to exclaim, "I don't blame you, this thing is stupid." I could not agree more and will not waste any more time on this waste of celluloid.
YUTOPIA Grade: F (Eye candy will only take you so far. Run away.)
A Prairie Home Companion
Finally a bright spot! Prairie recounts the final performance of a live-broadcast weekly concert series. As such it is replete with great music and old-fashioned corny humor. (There's a song dedicated to Bad Jokes which you know will win points over here). Even better, among all these musical performances, there is inspired acting where the actors convey emotion so naturally you forget that the entire set is fictional.
Highly recommended, especially to fans of A Mighty Wind.
YUTOPIA Grade: A (Funny and poignant, always a good combination)
V For Vendetta (Saw on airplane)
Not really a Summer Movie given its release in March, but it's close enough. I didn't see this in the theater and it's possible you lose something on the 5 inch screen they give you on airplanes these days, but from the content of the film I don't think I missed all that much.
The thing is that translating something like V to the screen is much harder than your typical comic book movie. For most of the "hero" genre, there is some freedom with some of the characters provided the core mythology is left intact. But with movies like V, the challenge is to retell a specific narrative and there is less room for variation. Given the different media involved and the depth of Alan Moore's writing, you know that important themes and nuances will have to be omitted.
In most cases of movies based on literature I'm willing to forgive deviation and treat the movie as its own independent work, but it's clear V is trying to be an extension of the comic. As a standalone action movie I'd have to say that there's just too much being packed in with not enough development or explanation such that you really need to know the original to really understand what's going on. For the moment I'd just say read the book or at least this review and compare for yourself.
YUTOPIA Grade: Incomplete (*shrug*)
Little Miss Sunshine
You've seen the dysfunctional family movies, and you've seen the Road Trip movies, so how about a two-in-one? Sunshine is riddled with movie cliche's from the comically outdated and malfunctioning vehicle to the classic "stuffing-dead-relative-in-the-trunk" gag, but you might not realize it until after the movie. Much of the plot points in the movie are predictable, even to some degree, the ending.
Ah, but what an ending it is. I don't think I've laughed that hard at a movie in ages. It wasn't so much that the joke was made, but they kept it up for a solid 10-15 minutes. So yes, you've got your cliche's, generic formula, and obvious moral direction. But this is just one of those fun movies you can just simply enjoy.
YUTOPIA Grade: A- (Have fun)