Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Films (Page 3 of 5)

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

The Incredibles

I’ve got a bit of a headache that’s centered just behind my right eyeball, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

The Incredibles is Pixar’s crowning theatrical work. Period.

Okay, I can expound on that just a little bit. For one thing, as was stated elsewhere (though I can’t remember exactly where right this minute), Spider-Man 2 is now officially the year’s second-best superhero movie. This movie’s got the whole meal deal: Drama, folks in funny outfits, several kinds of comedy, meaningful character interaction, clever ruses, action sequences that are both amusing and effective, snappy dialogue… yeah. It just doesn’t miss a beat.

So I can get this wrapped up with a minimum of muss and fuss, I’ll leave you with some bullet points.

  • The “newsreel” stuff is golden; they capture the feel of an Untouchables-style exposition perfectly.
  • Mr. Incredible isn’t a doof. He’s blind to a few things, but in that painfully-real way that many guys are blind when they find themselves trapped in suburbia.
  • Elastigirl rocketh most mightily. ‘Nuff said.
  • Everything pays off. Watch for things that are given lip service at one point and show up again later. Some of them aren’t so subtle, but a few really are.
  • The kids aren’t wholly unlikeable. You don’t spend too much of the movie rooting for someone to slap sense into them.
  • The poignant moments are actually poignant. Nicely done.
  • Uh, go see this movie. Yeah, that’s it.

That should cover it, though I’m sure I forgot some things…

Hellboy

I’ll keep this fairly short and sweet: Dalemar, The Ratboy and I saw Hellboy on Saturday. The movie clearly made such a strong impression on me that I felt compelled to pen a review post haste

…right. (What’s a cubit?)

So, Hellboy, pros and cons. In the “pro” column we have a moderately amusing lead character, a pretty good nasty evil henchman, some not-too-shabby effects, and decent turns by Ron Perlman (the titular ‘Boy), John Hurt (the father-figure), and Karel Roden (Rasputin, of all people).

And hey, that’s a Karel you see there. Woo hoo! Before you ask, no, his name has nothing to do with what I thought of his performance. For what it’s worth, though, he shows up as Struker in Bulletproof Monk as well. Make of that factoid what you will.

In the “con” column, the movie didn’t really make much of an impression on me. A few laughs, a couple of “ooo, neat” moments, but ten minutes after I left the theater I had already put it completely out of my mind. It’s a popcorn movie, nothing more… and dammit, I’ve come to expect just a bit more from a good “adaptation” movie.

Oh, and the “boyish-faced sidekick” guy annoyed me from start to finish. Man, what a pathetic lump of useless flesh he was.

Overall? It’s not an actively bad movie. It’s also instantly forgettable. Since it lacks a big-screen-must-see effects sequence, I recommend waiting for rental. Or hell to freeze over, if you prefer.

Sony Pictures – Hellboy

The Return of the King

The final installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was, indeed, awesome. And yet… after watching the extended versions of Fellowship and Two Towers the last two Mondays in the theater, it was also just about what I expected, nothing more nothing less. Few surprises there are, but those are generally pleasant ones.

Let’s face it: You don’t need me to tell you that this is a movie worth seeing. All I can do here is offer my handful of thoughts about specific parts of the movie.

Regarding Faramir: The Two Towers’ extended-version inclusion of the Faramir/Boromir/Denethor flashback is absolutely vital to understanding the relationship between Denethor and Faramir that we see in Return of the King.

One of the things this movie did especially well was conveying a sense of bigness to things. The oliphaunts? Big. The seige weaponry and their projectiles? Way big. Minas Tirith? Awesome. Rocks are lobbed through the air, land, and generally do large-rock-like things to buildings and people in their path. Very, very cool stuff this is.

On a technical side note, Peter Jackson clearly had total faith in his team’s skill with compositing. Wow. Check out Gandalf’s arrival at Minas Tirith.

By the way, I hate spiders. Especially spiders that stand taller than a hobbit while on all eights. (I wouldn’t say “all fours,” now would I? Hmm?)

I’m pleased to say that “Gimli, Comic Relief Dwarf” is at least genuinely funny part of the time… mainly because the lines aren’t so badly written as to require a forced delivery, unlike many of the quips in the first two films.

Watch out for the pair (trio? did I lose count?) of false endings. The screen goes dark… for several seconds… and then it’s time for another scene! This happens more than once! Bleargh! It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide where to end this thing, so they strung along a series of ending scenes for as far as the eye could see, then randomly picked a place and dropped the knife on it. Or something. Minor quibble, but it’s a sad way to leave the theater after such a great movie experience when your head’s reeling from the endings.

When you’ve just sat through and dissected the qualities of the two previous films’ extended versions, you’re naturally going to think about what bits were probably excised from this film that might reappear for its extended edition release. It’s almost certain that there’s more to see of Aragorn’s transition from the ranger who arrives with the Rohirrim and the King who knocks on the Black Gate. One suspects there’s more to see of the fight between orc and Uruk-hai at that guard tower. And so on, and so on.

One also suspects that Christopher Lee won’t be entirely appeased if his appearance in this film is restored when the DVD comes out. We could’ve done without the Smeagol flashback that started the movie, and seen Saruman’s last scenes instead. Ah well.

All told, this is a film… a set of films, to be more accurate… that will stand as the high water mark for genre moviemaking many years from now. It’s an outstanding movie experience, despite quibbles over what was and wasn’t included from the source material.

In a way, I’m glad it’s over. All the weight of years of anticipation is lifted, and the decades of nitpicking can begin at last…

X2: X-Men United

There isn’t much I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been better said elsewhere, really. I’ll just touch on the key points:

  • For a two-hour-plus movie, very little time is wasted. Not often did I have pause to wonder about the time.
  • I’ll join my voice to the chorus of those who state that even out of an otherwise quite-good action adventure flick, the opening sequence is one of the coolest damned action bits ever filmed. Through the whole thing I was thinking, “Yes, yes, that is how he’d do it, that’s how that talent could be used.” Efficient, no, but if you wanted to make a powerful impression and that was your skillset… hell yes.
  • A surprising amount of the movie was devoted to… building up for the next movie. We get foreshadowing in practically the second scene. They did it well, mind you, but every time the subject came up I was thinking, “Boy, they’re banking heavily on that next set of contracts, aren’t they?” I’m not saying they didn’t handle that plot thread well, but it was glaringly obvious.
  • Related to that is the sad loss of impact of what should have been the climactic sequence of the film. We all know it was a soap-opera ending. Even folks who have no real background on popular X-Men comicbook storylines can tell that it was a gyp. It’s the script’s one glaring failure, dramatically.
  • Does Wolverine once again own the movie? Yes. Does anyone mind for a second? Hell no. And that’s all that needs saying about that.
  • Cameos, cameos, cameos. Spot Dr. Hank McCoy in a televised interview! See Colossus go metallic! See Shadowcat fleeing through walls! And so on, and so on. You know, in the third movie we’d better get to actually see Kitty’s face…
  • I adored the way they used mutant powers in low-key, comedy-beat, every-day fashion. Among the coolest (pun intended) is the quiet moment where Logan hands Bobby his bottle of product placement for a quick chill treatment. Nicely done.
  • You both like and loathe Magneto more in this movie, and that’s as it should be. Charming, clever, ruthless, manipulative, and always playing the game as deep as he can, he’s far more in this movie than just the megalomaniac from the first one.

And yes, I think that about covers it. Unless you’re allergic to effects-laden action movies with decent characterization and a touch of wry humor, you should see this film.
X2 movie website

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