Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movies! - Honorable Mentions and Afterthoughts

Shortly after writing my thoughts on 25th Hour, I noticed that Roger Ebert wrote his thoughts about the movie as part of his "Great Movies" series of reviews. Aside from the fact that he's obviously coming to my blog for ideas, the one thing that really hit me is that it's pretty clear why I'm not a professional movie critic. I'll give myself credit that I'm a bit more thoughtful when it comes to movies than a lot of people, but I am so far out of this guy's league that it's not even funny.

Today's the last day, and I was having trouble choosing my last film to write about. One thing's for sure, I doubt that I'll want to do this again next year. Scott was able to write about all of the movies he's seen this year, but I had a different approach. For the most part, I need a movie to really sink in - oftentimes with repeated viewings - in order for me to feel comfortable writing my thoughts on it. Also, there are other movies where I just don't have much to say. After all, I love The Fugitive, but do I really have enough things to say about it that anybody would find interesting? I'm not even sure if I have enough to say that I'd find interesting to even bother writing it - and ultimately this blog has always got to come back to the fact that I'm writing it more as an exercise to get my thoughts typed out. The fact that sometimes people sometimes read it is just a nice bonus.

With that said, here are some thoughts on the films that I didn't get around to writing about, and I doubt that I'd want to do entire entries on any of them:

Star Wars: Episodes IV - VI - Yeah, these are still amongst my favorite films of all time. What's the best one? The Empire Strikes Back. The unfortunate thing is that for the longest time, these three movies, along with maybe a couple others, made up the entire sum of my movie collection. This means that I've watched them so many times that when I try to watch them now, they tend to just go right through me. I find myself not even really paying attention. And yet I'll probably still buy them on Blu-Ray. As for the prequel trilogy, let's be honest and say that if the original three didn't exist, I'd have no time for those. The possible exception is the third one, which I wrote about some time ago, and I still like it for the cheesefest that it is.

James Bond films - After Casino Royale, I got on a bit of a Bond kick and found myself buying several Bond films. For the most part, I wound up liking the ones that I bought with only two exceptions. It's a good thing that I got them cheap. Anyway, I also decided that I'd rent all of the rest of them, but I gave up that idea halfway through The Man with the Golden Gun. Ugh. That was too painful to watch.

While I haven't seen them all, here's my verdict: The best one is Goldfinger. Most of the Sean Connery entries are good, but From Russia with Love drags, and Diamonds are Forever is a piece of crap. On Her Majesty's Secret Service isn't bad, and it was the first attempt to make a more "realistic" Bond. The next attempt was Timothy Dalton's The Living Daylights, which holds up fairly well. Of course, they finally nailed it with Casino Royale. Too bad Quantum of Solace was only a so-so effort. Anyway, I didn't get through all the Roger Moore ones, but Live and Let Die is ridiculous, and The Spy Who Loved Me is pretty good. I've only seen the first two Pierce Brosnan ones, and I like them both. His second one, Tomorrow Never Dies has one of the best villains - as it's a guy who owns a media empire and manipulates world events so he can get ratings and sell papers.

Indiana Jones movies -While I didn't hate the fourth one, I'm obviously just talking about the original three films. The best one is easily the first, and the third has one of the best endings. However, not enough can be said for the introduction of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It has one of my favorite opening 15-20 minutes of any film. It begins with a dance number, proceeds into a crazy-big fight where Indy's scrambling around on the floor for antidote to the poison he just drank, and then it continues into a plane full of chickens that's out of gas. "No more parachutes!" Quick, grab a life raft! It's completely ridiculous and absolutely wonderful at the same time. Sure, it gets a bit jarring how it goes from super-campy to intense (like the guy getting his heart torn out) but it's probably the most moment-for-moment entertaining of the three.

George Romero's zombie movies -While I know that it's really the other way around, I'd like to think that these films were inspired by one of my favorite comics series, The Walking Dead. I don't know what it is, but for some reason I feel like a zombie apocalypse could really happen. I almost feel like it's inevitable, and when I hear people talking about how much they love Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, I feel that it's already happened. Oh, and it turns out that The Walking Dead is being turned into a TV series, and Frank Darabont is producing and perhaps even directing an episode. Should be good stuff. Anyway, my favorite of Romero's films is Day of the Dead. I especially love the conflict between the military guys and the scientist, how the first group just wants to destroy and the second wants to understand. Oh, and a guy gets torn into pieces. Are these films good? Not really, but I really like them.

The Bourne Trilogy - I really like these movies. I don't have a lot to say about them though.

Recent films that are still sinking in - I'm thinking Inglourious Basterds, Drag Me to Hell, Milk, and The Wrestler.

Of course, there are plenty of movies that I could have written about, and it will hit me in the days to come that I should have done so. Well, who's to stop me from doing that? I have thoughts about Brokeback Mountain, Mean Girls, Back to the Future, Murder My Sweet, Lawrence of Arabia, Cinderella, and a whole lot more. Maybe I'll get around to it.

Anyway, with all that said, here's a roundup of what I wrote about this month:

Saturday Night Fever
Bridge to Terabithia
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Predator 2
A Very Long Engagement
The Last Temptation of Christ
King Kong
(Peter Jackson's version)
Jackie Brown
Spider-Man 2
Toy Story & Toy Story 2
I Love You, Man
Citizen Kane
Fight Club
Iron Man
Taxi Driver
Superman Returns
25th Hour
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Pan's Labyrinth
Office Space
The Asphalt Jungle
United 93
A Hard Day's Night
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Death Proof

I've got comedies; I've got drama. I have movies for kids and movies that are definitely not for kids along with movies for really immature adults. Superheroes definitely get a fair bit of representation with five films, four if you don't count Unbreakable but six if you count Robocop. There are also three foreign-language films. As for directors, John Huston, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino all manage to get two films a piece in there. Actors? A quick perusal shows that Humphrey Bogart, Robert Deniro, Maribel VerdĂș, Jason Segal, and Paul Rudd all make it in there twice each. Most of the films are from the past decade, but there are a fair amount of classics in there as well. Overall, that's not a bad list. I once listened to a student go over the top 10 movies of all time, two of which were Resident Evil films. While I wouldn't call this list my "Top 30 of All Time", I'll just call it "30 of My Favorite Films".

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Comics Roundup for 12/30/09

I haven't been back for very long after having gone to the comic book store. Still, I'm ready to write this week's roundup because there wasn't a whole lot on the shelf. I knew that when I left, but I still made the trip as I wanted to get my hands on...

Blackest Night #6 (of 8) - Finally we get to see something happen that was only given as a tease, as a "wouldn't it be cool if this happened?" sort of a thing. We get to see The Scarecrow become part of the Sinestro Corps. Not only that, but the ranks of all the various corps expand to include some pretty cool choices like Barry Allen as a Blue Lantern and Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire. I realize that some fanboys will probably groan at this idea, but it just makes sense. Sure, it would be lame if just anybody could become a Green Lantern, but if the emotional spectrum is as divided up as it has become, then why shouldn't there be other characters in the DC Universe getting power rings? And considering that something like the Blackest Night is a bit bigger than just the Green Lantern corner of the universe, it only makes sense to see the ranks of the various corps swell. (I realize that if you don't read comics, this probably doesn't make a lick of sense. Trust me, this is a fun read, and if you got into it from the beginning, it's probably one of the most accessible major crossover stories in a long time.)

Origins of Siege - This was a freebie, so how could I pass it up? There isn't really a whole lot of new content. Sure, there are some freshly done origin pages for the various Marvel heroes. (Did you know that Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider?) Also, there's a short intro to the upcoming Siege storyline, where the Marvel heroes are finally going to get back together again to take care of Norman Osborn. Aside from that, there's the same preview for the upcoming miniseries that's been running in several books. Still, it was free. I'd feel ripped off if I paid money for it, but it was worth the effort to bend down and grab it from the bottom shelf - especially in a week with such slim pickings.

Movies! - "Get ready to fly, bitch!"

Some movies are bad. Some are so bad that they're good. Some are so good because they're supposed to be so bad. Death Proof fits into the last category. It certainly isn't a good movie by any means, but it's not really trying to be a good movie. After all, Quentin Tarantino was patterning it after B movies from the 1970s, and the storyline is nothing short of absurd. This isn't to say that there aren't good things about the film (the action scenes, much of the dialogue, the acting, etcetera) but overall it's pretty safe to say that this is Tarantino's worst film. With that said, it's still awesome.

The story goes as follows. A bunch of girls hang out. They meet a guy named Stuntman Mike who has a "death proof" stunt car. Stuntman Mike crashes into their car and kills them. A new group of girls hang out. These girls are in the movies, and two of them are stuntwomen. (In other words, the kind of women you don't want to mess with!) Stuntman Mike sees them doing a dangerous stunt where one of them rides on the hood of a car. Stuntman Mike tries to make them crash. The girls go after Stuntman Mike. They beat the crap out of him, and presumably kill him.

I'm obviously too young to have been around for the 1970s "Grindhouse" cinema. However, my friends and I did have a tradition called "Stupid Movie Night" where no doubt we wound up seeing some movies from that era. I suppose much of what we saw was more along the line of straight-to-VHS movies, but it's safe to say that these kinds of movies are cousins. For the most part, the films were crap and oftentimes their only merits were ridiculous action scenes and gratuitous nudity. Every now and then, we'd stumble on something that was in a different category like Evil Dead 2. Sure, that's a ridiculously stupid film as well, but everything that's dumb about it is intentionally dumb. Death Proof reminds me of that. It's not bad because it's in the hands of somebody who's incompetent, it's bad because a competent person was trying to make a B-movie.

My favorite part about this film is the ridiculousness of its premise. Here we have an obvious misogynist who stalks women and gets to know them before he ultimately kills them. However, unlike a real serial killer, he doesn't strangle, stab, bludgeon them. He uses his stunt car to crash into their car. Oh, there is the one girl who he takes for a ride, and since she's in the spot where a camera is supposed to go, she's not exactly protected like he is.

Of course, this is hardly enough to get me on board. What really works is how well Kurt Russell sells this character. He's a downright charming guy when he's talking to the girls in the bar. He also really sells his "turn" when he makes it clear to the poor girl in the passenger seat that his intentions are malevolent. Still, what really makes Kurt Russel awesome is toward the end of the film where the new batch of girls get the upper hand on him. He gets shot in the arm, and after he drives away to safety and pours whiskey on his wound, he's crying. Crying! Brilliant! It's even better when they make him crash his car and pull him out to start beating him up. When they go to pull him out, he implores them to be careful with his broken arm. Damn, but that cracks me up every time I watch it.

Obviously, this movie is not for everybody. In many ways, it's not dumb enough for those who only like lowbrow cinema, as there are long periods of nothing but dialogue. Still, it's Tarantino's dialogue, so somebody who appreciates that sort of a thing would like it. (To be fair, the dialogue with the second group of girls never picks up the same momentum as it did with the first group.)

And I should also mention that I have said before that if my friend JT was a serial killer, his M.O. would be just like Stuntman Mike's - especially the crying part. He doesn't deny that I'm right. In fact, he just nods his head and agrees that I'm right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Movies! - "I didn't count on being happy."

For the longest time, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the best film featuring the caped crusader. Of course, the things that changed that were Batman Begins and later The Dark Knight. I suppose that some folks might be wondering why a big superhero nerd like myself hasn't written about any of the Batman movies yet with this Movie-A-Day Month, but I've already written extensive reviews for each one of them. Check it out:

Batman Returns
Batman Forever
Batman and Robin
Batman Begins
The Dark Knight - plus an addendum.

So I guess that just leaves me with MotP for this month. In all honesty though, I just consider this movie to be an extension of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series. I suppose that there are some episodes that are better than the movie - although perhaps not so much on the animation front - but the film is still pretty solid.

I remember that I actually went to see it in the theater. My good pal Kristine was cool enough to go with me. (To be fair, I didn't really have to twist her arm. She was always very catering to my nerdy tendencies.) I then got it on home video and showed it to some friends, who were impressed with it. I also remember in college that whenever I talked to people who had seen the animated series, they were always really impressed by it.

The main advantage that the animated film has over Tim Burton's two movies is that it simply has a more coherent story and a plot that's driven by the characters. Burton's films obviously have a greater budget and access to more mainstream actors. (For my money though, Kevin Conroy is the best Batman ever - if we're going simply by the voice, of course.) I suppose that you could also say that MotP gets a bit melodramatic at times, but I sort of expect that thing from a cartoon about a guy who dresses up as a bat.

This advantage is even clearer when it comes to comparing the animated endeavor to Joel Shumacher's crapfests. I know some people would argue with me about MotP being better than Burton's films, but I don't think that I'll get much argument on this score. Not only is the plot more coherent, but it doesn't insult the source material by making everything all campy. And if we're talking the animated series, try watching all the Mr. Freeze episodes and then watch Batman and Robin and tell me which one of those is aimed exclusively at adolescent minds.

There's even an advantage over the two Christopher Nolan films. No, I don't think that it's as good. I don't think that it even comes close. However, as a fan of the comics, I have to take my love for the character into account. My only gripe with Nolan's movies is that they have pretty much painted themselves into a corner. With the current movies so grounded in reality, there's a large chunk of the Batman mythology that simply won't make sense with the world that they've created with these movies. I've written about this problem here and here where I go over which villains would and would not work.

What the cartoon series managed to accomplish was a reality that allowed for all the aspects of the Batman mythology. He had down-to-earth villains; he had sci-fi foes; and he had fantasy adversaries, and they all worked just fine. Perhaps it's harder to create something like that when you only have a two hour movie to establish a world, but I'd like to see some day a new batch of Batman films where they try and get closer to that. After all, Batman is a mixture of many different genres. I understand that Nolan was trying to get as far away from what was created in the Burton/Shumacher films (which just did whatever they wanted to without establishing rules of any sort) and that was certainly the right choice. Still, I think that there's a really great Batman movie that's just waiting to be made that has a Batman that's nearly 100% like he is in the comics.

I realize that I've already written a lot without really going into the film itself. The plot revolves around a new vigilante coming to Gotham City called The Phantasm. Comics fans would note that he's somewhat similar to The Reaper from the Year Two storyline in that he resembles an angel of death and takes a decidedly more lethal approach to fighting crime. This, of course, puts him at odds with Batman who absolutely does not kill. (And one of the good things about Nolan's films is that he got this very important detail right.) Meanwhile, a former lover of Bruce Wayne comes back into town, and we get flashbacks on his early days as Batman. Turns out that the thought of living happily ever after with her almost made him hang up the cape and cowl. As he speaks to the spirits of his deceased parents, Bruce struggles with his decision to give it up:
It doesn't mean I don't care anymore. I don't want to let you down, honest, but... but it just doesn't hurt so bad anymore. You can understand that, can't you? Look, I can give money to the city - they can hire more cops. Let someone else take the risk, but it's different now! Please! I need it to be different now. I know I made a promise, but I didn't see this coming. I didn't count on being happy.
Of course, tragedy gets in the way of his relationship, and he winds up becoming the savior of Gotham as his destiny intended. When we get back to the present, Bruce tries to find out what really happened to make her leave him so long ago. Throw in a connection between his lover and The Phantasm, along with a connection to The Joker, and you've got a solid superhero story.

If you ever watched the Animated Series and enjoyed it, then you might want to give this one a try. If you're a fan of all things (or almost all things) Batman, then you definitely want to check it out. As I mentioned before, there are probably some episodes of the show with better stories, but this is a solid entry, and it even gets better on repeated viewings.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Movies! - "What kind of a friend is always hiding?"

I instantly thought of Y Tu Mama Tambien when a student asked me recently if it was possible for a movie to be "for adults" but not necessarily pornography. I didn't go into detail, but I told him that there certainly were movies that wouldn't be appropriate for kids because of their content, but at the same time they're also not for kids because a kid would be bored throughout most of it. I suppose that if I was twelve years old and got a copy of this film, I'd probably skip 95% of the film and just watch the bits where the main actress gets naked. I'm an adult though, and the parts that resonate on a deeper level involve the characters and the story.

I've written before about how I think that most people don't understand film criticism or its purpose. All they do is pay attention to the number of stars or the direction of the thumb, when the point is to pay attention to what the critic said was good or bad about it. With a good critic, you can figure out if you'd probably like a film even if the review is mostly negative.

With that said, I read some reviews where I begin to think that a certain critic has absolutely no business reviewing films. This is how I felt while checking out some of the reviews for Y Tu Mama Tambien on Overall, the score is positive, with 91% positive reviews. Still, there are some negative ones. That's fine. I don't think that a person is a bad critic if they don't like the movie. What gets me is that some of them are making comparisons to the American Pie films. Huh? Don't get me wrong, I like the first two American Pie movies, but they don't belong in the same sentence as this movie. The "Pie" movies are teenage sex comedies, and that's their intended audience. They're really good at doing what they do, but if all you're getting out of "Mama" is crude jokes and sex humor, then MAN are you missing the point.

The plot is pretty basic and could easily be the setup for a teenage sex comedy. Two teenage friends go on a road trip, and they are accompanied by a very attractive, and very adult, woman. Sexual antics do ensue, but there's a lot more going on than just that. The sex in the movie is not a setup for a joke. In fact, the movie has a lot of good insights into sexuality - the prime one being that just because you know what it is, that doesn't mean that you know anything about it.

Of course, there's a lot more going on as well. There's insight into Mexican culture (it's a Mexican film, after all) and history. Also, the woman who accompanies them is hiding a secret from them, and she has an agenda of her own. Her willingness to have sex with these boys is not because she's some sort of horny plot device. She's in some serious pain - for several reasons, and her actions are perfectly believable. By the end of the film, you actually empathize with her and feel for what she's going through.

On top of all that, there's a lot about class differences that might be hard for a lot of Americans to relate to. One of the friends is from a wealthier family than the other, and there is a lot of unspoken tension as a result of this. There's other kinds of tension between the two of them, and where they wind up at the end of the film is also completely believable.

I guess I wouldn't recommend this film to just anybody. It's certainly not for kids. It's also not for those who can't stomach the idea of reading subtitles. I suppose that some people might like it for the sheer fact that the woman shows her boobs, but I wouldn't want to hear a positive review from somebody who appreciates it for that reason and that reason alone.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas thoughts and booty

The War on Christmas is alive and well, and just like always, it's a war that exists only in the heads of certain Christians who seem to feel like they're being persecuted in this country where you can't go to any public place without hearing Christmas tunes all December long. Yes, even though there's a church on every other street, somehow the phrase "Happy Holidays" is as offensive as "Heil Hitler!" All of their rights are being taken away, and it gets really out of hand when you take into account all of those things that aren't actually happening, like churches getting sued because they won't marry gay people.

I've seen a few Christians take their cause to Facebook with posts about how "they" (who are they? The mafia? The FBI? The Masons? The Shriners?) want to take the "Christ" out of Christmas, but "they" will never take the Christ out of them. Ummm...okay. Look, I'm not completely against this sentiment. If you're a Christian, and you want to make Jesus Christ the focal point of your Christmas festivities, then more power to you. In fact, that's what you should do. It only makes sense.

However, when exactly was the Christ in Christmas? I certainly don't remember a time. When I think of Christmas, I think of Santa, Christmas trees, elves, flying reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, mistletoe, etcetera. Yeah, I know, we also have manger scenes and "Silent Night". Still, I think it's safe to say that the predominant images and associations in our collective unconscious about Christmas are predominantly secular, if not downright pagan.

Let's face it; the Christ has been taken out of Christmas a long time ago, and it's inevitable that a capitalist society would quickly lose sight of any spiritual message. Ironically, I'm somewhat behind these Christians who are trying to take their holiday back. (Let's forget about all the pagan origins for now - the Christians have had it long enough for it to be theirs.) Still, I wonder if they're putting their money where their mouth is. Are they going to forgo all of the secular/pagan elements of their holiday in order to find its true spirit? Or are they just going to complain when people say "Happy Holidays"?

Anyway, speaking of capitalism, let me write about what I got for Christmas:

Once again, I did rather well this Christmas. Unfortunately, the bulk of my presents will be coming in the mail, as I mostly received gift cards from This is a good thing because gift cards will generally take you a lot further there. For a moment, I was actually wondering what I would get. I checked out the Blu-Ray movies for sale, but they all fell into the following categories: I didn't want them, I have the DVD and am satisfied with that, it's streaming on Netflix, or I already own it. I also contemplated getting an iPod, but my cheapo Sansa MP3 player works just fine for what I need.

And then I remembered that there are a ton of comics that I still want, so I quickly spent all my gift card money. Much of it is stuff that I had to pass up but planned on getting eventually. The one exception was The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Volume 1. It collects every Stan Lee and Steve Ditko collaboration on the title. Sure, I already have all of them, but I have them in various reprint books, and most are in black and white. It'll be nice to have them all in one nice looking volume. It's the kind of thing that I wanted, but I just couldn't justify spending that kind of money.

Now all I have to do is wait...

Movies! - "He's very clean."

If you're not a fan of The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night isn't going to turn you into one. However, if you are a fan, then the movie is a must-see. Sure, there are some other Beatles movies like Yellow Submarine, Help, and Let it Be, but for my money, their first one is the best. (I'll be honest - I've never seen Magical Mystery Tour. I understand that I'm not missing very much.)

I realize that I've written about a few movies that get me all emotional, and this one is no different. No, it doesn't make me cry when Ringo goes off and hangs out by himself. This movie makes me happy. As soon as it gets started, with its oft-mimicked scene where the lads are being chased by a mob of fans, I get a smile on my face. I continue to feel good throughout the entire experience, from the silliness with Paul's "very clean" grandfather to the part where they run around a field to the tune of "Can't Buy Me Love".

I should point out that the film really doesn't have much of a story. It's best to think of it as a long-form music video. The story looks for excuses for them to play music, and even when it can't find one, they go ahead and play the music anyway. Sure, there are some funny dialogue bits in there, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo manage to do a decent job with their lines. I don't know if I'd call them actors, but they're all personable and likeable enough to keep the banter snappy. Here's a sample:

Ringo: I don't snore.
George: You do, repeatedly.
Ringo: Do I snore, John?
John: Yeah, you're a window-rattler, son.
Ringo: That's just your opinion. Do I snore, Paul?
Paul: With a trombone hooter like yours, it would be unnatural if you didn't.
Grandfather: Now, Paulie... don't mock the afflicted.
Paul: Ah, come off it, it's only a joke!
Grandfather: Aye, it may be a joke to you, but it's his nose. He can't help having a hideous great hooter! And his poor little head, trembling under the weight of it!

George: That's not your grandfather.
Paul: It is, you know.
George: But I've seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.
Paul: Oh, that's my other grandfather, but he's my grandfather, as well.
John: How do you reckon that one out?
Paul: Well, everyone's entitled to two, aren't they?

Man on train: Don't take that tone with me, young man. I fought the war for your sort.
Ringo: I bet you're sorry you won.
Of course, what really makes this movie is the music. A Hard Day's Night is the third full-length album by The Beatles, and it's probably their best one up to that point. I know that there are some people who like their early stuff, and there are others who like their later stuff. Me? I love it all, really. Still, I have to say that their third album is probably one of their most solid efforts, and there really aren't any bits that lose the momentum. (Where's the Beatles Rock Band download for that album, anyway?)

Would I call A Hard Day's Night a great movie in general? No, but it is a great movie for Beatles fans.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Movies! - "They are not going to land this plane."

I started thinking about United 93 for a couple of reasons. The first is when I read about the recent attempted terrorist attack. The second is that in yesterday's Movie-A-Day post, I wrote more about my experience when I saw the film than the film itself. Whenever I think about United 93, I can't help but think of when I saw it in the theater. I have a feeling that I've written about this before. I know that I've told a lot of people this story, but I'm going to go ahead and write about it for today's post anyway. Maybe I can actually say something new about it.

Anyway, for those who don't know, United 93 tells the story of the passengers on September 11, 2001 who rose up against the hijackers and fought back. They didn't succeed in saving themselves, but they did prevent the terrorists from hitting their intended target; which very likely resulted in saving at least the lives of those who were at the target. The movie plays out like a documentary in a way. It gives the feeling like you're watching everything as it happens. There is no dramatic music, no powerful speeches or anything like that. Basically, there is very little in there to remind you that you're watching a movie. It all feels very real.

When I saw it, there was some dumb woman with her dumb boyfriend sitting up at the front. I normally hate talkers with a vicious passion as it is, and I've told a few people to stop talking in my time. This woman was particularly obnoxious though. She was sitting on the other side of the theater, and she kept yapping throughout the ENTIRE movie. I don't remember what she was talking about, but it was all just stupid, annoying small talk. Why the hell would she even bother going to the movie if she just planned on talking the whole time?

I put up with it as best as I could, but when she was still blathering on at the film's climactic moment - when the passengers started to fight back - I couldn't take it anymore. I shouted across the theater, "Can you not shut up for five minutes? Jesus Christ!" She was absolutely dead silent at that point, and when the credits began to roll, she got the hell out of there. I have a bit of a booming, loud voice, and she may have worried that I was going to eviscerate her.

That sort of a thing is bad enough, but this movie came out in 2006 - just five years after the attacks. Look, I'm no Toby Keith "angry American" jingoist, but aren't some things sacred? These people, at the cost of their own lives, thwarted the terrorists that day. There isn't anything that's happened since that better illustrates to Al Quaeda that they can't beat us. (Want proof? Read about the recent terror attack. Who stopped the guy? A passenger!)

Hopefully you get the point lest I start quoting the lyrics to "Proud to be an American." At the very least, a person should have the decency to respect the fact that this was all very real, and it was very recent. Imagine how a person who had loved ones die that day would feel if they were sitting in that theater? I suspect that my reaction would be considered to be pretty tame by comparison.

The one last thing I'll say is that if you own or rent the DVD, I can't give a greater recommendation for viewing the bonus features. Oftentimes, that sort of a thing is pure fluff. With this documentary, however, it really adds to the experience of the film. In it, they have the actors meet the loved ones and families of the characters that they're playing. I will once again admit to crying like a small child after having watched that. It's simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. Even if you've already seen the film, rent or buy it for that alone.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Movies! - "Why don't you quit cryin' and get me some bourbon?"

One of the best times I've ever had at the movies was when I saw The Asphalt Jungle. It was back in 1950, wait, that's not quite right. I did see it in a movie theater though, and there was a newsreel and a cartoon right before it. I went with Scott to the Paramount Theater in Oakland, where they sometimes have a "Movie Classics" night. I'm not sure why we picked that particular night and movie, but it was a good choice. Basically, the only thing with which I was familiar was the director, John Huston, who also directed Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon. Little did I know that it was also the first film of one Marilyn Monroe, who's really smokin' in this film.

I have since bought it and watched it a few times, but it's not a film where I remember as much from it as I do the other movies about which I've written this month. It was part of a "Film Noir" box set. If you like old films with tough guys and dangerous ladies, I recommend those Warner sets. I have Volume 1 and Volume 4. The latter of which I got for about twenty bucks, and it comes with ten films. I don't remember a lot of details about each one, but I remember liking most of them, and I remember some great performances on the part of Ricardo Montalban, Edward G. Robinson, and Sterling Hayden.

Hayden is also in The Asphalt Jungle, and his performance is one of the best things about it. You might remember him as the cop that Michael shoots in The Godfather, but of course, in these film noirs, he's a bit younger. He essentially plays the same guy every time, but it doesn't matter. He always has a scowl on his face, and he looks like pretty much everything that's around him is really bothering him. I also recommend the Stanley Kubrick classic The Killing.

Anyway, back to my experience of watching this film. I think that aside from the fact that The Asphalt Jungle is a great movie, the best part was the audience. Everybody who was there was a fan of movies. After all, going all the way out to Oakland to see some movie from 1950 isn't something that people do just to pass the time. Everybody was laughing, cheering and applauding throughout - and not in an annoying way. We were all just having a good time. The Paramount Theater is a really gorgeous place as well, and it's too bad that theaters can't be like that anymore. I understand why, as it's not really very cost-effective, but you really feel like you're at an actual event instead of just seeing a movie.

The movie itself is a heist caper with an assortment of colorful criminals. Each one of them has his or her own set of hangups and idiosyncrasies. Basically, they're all people whose lives are total trainwrecks, and they feel like doing this one big score will straighten everything out. The only one who somewhat gets what he wants is Hayden's character, Dix Handley. Of course, he gets it with his dying breath, but these film noirs always have to end with the message that crime does not pay. One thing that I should also mention is his girlfriend in the movie. She's another trainwreck, but man does she ever try to get things together. She reminds me of a lot of people I know, as she doesn't exactly pick the type of man who's good for her.

I was going to watch a movie before going to bed tonight, and I was perusing my Blu-Ray collection. After writing this, I remembered that I have a few film noirs in my Netflix streaming queue. I think I'll check out one of them instead.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Comics Roundup for 12/23/09

It's vacation, so I devoured my entire stack of comics yesterday. Here's what I got:

Hellboy: The Bride of Hell - This one's just a one-shot special, and it's a pretty solid read. It doesn't really continue with the bigger themes that were brought up in the last series, and honestly, I think that you could hand this to anybody who's never even read a Hellboy comic before, and they'd be able to understand it just fine. Also, while I don't like Richard Corben's art as much as Duncan Fegredo's (or Mike Mignola's) it's still pretty darned good. I especially like the way he drew the story's antagonist, Asmodeus. The demon in the story is based on Jewish folklore, and I'm eager to do some research to learn a little bit more about it.

Green Lantern #49 - This issue felt a bit like filler, as it didn't deal with the main Blackest Night storyline; instead it focused on another Lantern - John Stewart. I really liked the character in the animated Justice League series, but he's never been that interesting for me in the comics. Basically, the only thing that made him stand out is that he's African American. This issue does a bit to rectify that, and I realize that there might be more to the character than I realize. Keep in mind that I've only been a loyal GL fan since Geoff Johns took it over.

New Avengers #60 - I'm running out of things to say about this series. What can I tell you? It's still one of my favorites, and I usually put it on the top of my stack when I sit down to read the week's offerings. Stuart Immonen's artwork continues to be awesome, and the tension between the good and bad Avengers keeps going up a notch. Fun stuff.

Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? - This was supposed to be an epilogue to the Reborn series, but since that series has been increased by one issue, we get the epilogue before the conclusion. Oh well, I went ahead and read it anyway. It's nice to see that things aren't going to be so neatly wrapped up with the return of Steve Rogers. Turns out that he wants to keep Bucky-Cap going as the Star Spangled Avenger, but I'm sure he's not just going to sit on the sidelines. As always, I'm looking forward to more.

Thor #605 - I was disappointed to learn that new writer Kieron Gillen was only going to stick around for about six issues, but now I hear that Matt Fraction will be taking over after that. I guess that means that I'll be sticking with this series for a while now. That's fine, as this was another good issue. Sure, it was mostly fighting, but the buildup for the previous issue made it interesting. I still think that I'd prefer a different artist over Billy Tan though. Man, his last issue was actually pretty good, but it's starting to get kind of sloppy with this issue.

The Amazing Spider-Man #616 - I definitely got more into this story with this issue. Once again, Javier Pullido turns in some nice art. As for the story, we get one of those classic Peter Parker situations where by doing the right thing, he winds up feeling even worse than if he had done nothing. Good stuff.

Spider-Woman #4 - This issue looks good, just like the last three issues did. Storywise though, I was underwhelmed. I'm looking for books to drop, and I'm wondering if this one will get the axe next month. Let's just say that I'll give the next issue a perusal before making up my mind.

Criminal: The Sinners - Part Three - I'm going to wait for the entire series to come out before reading this one. I did just recently re-read all of the previous Criminal stories though, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. My favorite storylines would be "Coward" and "Bad Night".

Movies! - "I'm not a mistake!"

Some people I've spoken with think that Unbreakable was a downturn from M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. I'd have to disagree, and I don't think that he started to go downhill until The Village. I stopped watching his movies after that, so I can't speak for the ones that came later.

Anyway, I watched Unbreakable recently when I showed it to my seniors last year. It was the end of the school year, and I was wrapping things up with my lesson on comic books and superheroes. I wanted to show them a film that not only went along with that, but I also wanted them to see something that made them think a little bit. In other words, I didn't just want to show something like Iron Man which many of them have probably already seen. Turns out it was a good choice, and I was able to relate it to a lot of the stuff about archetypes that I had taught them earlier in the year. I also got them to see on their own that it was an allegory for discovering one's true talents and potential.

The people I've spoken with who don't seem to like this movie tend to not be comic book fans. All of the comics fans I know seem to like it quite a bit. While the film is not based on any specific comic book, it's definitely drawing its inspiration from the mythology of comic book superheroes. That's why the ending made perfect sense to guys like me. I remember standing out in the lobby and explaining to some girls what the ending meant, as they were pretty confused. Sure, it might have been that they were just kind of slow. However, once Mr. Glass revealed his true nature, I realized that it only could have ended that way.

Probably what turns off a lot of people is that the film has a somewhat of a slow pace. Personally, I don't think that "slow" is quite the right word for it, as that implies that it's not intentional. Maybe "deliberate" is a better word for it. I have a short attention span, but on repeated viewings, I like how the film takes its time on every shot and doesn't rush to get to any kind of big or explosive moment. I think that's why the big reveal at the end pays off so well. You're so used to not getting any payoffs that you don't see that one coming.

I've mentioned before that if I was doing a "top superhero" movie list, I'd include this film. There would be some other choices that people might find unusual like Robocop and The Mask of Zorro (think about it - what else is Zorro but a 19th Century Mexican Batman?) I'd dare say that on certain days, I'd put this one at the very top of that list.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Movies! - "Federal, pound me in the ass prison."

Writing about Office Space seems like an even bigger no-brainer than writing about and Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Sure, the latter two films are the darlings of film critics, both amateur and professional everywhere. Office Space, however, is pretty much loved by everybody of my generation. You can quote it left and right and you're pretty much guaranteed that people will know what you're talking about.

Now, I hate to be one of those "I liked it before it was cool" kinds of people, but I'm afraid that I have to be one of those kinds of people. For the most part, this film really picked up steam when it was released on DVD and played endlessly on cable. I actually saw it in the theater, and I remember really liking it quite a bit. I also remember some of my coworkers at the time (this was back in my dot com days) giving it very lukewarm reviews. It's a movie that really took a while to gestate in the collective unconscious, but I was hip to how great it was from the start. Basically what I'm saying is that I'm a better person than most people.

Among the many great things in this movie, the one thing that really struck a chord in me was how much I related to it. I didn't detest my dot com job, but let's just say that it was often rather uninspiring. I definitely related to Peter when he confessed that he spent the first part of his shift pretty much just zoning out and how he claimed to only get about an hour's worth of work done in an entire day.

I also definitely worked with a lot of people who reminded me of the characters in this movie. Bill Lumbergh, the boss/villain in the film, reminded me of a lady who worked in human resources. She had that same lay-it-on-thick phony friendliness about her that really got under my skin. Oh, and I still work with people who are like the guy who says, "If things go well I might be showing her my O-face. 'Oh... Oh... Oh!' You know what I'm talkin' about. 'Oh!'"

I would also be really remiss in not mentioning that one of the many great things about this film is how it ruthlessly makes fun of Michael Bolton. At the time, I, along with Scott C. Harris, used to have a "War on Bolton" website. While the website is gone, a blog post about it is right here. What's great is that the movie just takes Michael Bolton's suckiness as a given. It assumes that everybody understands that it's an objective, certifiable fact. I kind of feel sorry for people who are fans of his - they must have been really confused.

There's so much more I can say. Too bad that Idiocracy, made by the same writer-director, Mike Judge, didn't pan out quite as well. A quick note about that movie, I've mentioned, and many people have agreed, that Idiocracy isn't good, but it's worth seeing because it's funny when you talk about its jokes and ideas for some reason. Go figure.

Anyway, I'll just cap this off with some of my favorite dialogue exchanges:
Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
Bob Porter: Don't... don't care?
Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
Peter Gibbons: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence: I'll tell you what I'd do, man: two chicks at the same time, man.
Peter Gibbons: That's it? If you had a million dollars, you'd do two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I were a millionaire I could hook that up, too; 'cause chicks dig dudes with money.
Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.
Lawrence: Well, the type of chicks that'd double up on a dude like me do.
Peter Gibbons: Good point.
Lawrence: Well, what about you now? what would you do?
Peter Gibbons: Besides two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Well, yeah.
Peter Gibbons: Nothing.
Lawrence: Nothing, huh?
Peter Gibbons: I would relax... I would sit on my ass all day... I would do nothing.
Lawrence: Well, you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin: he's broke, don't do shit.
Samir: No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It's not that hard: Na-ghee-na-na-jar. Nagheenanajar.
Michael Bolton: Yeah, well, at least your name isn't Michael Bolton.
Samir: You know, there's nothing wrong with that name.
Michael Bolton: There *was* nothing wrong with it... until I was about twelve years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
Samir: Hmm... well, why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movies! - "He won't even know your name."

The one thing that Pan's Labyrinth proves is that the director, Guillermo del Toro, is a true artist. I got the feeling that he was from some of his other movies like Hellboy and even Blade II, but let's face it, those are B-movies. Sure, they're entertaining, but they wouldn't belong in a "Best Picture" category. Still, they have a certain something to them that make them stand out from a lot of other action flicks that are completely mindless. With Pan's Labyrinth though, del Toro really shows us what he was capable of doing. (To be fair, you can also figure this out from his films Chronos and The Devil's Backbone - but "Pan's" is a step up from both of those films.)

If you were reading my review of The Bridge to Terabithia and you were thinking to yourself that it sounded interesting, yet you were still turned off by the thought of a movie that's intentionally aimed for kids, then this film might be more up your alley. It's basically a fairy tale for grown ups, and I should probably be very clear that this movie is definitely NOT for kids. It's very violent in places. There's a part where I was covering my eyes for a moment. Not only that, but kids would be bored by a lot that's going on. Teenagers could probably handle it, but it's definitely not for the wee ones.

Just like The Bridge to Terabithia, there are scenes that take place in the real world and scenes that take place in a fantasy world. The real world of post Civil War Spain deals with a little girl and her mother who's come to live with her new father, a fanatical devotee of Franco's fascist policies. They live in an army base up in the mountains, and they're surrounded by rebels - who are the good guys in this film. The fantasy world deals with the girl's encounters with a mysterious faun who declares that she's really a princess, and in order to claim what is hers, she has to perform a series of dangerous tasks.

This movie was made for people like me - adults who like kids movies but not because they have immature tastes. (I've known adults who still watch Disney films, which I do too, but that's pretty much all they watch.) What I also like is that the film is very ambiguous as to whether the fantasy world is "real" or not. I guess for people who just can't accept fantasy being real - even in a metaphorical sense - then they can choose to believe it's all in Ofelia's head. Me? I believe that all of the fantasy stuff really happened to her.

The strange thing is that one of the adjectives I'd use to describe this film is "beautiful". That might seem strange, considering how much ugliness there is in the film. There's the brutal Capitan Vidal, who tortures people. There's a gruesome, macabre monster whose skin is a pasty white and has eyeballs on his palms. (Behind him are artistic depictions of him killing children.) The ending is also tragic. Still, the film is about the ultimate victory of good over evil. Evil might have its momentary wins, but in the end it can never sustain itself.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Comics Roundup for 12/16/09

I was out of town for a couple of days, so it took a bit longer to get through the week's stack. Here we go:

Daredevil #503 - I was sort of hoping that this issue was going to suck so I could have one more title that I could quit getting. No such luck. Thanks a lot, Andy Diggle, Roberto de la Torre, and Marco Chechetto. How am I supposed to quit reading when it's still so good? With that said, I actually hope that it can maintain the momentum that's been building. Ol' Hornhead is really in a tough situation, as he's the leader of a ruthless band of assassins, and it's kind of difficult to get them to be a bunch of good guys. I'm not quite sure how much longer they can run with this, but hopefully they won't drag it out.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #7 - Even though I liked the last two guest-written issues, it sure is nice to have Paul Dini back and bringing his A game. There's a pretty gruesome story about a guy dressed like Santa who's stealing presents for a bunch of dead kids. Dead kids? Where did they come from? That's for the next issue. The best part of this issue though? The exchange between Dick Grayson/Batman and Damion Wayne/Robin:
Robin: I figured it was just a matter of time before Santa joined our rogue's gallery.
Batman: Right, because you're obviously way too grown up for Christmas.
Robin: Nah, I like it fine. Mother usually gets me something -- jetliner, hydrofoil, I got a private island last year --
Batman: And I used to think it was a big Christmas if Bruce allowed Alfred to make eggnog.
Robin: You get better stuff if you're a real son.
Batman #694 - Okay, Tony Daniel set up some interesting stuff with his first two issues, but I was having a hard time following what the hell was going on in this one. Perhaps I just need to re-read all three issues in a row, but this stuff had better get better. Also, what's up with the overly-dramatic endings in every issue? When's Winick coming back?

The Amazing Spider-Man #615 - At last we get some good art again with the return of Javier Pulido along with a somewhat confusing story involving The Sandman. Still, it had a pretty cool ending, and I'm intrigued as to where all this stuff with Spidey's rogues gallery is going.

Spider-Man: Clone Saga #4 (of 6) - Okay, I was actually surprised by what happened at the end of this issue. I guess we're finally getting to the part where Defalco and Mackie give us how the original clone story was supposed to shape out. I also really like Todd Nauck's art, and I hope they find a place for him on the regular book's rotation.

Captain America: Reborn #5 (of 6) - I believe that this was supposed to be a five issue series, but it looks like they're dragging it out another issue. I'm fine with that, I guess, as concluding it with this issue might have made everything feel a little rushed. I guess the only other complaint is that it would have been nice if the entire New Avengers team could have been helping out on this one instead of a mix of various heroes. I guess we'll have to wait for the Cap/Avengers reunion in the New Avengers series.

Dark Avengers #12 - While I'm still loving every issue of this series, I hope that Marvel does the right thing and ends it when this whole "Dark Reign" thing is over with. I suppose that there might be a legitimate way to keep it going, but if we need villains as heroes, we have Thunderbolts. Anyway, a fun issue plus a cool cliffhanger has me wanting more and looking forward to Siege.

Echo #17 - Terry Moore waited seventeen issues to finally reveal the backstory of the metal alloy that fuses to main character Julie's body. This was a smart move, as by this time I'm invested enough in the characters to actually care about how all this came to be. As easy a time as I am having with following this series from issue to issue, I think it's time for another marathon session.

Movies! - "I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"

There's one scene in Treasure of the Sierra Madre that shows just what a master director John Huston is. It deals with the banditos trying to sell their stolen donkeys only to get caught and put in prison to be executed later. The scene plays out for about five minutes or so (if I remember correctly) and every character speaks in Spanish. There are absolutely no subtitles, and even though I don't speak the language, I was able to completely understand what was going on, not even realizing until afterward that there weren't any subtitles to help me figure it all out.

I first picked up the film when I heard that some other senior teacher who had retired would show it to go along with Macbeth. Actually, that was my mistake, as he showed it to go along with "The Pardoner's Tale" of The Canterbury Tales - which makes a hell of a lot more sense. I bought it blind the day it came out on DVD, and it instantly became one of my favorite movies upon the first viewing.

Just like with Casablanca and Citizen Kane, there probably isn't much that I can say about this film that hasn't been said before. It's not as high up on the AFI 100 best films, but it made the list. I guess the only new thing I can say is that when I did show it to students, the reaction was actually pretty positive. Oddly enough, it was often my Hispanic students who really seemed to like it, which is surprising considering the stereotypical banditos. I guess in all fairness, the movie portrays a lot of different Mexicans, and not all of them bordered on being caricatures. I suppose they might also like the role-reversal as how you have white Americans searching for work in Mexico.

The one thing that this movie really did for me was get me to appreciate how great Humphrey Bogart is. Sure, I was already a fan of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I had also seen a few of his other films as well. Still, his character in "Treasure" is so completely different than anything else in which I've seen him. It's great to see how he goes from being somebody who'll settle for a few pesos to somebody who's completely consumed with greed.

For those who are wondering, it ties into "The Pardoner's Tale" because it essentially has the same theme - the love of money is the root of all evil. I've read that it's supposedly based on the Pardoner's tale, and you can find more similarities here and there, but really it's more about exploring the theme a bit more realistically and thoughtfully. After all, the Pardoner only tells his morality tale so he can gain from the very thing he preaches against. The film doesn't have a narrator. Also, all three of the guys who go after the gold have completely different personalities, and only Dobbs (Bogart) is like the "rioter" of the original tale.

I actually haven't had time to show this movie in a few years. I think I'm going to need to watch it again soon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movies! - "You had it all, and you threw it away."

I don't think that I know anybody who's seen 25th Hour and didn't like it. The problem is, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of people who have seen it. Hopefully this review will rectify that for at least a couple of people.

The film is about Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) who gets to have one last day of freedom and partying with his friends before he goes to prison for dealing drugs. Much of the movie deals with him trying to figure out who ratted him out, but it's really about how he deals with the fact that his life is going to change forever. Also, there are a lot of great supporting roles played by Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Barry Pepper. We also see how his friends and girlfriend are trying to make sense of how such a smart guy like him could have thrown his life away like that.

It's a powerful film, and the climax packs a pretty powerful emotional punch. It's definitely not the kind of film for people who like everything neat and happy in their films. (Although it does have a happy "what if" scenario at the very end where if you really want, you could pretend that's the way the story actually ends.)

While I like pretty much everything about this movie, the one subplot that really resonates with me is the one with his friend Jacob (Hoffman) who's a high school English teacher. I have to be careful about what I write here, because I don't want to make it sound like I've had an experience that's similar to Jacob's, but I can understand how he could get himself into the trouble that he got himself into.

Basically, Jacob is infatuated with one of his students, Mary (Anna Paquin). While he's out with Monty for his last hurrah, they run into Mary and she hangs out with them. Not enough can be said about Paquin's performance. She was about 21 at the time, but she was definitely channeling her inner 17-year-old. They look like women. Sometimes they even act like women. They're starting to get a handle on their sexuality and how they can use it on men. However, push-comes-to-shove, they're still children.

Minor spoiler alert here - Jacob winds up kissing Mary. It's one of the most perfect scenes in the movie. It's completely believable that he would do such a thing in the first place. After all, he's a single and probably lonely guy. She's definitely sending out a lot of signals. However, it's clear that she's not entirely aware of exactly what signals she's sending out. The look on her face after he does it says so much, even though there's no dialogue. Right after that, there's a very Spike Lee (who directed) moment where you just see Jacob's face as the background slowly moves behind him. With this movie, you definitely have a lot of talented actors bringing their A-game.

Like I said, I've never done anything like Jacob does in this movie. However, I work with teenage girls. I've been single. I know how they can be, and I know how dumb we men can be. I guess you could call it a good cautionary tale. And to think, I've had that much to say simply about the subplot. Imagine how good the rest of the movie is.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movies! - "I stick my neck out for nobody!"

I hate to admit it, but it took several viewings of Casablanca for me to finally appreciate it. There obviously must have been something about it to keep drawing me back to it though, and I'm glad that I didn't just give up on it. Shoot, come to think of it, I've owned so many versions of this film. I've owned the first DVD, the special edition DVD, the HD-DVD, and now I have the crazy-big Blu-Ray collector's edition. (To be fair, one of those other versions I got for a few bucks, and another one was completely free.)

My first attempt to watch it, I was at a friend's house. They were showing it on TV. Remember when they'd show a movie on TV and you'd go out of your way to sit down and watch it? It would be like an event! Ahh, good, but much more inconvenient, times. Anyway, the plan was for me and several friends to sit down and watch it as it was a classic film that we all felt needed to be seen so we could find out what was so great about it. At least, that's what I thought the idea was. My friends were more interested in chatting about the same pointless crap we always chatted about, and they treated me like I was being a jerk when I said that I wanted to pay attention to the movie.

I don't really remember much about it, as I don't think that I was able to pay enough attention in order to get much out of it. I also don't remember when the next time I saw it was, but I think that I watched it about three or four times before I finally had my magical viewing of it. Don't get me wrong, I obviously liked it enough to buy and watch every so often, but I don't think that I could have honestly called it one of my favorites. The magical viewing came when I listened to Roger Ebert's commentary on the special edition DVD. He pointed out so many cool things about the movie that I guess that I was just too dense to pick up on myself. (How did I miss what a mac daddy Captain Renault is? He's kind of a pig, actually, but he's so charming that he gets away with it.)

Since then, I doubt that a year goes by without me watching it at least twice. It's a comfort-movie for me - a film that just makes me feel good every time I see it. I dig the characters and the dialogue and all the famous moments that everybody else loves. Unlike a lot of comfort movies though, this one is actually pretty good.

I was really happy to find out that a lot of my seniors had seen the movie. I was explaining the "rogue" archetype to them, and I used him as an example of how in a lot of American movies, the hero tends to be a rogue, as there's something about the American identity that relates to that sort of a character. Rick is really rough around the edges, and I think that even sometimes he believes that he doesn't care about anybody but himself. However, you just know that he's eventually going to crack.

What's amazing is that the ending wasn't decided on until pretty much the day before they started filming it, if I remember the story right. It actually could have ended in a much more conventional sort of a way. What a shame that would have been. Yeah, we all want to see Rick be reunited with Ilsa, but we also all know that from what the movie established, that would be the absolute wrong thing for them to do. They'd regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of their lives.

Rick's a true rogue. You wonder where his loyalties are - if he even has any, but push comes to shove, he goes and does something selfless. There's a very good reason why so many consider this to be one of the greatest films ever made.

Movies! - "Everyone was in love with him."

Superman Returns is another one of those movies that seemed to get a pretty good critical consensus, yet I can't find a lot of people who liked it as much as I did. Yeah, I know, the subplot about him having a kid is probably not the best idea. Let's get past that though. There are too many things that this movie gets right in order to just completely dismiss it.

First of all, let's just one thing out of the way. A potential sequel seems to be really up in the air as to where they're going to go with it. I say that no matter what they do, they need to bring Brandon Routh back as Superman. Yeah, maybe it's because he reminds me so much of Christopher Reeve (and I might just have to write about the original Superman: The Movie before this month is done.) Still, that's a good enough reason as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, I once was at a panel at a comic book convention, and a couple of writers were discussing Superman, and how his real weakness wasn't so much kryptonite, but his heart. In other words, he suffers from the same sort of heartbreak that everybody else does. This is what the movie nails perfectly. Yeah, he's the most powerful being on the planet. People worship him. However, he feels terribly alone in this world.

The movie's director, Bryan Singer, was adopted, and he said that he always related to Superman because, let's face it, he was adopted as well. I think that really comes through in this movie as well. I love the fact that he tried to return to his home planet of Krypton in a vain effort to see if there was anything left there. Everybody wants to know who they are and who they came from, even a guy like Superman.

What I also love is that the movie gets across that Superman, at his best, can inspire people. His actions in the film inspires others to do the right thing. The Richard White character, who's Lois Lane's boyfriend, could have easily been made into a strawman that she can easily leave at the end of the film. However, he's a decent guy, and the movie doesn't take that sort of an easy route. Even better, by witnessing Superman's selflessness, it inspires him to be selfless as well as it eventually becomes his turn to help Superman - something he's willing to do despite the fact that he suspects that Lois is still in love with him.

While I would put this film a rung below the likes of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and Iron Man, I still think that it ranks pretty high amongst the various superhero movies. It's a shame that it didn't do better at the box office, as I would have loved to see more Routh as the Man of Steel.

Movies! - "Here is a man who stood up."

I'll admit that the first time I saw Taxi Driver I didn't really get it. I guess that it was just so outside of my experience of what a movie should be, and I really had no idea what to expect from it. Thankfully, I gave it another chance and watched it again, and it has since become a favorite. Just like Fight Club, this is a movie that a lot of people simply just wouldn't get. I realize that I might sound somewhat patronizing when I say that about certain movies, but what else can I say? I'll admit that maybe why I didn't like Donnie Darko might have something to do with the fact that I didn't get it. After all, it's pretty well-liked amongst critical circles. Maybe I need to see it again. See, that's not so hard to admit, is it?

Anyway, I mentioned this already in my review to The Bridge on the River Kwai, but what's so good about Deniro's performance in this movie is that I find myself somewhat feeling for the guy at the beginning. Sure, he seems a little odd, but I feel like I'm a bit odd sometimes too. He's also filled with a sense of discontent, and he's distanced himself from the rest of society. I know how that feels on a certain level as well. Not only that, but I can totally understand why Cybill Shepherd would catch his eye the way she did.

Of course, the moment where he completely and irrevocably loses me is when he takes her to the porn theater. It's not even that he weighed the pros and cons before taking her. He really seems to have no idea that taking her there might have been a bad idea. Still, by this point I'm invested enough in the character to see where he's going to go from there, and boy is it a dark place.

I guess what I really didn't understand was the irony of the ending. He winds up being a hero, but the only reason he did something "heroic" was because he couldn't successfully complete the non-heroic task of assassinating a Presidential candidate. It was society's lucky break that he wound up taking out his psychosis on some people who probably had it coming. Also, you have to love that Betsy starts to show interest in him again after his "heroic" deed. Did she completely forget that he's the guy who took her to the porno? Apparently, fame does strange things to people - which is just one of the many lessons of this movie.

I figure that some people just don't like looking at the dark side of humanity. To them, it's depressing to have to deal with the themes of a movie like this. For me, it's cathartic, as I can see the natural progression of some of my darker thoughts and be reminded of why I don't go down those roads. (Man! That really sounds like I'm about to snap at any moment! Don't get me wrong, I don't have dark thoughts very often, but I'd be lying if I said that I never get them.) I obviously wouldn't want to only watch movies like this one - that's why I have I Love You, Man and the Toy Story movies. Still, movies are a reflection on life, and there's more to life than the fun and happy stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movies! - "I'm just not the hero type."

I figured that I'd write about Iron Man since I just saw the trailer for the new one. I thought that it would have to wait, but since Fight Club came out in 1999, I'm technically writing about a movie from a different decade, which fits my goal of each review being on a different genre and from a different decade than the previous one.

I have long since considered making a list of what I thought were the Top 10 comic book movies of all time. Then I reconsider it and think of doing a Top 10 superhero movies of all time (which would include a movie like Unbreakable that wasn't based on a comic). What prevents me is that push comes to shove, I might like reading such lists, but I hate making them, as my mind changes far too often. I will say though that in some scenarios, Iron Man tops either one of those lists. Other contenders include Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man 2.

It's almost strange that Iron Man gets such high marks from me. After all, Spider-Man and Batman are my two all-time favorite superheroes. Still, that doesn't make their movies good, but it certainly helps me to be so fond of those films. Iron Man though? I have only a small handful of Iron Man comics, and in all honesty, I might have more appearances of the character in The Avengers and various guest appearances than I do of him in any of his solo series. I guess that I like him just fine, as I love superheroes in general, but I've never followed his adventures on a regular basis. I guess that says a lot about the film, as it made me want to read more of the comics than I did before.

While I'm hardly an Iron Man expert, I knew enough that Robert Downey, Jr. was the right person to play the part. I think that it was a pretty universal feeling amongst fandom that he was the right guy, and this isn't just because he's had substance abuse problems just as Tony Stark/Iron Man has also had. Downey was easily believable as the part of a billionaire/genius/wunderkind. As for everybody else, I wasn't invested in the characters enough to really have much of an opinion one way or another.

One thing that's good about this film is that it really doesn't hit any bad notes - unlike some of the other contenders for best superhero film. It also has a really solid pacing from the beginning to the end, and it really just seems to fly by every time I watch it. Another good thing is the special effects, as they really found the right balance between CGI and practical effects. There were some people who critiqued John Favreau's lack of training as an action director, but I think that he did a great job in all the major combat scenes. I especially liked the "cool" factor of when Iron Man shoots the tank, turns around and then walks away as it blows up.

Just like any other genre film that raises itself up above the competition, this film is a good one because it's ultimately about something relatable. Tony Star is consumed with his own selfish desires, and it takes a major trauma for him to realize that he's connected with the rest of the world and what he does has an impact on other people. It's also quite fitting that what powers his suit is also what's keeping him alive, and it's essentially "connected" to his heart. That works as a handy metaphor, as the film is all about a man who finds just that and learns to use his talents for the betterment of mankind. (Sounds a lot like socialism!)

I also must say that what I really liked about this film was the love story. Of course, it's an unfulfilled love story, and it's basically leaving things open for the sequel. Still, the scenes between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are more genuine than what you see in a lot of supposed "romantic" movies. Sure, the film puts them in a lot of far-out predicaments, like when she has to reach into the hole in his chest, but there's some genuine emotion and drama that comes out of that.

Check out the trailer for the sequel if you get a chance. It looks like it should be fun. (I should add that another great thing about Iron Man is that it is a really fun film. There's great action and a lot of humor and snappy dialogue that really keeps it moving along.) Mickey Rourke looks like he'll make for a good villain, and I'll try to stomach the repellent thought of Scarlett Johansson with red hair and in tight black leather. Truly, truly repulsive, I know.