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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Films (page 2 of 4)

James Bond: Skyfall

After a refresher course consisting of watching “Casino Royale” on DVD the night before, the delightful Kylanath and I took in “Skyfall” at the theater on Sunday afternoon. I found myself with so many thoughts that it actually nudged me out of my writerly doldrums enough to craft a journal post to contain them.

First up, the verdict: I liked it, much better than “Quantum of Solace” (and I don’t dislike that movie as much as most other folks, but still) and as much as “Casino Royale” but in a very different way.

Now for the bullet points, appropriate for a Bond movie, yes?

  • This movie is full of reveals, some of which work better than others. The really, really big one (I’m trying to stay spoiler-free, mind you) is telegraphed in several big and small ways throughout the movie. I saw it coming, is what I’m telling you, and I’m not actually the sort of person who sees things coming in a movie all that often. Another reveal got a smirk and a deep sigh at the same time. It’s that kind of film.
  • What kind of film is it, you ask? Well, think of all the dead seriousness you’ve become used to with the previous two films, then interleave it with smirking throwbacks to the cheesier days of pre-Craig outings. Yet in most cases the movie doesn’t jostle your elbow too badly when it changes tone, which is a neat trick. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
  • People have raved about the title song. It didn’t do anything special for me. It serves its purpose very well, but that purpose is “kick off a Bond movie,” so there you have it.
  • The main villain, for all that he doesn’t show up until halfway through, absolutely steals every scene he’s in. Javier Bardem is a hoot and a half, spending a few amusing moments at several points through the film wearing an expression I usually associate with one of the regulars on the TV show Leverage, as if to say: “Seriously?” Exasperated menace is an unusual combination, and it amused me greatly.
  • In this post-“Bourne” action film world, we’ve become far too used to fight scenes made up of hundreds of quick cuts. Imagine my joy, then, at the artsy little glass-room backlit silhouetted locked-off one-shot fight scene. It’s the little things which can make me love a movie. Brilliant touch, that one.
  • For all that I read a lot of snark online about the product placements and the in-jokes, none of them really jarred me out of the movie. I mean, I utterly despise the Sony Vaio, but what were they going to do? Make up a computer brand? Meh, whatever. And two of the in-jokes absolutely slayed the audience at our screening, so hooray for well-chosen quips.
  • At one point partway through we’re introduced to the movie title in a way which makes us wonder what deep, sinister meaning it might have. Is it a code word for something big & scary? Does it indicate that someone is compromised, that bad things are afoot? Turns out, all of my guesses were wrong, but the true meaning actually does make sense within the movie. Just, not to what you’d call the “A” plot. Interesting touch, interesting choice.
  • Every actor did a good job in this movie, and some were excellent. Yes, even the new Q. As much as I love John Cleese, I’m glad they didn’t try to shoehorn him into this. It wouldn’t have worked.
  • I would watch a movie in which Judi Dench and Daniel Craig solve grisly murders in the highlands of Scotland, complete with wry commentary and in-jokes and bickering. C’mon, so would you.
  • On the topic of reveals, the really-big reveal depends on another… event. Suffice to say that I was unhappy about it, even as I saw it coming, even as I realized that it was time to make that change. I’ll have to discuss my thoughts on that in a later, post-spoilers entry…
  • I have one quibble with the timeline of the three Craig movies, and that’s the implication here that his Bond has been at this a really long time. Which is odd, because “Casino Royale” is a movie about a brand-new double-oh earning his moniker. I mean, yes, you can work around that quibble easily enough with some mental gymnastics, but if this caught my attention then it probably bothered other viewers as well and it might bother you. Also: If this is an old, washed-up, out-of-shape guy… I wish I was in that crappy of a condition. Oy.
  • In the end, what we have is the conclusion to what I consider a reboot trilogy not entirely unlike Nolan’s Batman films. Get everyone’s attention, dig in deep, then drive home the deal. Whatever you may think of Nolan’s level of success, that seems to have at least been the plan, and it’s the same here. When the credits roll, you know for certain that Bond is back and it’s time for what could be considered “business as usual.” Which remains to be seen, but you know what? I don’t care how well or how badly they make the movies to follow. They did their job here, which is all I wanted from this outing.
  • “Skyfall” is a very, very pretty movie. There’s some scenery porn on display which is nearly up to the gold standard, by which I mean the Lord of the Rings films. The setting for the film’s grand bang-up finale? I want to go there.

So, if you like smart & entertaining action movies, go see “Skyfall.” If you enjoyed “Casino Royale” and want to see the promise of the reboot plotline redeemed, go see “Skyfall.” If you watched the last two movies and couldn’t stop griping about how it wasn’t a real Bond movie… well, you and I don’t have a lot to discuss, but you should probably go see “Skyfall” so you can gripe about it from a position of firsthand knowledge, at least.

Whew. Enough words for you?

First Weekend Of May 2008

Hey, it’s a weekend catch-up post! We haven’t done one of these in a while…

Friday: Lil’ shouldn’t be allowed into Best Buy unsupervised. I don’t count, as I’m not a very good supervisor. Then again, I did get the BSG miniseries DVD out of it (since she doesn’t need it anymore). I’m also a couple of books into the Eric Flint “1632” franchise; it’s not too shabby, all things considered, though I imagine that my interest will wane after another massive volume or so.

Saturday (daytime): Erica and I watched Alex do improv theater games in a park in the rain for an hour or so. Amusing it was, but eventually it got cold and we got bored so off to Burgerville we went. It’s appalling how much BV charges for a “large” cup of orange juice. Oy.

Saturday (night IRON MAN): Kyla and I decided to do the dinner-and-a-movie thing. Oh, what an excellent movie! I’ll spare you the full review (since, let’s see, nearly everyone on the Internet has reviewed the thing already) but suffice to say that it’s a solid, entertaining, surprisingly restrained, well acted, beautifully produced superhero movie which benefits from a touch of gritty realism but without the bloody mayhem or out-of-place sex scenes (the only one in the movie is very short and played entirely for laughs). Even the scenery chewing is kept to reasonable limits. The funny bits were genuinely funny! I know, I’m as amazed as you are. Robert Downey, Jr completely owns the role of Tony Stark. The other actors range from “quite good” to “better than expected,” though it’s not a movie with a large main cast. I think the worst special effect in the movie is Jeff Bridges’ skullcap. (Turns out that it wasn’t a skullcap after all; his head somehow managed to look wrong nonetheless. Oh well, minor quibble.) In short: Unless you hate action movies, you should see Iron Man. (As for the “after-credits” thing… all I can say is, better Sam The Man than David Hasselhoff.)

Saturday (late night): “Doctor Who,” end of the first two-parter in the 4th series of the “new Who.” We love Donna, we love Martha Version 2.0, we don’t necessarily love setting the atmosphere on fire, and the next-episode preview left me wondering what new kinds of drugs the “Who” producers have got their grubby hands on now. The love child of a Timelord and Baby Spice? Really, now.

Sunday: Game day. Well, after we foraged for grub, anyway. In the “City Of” world, my lead villain dinged 40 and opened up her patron powers while my top Defender finally became a “real” Kin by acquiring Fulcrum Shift. Hellooooo, massive buff/debuff! Later, with “the boys,” I snuck in a win at Power Grid followed by a modest but respectable showing at Quiddler. Not bad for competing against five smart blokes, wot?

Spider-Man 3

I’m coming late to this party, but not as late as I am to the TMNT party. (Yes, that’s a review I should have gotten around to weeks ago. Whoops.) Please note that I’m making no attempt to hide spoilers here. It’s my firm belief that nothing I say here will “ruin” your enjoyment of the movie, but if you disagree with that on principle then you should probably wait to read this posting until after you’ve seen the film.

I’ll wait.
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Batman Begins

I’ll try to make this brief, ‘cause there’s not much point covering too many of the same bases that a bazillion other reviewers will already have covered. In short, Batman Begins is among the best comics-to-celluloid conversions I’ve seen. It’s surprisingly realistic, well-paced, and rarely disappointing.

What interests me most about the movie, looking back on it, is that on one level it’s the story of a man’s search for a replacement father-figure or mentor. Bruce finds what he needs halfway around the world… or does he? He learns many valuable lessons, but “Ducard” isn’t really the right fit. No, that would be Alfred, the man he actually rejects any number of times previously. Maybe I’m reading too much into this aspect, but hey, I’m just amazed that the movie manages to have this thread without it being obnoxious or blatant.

So, the cast. I liked seeing Gary Oldman in a fairly low-key role, and he does solid work here. His Jim Gordon is sensitive, somewhat harried, but unerringly devoted to the way things should be.

Morgan Freeman, for all that it looks like he’s mostly gliding his way through his part, is so damned enjoyable that I really didn’t care that he wasn’t trying all that hard. It’s not like he had a lot to do, and he did get a couple of sly, understated moments. “Oh, you wouldn’t be interested in that,” he says with a twinkle in his eye…

Michael Caine is a joy to watch, and while his Alfred isn’t quite the cooly composed and dry-witted butler we’ve seen in other renditions, he brings a heart to the role that works perfectly given the structure of this particular plot. He serves as the true mentor to Bruce, even after being rejected any number of times, and he is believable as the able and brilliant collaborator.

As for Bruce’s first mentor, the false one, Liam Neeson dips into his Qui-Gon Jinn bag of tricks pretty heavily, but manages to be dark and menacing in the right ways at the right time, and he’s never over-the-top.

Kat(i)e Holmes? She has very little to do besides look pretty and be Bruce’s other conscience from time to time, whcih she does passing well, but not that well. And while I’m here, can I just take a moment to say that “TomKat” had better damned well be the last of the “celebrity couple monikers” we have to suffer hearing about every single day? “Bennifer” was bad enough, but “TomKat” is just silly. What next? Oh, wait, I don’t want to know.

Anyway. The last actor I want to talk about before I wrap this up is Christian Bale. Is he a good Batman, and is he a good Bruce Wayne? That’s always been the problem, of course, the fact that there are two roles to play. Superman’s a goodie-two-shoes no matter whether he’s in costume or in disguise, but Batman is practically schizophrenic. Previous attempts have been hit-or-miss, with some actors doing the playboy billionaire part well but failing to convince as the Dark Knight, and others wearing the cape-and-cowl fairly well but faceplanting in a tuxedo. I think Mr. Bale does… okay. I’m not the first and won’t be the last to think that his “Batman Rasp” is a bit silly, but in all other respects his Bat-work is fairly decent. I’m not sure he’s the best Bruce Wayne we could’ve gotten, but he’s actually quite good enough to do the job. My biggest complaint with his work was a tendency towards a deer-in-the-headlights stare when surprised by events. That may have been the directing, but there you go.

So what about the story, the plot, the much-touted realism? The grounding in a kind of reality this film gives you is superb. You believe in this world and these characters. Sure, at the end there’s a kind of models-and-set-pieces action-flick feel to things, but until that point the movie is unrelentingly glitz-free. That’s not to say it isn’t stylish and flashy at times, but it doesn’t feel fake. This is the kind of genuinely dramatic, grounded-in-its-world movie that The Hulk tried so hard and failed so completely to be.

I’ll end with an observation that I didn’t make, myself, until the end of the movie. There is no opening credits sequence. The movie just… begins. Only when I saw the end credits roll did I realize this, and it made me love the movie that much more. I’m not knocking what Marvel’s done with its franchises, but having this movie just thrust you into the story from the moment the theater lights go down adds something immeasurable to the realism of the overall picture.

Batman Begins. If all goes well, it will continue with as good of quality as it’s started with. I hope.

Steamboy

What’s the difference between a mad scientist and a genius inventor? This question would, under other circumstances, be at the heart of Katsuhiro Otomo’s new feature-length anime, “Steamboy.” Unfortunately, there are a few major things about the film that completely detract from such philosophical ponderings.

For starters, the family Steam (Lloyd, Edward and Ray) are all as nutty as fruitcakes. Okay, so Ray’s a mostly-harmless kind of nutty, but still, you can tell that the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. When you’ve got Dad and Granddad gesticulating wildly and spouting off about the proper course of scientific progress, well, all that bombast sort of gets in the way of serious thinking. The only other characters who get serious screen time are either shifty or outright annoying (that would be “Miss Scarlett,” the shrill, stupid and annoying supposed-love-interest. Gah.)

Then you have the visuals. Oh, wow, are they pretty! “Steamboy” follows closely on the heels of the also-gorgeous “Metropolis” as a highly detailed, wonderfully lit, lovingly animated piece of art. There are even a few brief tone-poem-style moments reminiscent of that earlier work, but for the most part this film’s about action. Tanks, trains, dirigibles, armor, guns, flying machines, giant articulated appendages and steam valves of all sizes fill the screen. Unfortunately, much of the action seems to be for the sake of giving the audience action sequences to “ooh” and “aah” over. That’s okay, though, ‘cause when you get right down to it, there’s no plot for the action to get in the way of.

There’s also what could be considered a rather nitpicky complaint, though I consider it a highly relevant one considering the tone and direction of the film’s dialog. You see, there’s a lot of blathering about “science” and what it’s supposed to mean for mankind. There’s only one problem: They’re confusing science and technology. What you see on the screen is lots and lots of technology. It’s engineering and applied physics, sure, but is it actually science? Not so much, really.

Maybe I’ve just read too much James Burke. Who knows?

Oh, you want to know about the plot? Let’s see… there’s this bauble. I mean, steamball. Okay, it turns out there are three of them, but you only ever see the one. Ray’s father and grandfather are competing for possession of it, the reasons for which are pontificated upon at length in between chase and mechanical-fight sequences of considerable energy and detail. Things explode, other things fly around, and… no, that’s pretty much it. Two hours of machinery and bombast.

It’s awfully pretty to look at. Some of the sequences will take your breath away if you have any enjoyment of animation whatsoever. But it’s all just so much empty visualization, because you can’t really care about the characters and there’s nothing resembling a compelling plot. Who will end up with the steamball? Who cares? Everyone we meet is nutty, greedy or both. It’s sort of hard to root for anybody, which is odd as well as a damned shame, considering this movie’s obvious attempts to be a good old-fashioned rollicking actioner.

Oh, and there are some interesting nods to other works, both Otomo’s own and that of others. “Akira” comes to mind, as well as the bookending sequences of “Robot Carnival.” You’ll also get a strong “Rocketeer” vibe from Ray’s flight sequences (the costume alone gives it away, really).

I should mention the dub job. It’s… well, it could’ve been worse. Patrick Stewart does his usual sterling work, but he’s horribly miscast as the cranky, crazy grandfather. Alfred Molina does a spot-on job as Ray’s father, even managing to salvage some dignity from the bombastic lines he has to spout on occasion. I don’t know who Kari Wahlgren’s supposed to be, but I guess all they needed was someone to be shrill, annoying and to scream appropriately during her damsel-in-distress moments. Anna Paquin? Well… I don’t understand the thinking behind that choice. I like her well enough, but I couldn’t shake the sense that it’s a much harder sell having an actress voice a male part for English roles than it is in Japanese (where it’s not only normal but just about the norm). She didn’t do a bad job, really, though she also had almost nothing interesting to do with the role. Ray’s just a kid who goes along with the flow of things, really. And that’s probably the last, most fatal flaw in the movie: The hero isn’t really all that heroic, when you get right down to it.

Steamboy. See it for the pretty pictures. Do it with the sound off, if you wind up with it on DVD. It’ll be better that way, believe me.

IMDB: Steamboy

Van Helsing

I won’t go into tedious detail. I’m really only writing this because the movie was so utterly atrocious that I couldn’t not write about it. The short-short version is: This movie hates you. Every one of you.

It’s corny. It’s overblown. It relentlessly offends the viewer’s intelligence. It makes up bits of monster-mythology out of whole cloth whenever the plot needs there to be a convenient bit of such. The music is an assault on good taste. The Brides are just plain badly done, especially when in “harpy” mode, which is what we’re treated (and I use that word very loosely) to more often than any other effect in the movie. Bits of utterly redundant exposition are thrown at us willy-nilly throughout. Bits of painfully anachronistic dialog are dropped hither an yon like so much smelly guano. Tropes from a dozen different movies are grafted together, much like Frankenstein’s monster was grafted together out of so many corpses of what used to be fully functional people. (Spotted: Aliens, Indiana Jones, any given James Bond flick, LXG, and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head, many hours later.)

The acting is hard to gauge, mainly because the plot and dialog are so execrable that the actors aren’t really given anything to work with. I feel sorry for Hugh Jackman, pity for Kate Beckinsale, and mild chagrin for the rest of the players sucked into this sorry mess. One gets the feeling they thought they were involved in the making of a rollicking-good action flick, but… no, instead their names are forever attached to such a godsforsaken disaster.

What takes this movie from the level of just being a trite popcorn flick and directly into the realm of actual badness? Here’s an example, and I have no reason to avoid spoiling you on this bit: The Creepy Undertaker tries to cold-cock Van Helsing with a shovel from behind. V.H. spins and blocks the attack, then ducks aside as, get this, the werewolf V.H. was chasing leaps at him and instead catches the Undertaker right in the chest, knocking him partway across the cemetary, into an open grave. The shovel spins through the air and lands business-end down atop the Undertaker… and then the Undertaker’s hat flutters down atop the shovel handle, and spins there a few times, as if it was the icing atop some wonderful cinematic slice of cake.

A swallow of cinematic ipecac, is more like it. It’s way, way too trite, too overdone, too “look at me that was cool wasn’t it cool damn you know that was so, so cool.” The whole damned movie is like that.

Hateful. There’s no other way to describe it. I’m so very glad I paid no money at all to see this movie. I can’t even recommend it for a MST3K-style treatment, because any fun to be derived from making fun of it is vastly overshadowed by how much pain is involved in actually watching it. Again: Hateful.

IMDB: Van Helsing

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