Monday, July 28, 2008

Movie Marathon Part... whatever the hell we're up to now...

Okay, so I wondered if we'd ever top Iron Man. The summer has actually been a lot better than last years threepeats of shit (exception being Bourne Ultimatum, which rocked the world), but nothing had really been excellent - just good.

Boy, were my fears put to rest.

Enter: The Dark Knight
Hmm.... what can I say that hasn't been said.


This movie was incredible. Best comic movie ever - and one of the better movies I've ever seen. Let's look at some of the examples of great screenwriting/filmmaking in the movie to be a tad different. (SPOILERS AHEAD - DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN)

Amanda, the aspiring TV writer, already commented on a great character moment where the Joker tells us all we need to know about him without actually giving boring exposition. Joker first tells Michael Jai White that he got his scares when his dad cut open his face. Later, he tells Maggie Gyllenhall that they were self-inflicted. So, in two simple exchanges we learn this about Joker - he's crazy. No only that, but he's a liar - he's out to push people out of their comfort zones and frighten them. He's unreliable.

Another great example is how any time he explains himself - he's lying. He tells Harvey/Two-Face that he's not a man with a plan - just an agent of chaos. That what he did to Dent wasn't personal. But, we know as we watch, he's planned everything to a T. Not only has he planned everything, he has contingencies out the wazoo. And his attack on Dent was inconsequential - it was planned. His goal was to destroy Dent, and thus destroy Gotham's hope.

Dark Knight succeeds on every level because it knows how to up the ante continuously and take all the characters' worst fears - and materialize them. If characters can't at least flirt with the worst thing that could possibly happen - then we're bored. With Batman - it's having to go too far to help - to the point where his actions make the Gotham a worse place - not better. With Dent, it's seeing everything around him get destroyed, except himself (great moment in the beginning that shows Dent's flippancy about himself is when the goon in court pulls a gun on him and he doesn't even flinch). With Gordon, it's that his compromising on the police force will, in fact, hurt everyone around him - that the consequences will outweigh the benefits.

The threefold scene of the attacks on Comissioner Loeb, the judge, and Harvey is fantastic. So is every single climax in that movie (I'm still trying to figure out how many acts there are in the film). And with each attack, Joker puts more and more people in danger - pushing the city into a frenzy. At first it's the mob, Batman, the three previously mentioned, the mayor, the police force, hospitals, and then the whole city (as encapsulated by the boat of normal, scared citizens and the boat of criminals). From beginning to end, the movie just keeps ratcheting up (MAJOR props to Chris & John Nolan with story help from David Goyer).

Not only are the characters put in their worst fears - but they're pushed to the edge of what they will do (and often cross it). Think when Batman pushes Maroni off the building - or when Dent essentially plays Russian roulette with one of Joker's goons in the alleyway - all at these times, you're holding your breath, screaming to yourself "He's not going to go that far, is he!?!?" And, sometimes, they do.

Surprises that are well built-to. See: the death of Rachel Dawes. Wow. Did you see that coming? Okay, maybe you did - I didn't. They built her as the linchpin for both Harvey and Bruce - and what better to destroy them both, than kill her. When Batman busts into the building Harvey is in (thinking it is Rachel) didn't your jaw drop and your heart sink? Oh man, still get chills thinking of Harvey screaming "No!" cause he knows that means Rachel will die.

Okay, so I'll wrap it up and finish with just a note about the actors.
We all can agree that Heath Ledger's Joker was the performance of a lifetime - regardless of the length of his life. There was no Heath Ledger on that screen - there was only the Joker. Simply astonishing. I could rave for pages. But I'll stop.
The one downside to that is that I think Aaron Eckhart will get overlooked. His Dent was everything and more. He's a great actor and was so committed to that role, every time he got mad or yelled, I got chills. There was no Aaron - there was Dent. And Gary Oldman was fantastic. Same for Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Maggie G. Some people may dissent on that, but I thought she brought a maturity and emotional weight to the role that Katie Holmes could only have hoped to have done.
Hats off to Christopher Nolan - my new favorite filmmaker. If you have not seen all his movies, just go buy them. When they're not amazing (Memento, The Prestige), they're still very good (The Following, Insomnia).
Grade: A. A sold "A"

Movie Quickies...

Okay, good lord, taking too effing long to write reviews for all 853 movies I've seen this summer (were you to casually stumble upon this blog during an earnest search for woman and ferret porn, you would swear all I do is watch movies - which you're not far off). So, let me see if I can bang these 4 out real quick before getting to the big one.
(big breath in)

Strangers. Again with the Liv Tyler. Okay, simple setup. A couple, in a house, out in the middle of BFE nowhere, gets a knock at the door at four in the morning. Soon they're attacked by three strangers wearing masks who say nothing. Creepy. Scary. Disturbing. Though the end left some to be desired, it still topped my list as scariest of the year so far. It's a good testament to the film that when it ended, my stomach hurt from being clenched for the whole 90 minutes. B

Wanted. Love it. Love it, love it, love it. And that's not cause it was a terribly great movie - it had problems, but it was funner 'n hell. From the opening shot to the end, I was smiling. Though the Voice-Overs were a tad apparent and tried a bit too hard to get you to like Wesley, it still worked for me. James McAvoy has been the man for a long time (see the Amazing Atonement for a testament), and he continues to shine. Jolie is awesome. Freeman was great. Unexpected twists accompany this unexpected movie. See it. Great stuff. You won't be bored. Wins award for best way to shoot people using another person. B+

Hancock. Man, I hit a streak of pretty decent movies. While critics blasted it, I liked it. I like Will Smith. All in all, he makes entertaining, enjoyable movies. Hancock was original and interesting. I wish they had spent more time mining the psyche of a depressed, jaded superhero, but you might have alienated your audience. You don't go into Bad Boys or I Am Legend to have a deeply intellectual experience. You do so to see Will Smith make funny jokes and shoot stuff. Hancock had some turns and twists that worked against itself, but I still liked. I'd hope for a sequel, though it'd have no point. But, yeah, again, if you're wanting entertainment - check it out. B+

Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Okay, in order to review the movie, you have to separate the movie from the comic. The comic is a dark, magical, mythical, alchemical masterpiece. It mines every legend and fairytale for an entirely unique but addictive story. The movie, is entirely different. It's a bright, effects filled, goofy tale. The first one just didn't click - it didn't know what it was - whether apocalyptic/serious or popcorn movie/spectacle. And it failed in that. The second one, however, is much better (and leaves me wanting a third). Hellboy is having relationship problems. He's having problems at work (he's too loud for a secret agency). That and an ancient elf prince has decided to break the pact between humans and magics and revive an ancient mechanical army to destroy their race. Hilarity (kinda) ensues. The second film has found it's groove. In between Hellboy movies, Guillermo Del Toro decided to become an auteur. Pan's Labyrinth was a bleak, wonderful little movie about escapism and heroics. That movie bought him Hellboy 2. Hellboy goes for humor. Perlman is comfortable in his red shoes (as is the rest of the cast), and though it's a tad goofy for itself at times, it makes up in sheer visual wonderment. Check it out for that alone. That artless bastard, George Lucas (still love you George!), could stand to take a lesson fro Del Toro here. You can use makeup and effects to make amazing visual scenes without a computer in sight. And it's even better. So, yeah, much better than number one. Good for the crowd that enjoys a slightly more odd fare of movie. B+

And that, ladies and gentlemen (or, as I like to say it "Mom and... well, that's about the readership"), is a wrap.

Movie Marathon Part 5 - Cashing in on AlGore

Next up, the new Hulk.

Now, admittedly, I was apprehensive about this remake/reboot/sequel. I'll stand by my belief that Ang Lee sucks. I'll take flack for saying Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a load of crap disguised in great cinematography and wire stunts. The first Hulk went to prove my point (most people I know fell asleep during Brokeass Mountain - and no one has ever even seen Lust, Caution - and Sense and Sensibility was about 45 minutes too long). I saw Ang Lee at Comic Con in 2002, at a panel where he narrated PRODUCTION STILLS like an elderly Asian man giving you a travelogue of his trip to Yosemite. This gave me a bad feeling. What was an even worse omen was that he couldn't pronounce the characters' names right. This has nothing to do with his ethnicity - this has everything to do with the fact that he didn't understand his source enough to even get names right!!!

Ugh... Now, I liked what he tried to do with Hulk - a more psychological examination of the protagonist. But it failed miserably... Boring, long, pretentious, and terrible scene transitions.

So, flash forward a few years and Marvel announces the sequel no one wants (them touting that Hulk's popularity is second to only Spiderman, worldwide (which also goes to Marvel's editorial inability to understand reality (see: Brand New Day), but that's another post)). But, they begin to move in a positive direction. No more Eric Bana. Bless his heart, he just kills everything he touches. We should call him Charlie Bana.

Enter: Ed Norton. Nice. Enter: Ed Norton co-writing and producing. Very nice. Enter: return of Liv Tyler. Extra nice. And so on.

The result:

Not bad. A very entertaining action movie. My wife described it, accurately, as a boy's movie. My brother in law, who likes his movies full of explosions and boobies, said it was really good (but, parents of the world, relax, the only boobies in this one are green and manly). All in all, it starts really well, with Bruce Banner, in self-exile for years, trying to master his inner-self (I love the metaphors for Hulk, and the underlying psychology, which I wish they would have explored - Hulk is not a her, Hulk is a normal person who has to deal with the fact that if he loses control for one second, he ruins lives. Very cool stuff that wasn't touched on enough). The government is still after him.

They chase, they fight, they chase, they fight, they chase, big final fight. That's the gist of it. It was fun to watch, performances and effects (including directing) were well-done. I wished for a deeper look at things - which is why I'm praying for a director's cut.

When the movie was edited, the first cut was 20 minutes longer - all with more character development. Marvel rejected that and trimmed it down to be leaner. The movie could have been a little... fatter. If you look at the SUPREME Dark Knight (which we'll get to some day when I have a lot of time and energy to cheer and praise it), it sacrificed action lean-ness for an incredibly dense character story - which made it amazing. Iron Man did the same thing, in a sense.

Props to Marvel for bringing Robert Downey, Jr into Hulk for a brief cameo foreshadowing the togetherness of the upcoming Marvel Films Universe (I get chills thinking about it). All in all - decent. Check it out if you like action movies/comic movies. I'll give it a B.