Comics

X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer)

My wife wanted me to mention the only reason we watched X-Men was because she wanted to see Hugh Jackman with his shirt off… I watched it to insure she didn’t have a cardiac arrest.

Back in the old days, before IMDb edited their trivia section, the X-Men trivia featured defenses of some of the terrible performances. There was some excuse for Halle Berry’s terrible accent and another for Anna Paquin’s mysteriously appearing and disappearing one. It’s too bad IMDb got classy and took them down, because there were even more defenses and they were a lot of fun.

But if one is trapped and watching X-Men, in between parts where Hugh Jackman’s giving a fine performance, there are amusements. It’s fun to see Bryan Singer composing his shots for a pan-and-scan VHS version (faces occupy one half of the screen while empty space occupies the other or the action is in the center, with empty space on the sides). There’s also the obviously Canadian sets–which make the Statue of Liberty finale all the more amusing. I mean, X-Men is an action movie where one of the big sequences takes place in the Liberty Island gift shop. Not many movies can make that claim. Or the train station… wow, that one’s exciting.

There are more amusements, some not recognizable at the time. It’s not really an amusement, more an unfortunate reality–Michael Kamen’s embarrassing score, which would be terrible on a razor commercial, is one of his last. But on the more amusing things–like trying to take Tyler Mane seriously. The guy’s 6’8″ but the make-up and costume are so silly, he looks like he’s performing at a kid’s birthday party.

The most fun, however, is trying to figure who gives a worse performance, Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan. The script, which has some of the worst dialogue in any major motion picture I think I’ve ever seen, does neither any favors, but I do think Stewart edges McKellan out. Though McKellan is worse, he’s in it a little bit less and doesn’t have the long expository monologues Stewart gets to deliver.

The plot is smartly bound to Jackman, which kind of makes the thing deceptively okay in parts. Thankfully, the moronic ending (it’s Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, get it?) erases any memory of his fine performance.

Speaking of performances, there really aren’t any good ones other than Jackman. James Marsden is hilariously bad, as is Berry, as is Rebecca Romijn. Famke Janssen’s bad, but nowhere near as terrible as the others. Bruce Davison, who really sets off those made in Canada flags, is awful.

I’ve seen X-Men three times now and I still don’t understand how it was a hit or how it is considered “good.” It kicked off the modern superhero movie genre, which has produced some worse entries, and maybe it just doesn’t seem as bad in comparison to those. But with the exception of Jackman, the whole thing feels like a syndicated, shot-in-Canada TV show. It’s like “RoboCop: The Series.” Only worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by David Hayter, based on a story by Tom DeSanto and Singer; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Steven Rosenblum, Kevin Stitt and John Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Myhre; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Xavier), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops), Halle Berry (Storm), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Tyler Mane (Sabertooth), Ray Park (Toad), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake) and Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly).


Hellboy (2004, Guillermo del Toro)

If I recall correctly, Mike Mignola never had Hellboy and Selma Blair’s firestarter get together (romantically) in the comics, even though Hellboy is flame resistant. That filmic development was all Guillermo del Toro’s. del Toro is responsible for everything successful in Hellboy and, subsequently, everything unsuccessful. Hellboy works, which is probably the film’s greatest achievement–it’s about a goofy, beer-drinking demon who hunts monsters. It’s got lots of humor–from David Hyde Pierce’s Niles-like observations to Hellboy liking cats–not to mention Jeffrey Tambor’s entire role is solely for humor.

Ron Perlman’s Hellboy performance is so unassuming, it’s hard to think of him standing there wearing fifty pounds of make-up or whatever. del Toro and his make-up team don’t just make Hellboy real, but also Doug Jones’s fish-man (who Hyde Pierce voices). These accomplishments are noteworthy, since no one’s really tried doing talking “alien” leads like Hellboy since the proliferation of CG in the mid-1990s. Fantastic characters suddenly became glossy synthetics, instead of tangible figures.

So it’s kind of too bad del Toro doesn’t set Perlman up as the lead until the very end. The rest of the movie is run first by John Hurt as his adoptive father and then Rupert Evans as his assigned caretaker. Hurt does a fine job, even if it’s just stunt casting (Hurt has almost nothing to do, never having a significant scene with Perlman). Evans, on the other hand, is fantastic. Without Evans, Hellboy would not have worked. While everything might happen to Perlman or hinge on the character, it’s Evans who leads the viewer through the film. I understand the narrative reason for this perspective, but it’s a Hollywood cop-out. Having it just be Perlman, in his forty pounds of make-up, doesn’t sell well as a mainstream narrative. Evans’s character is superfluous, but his performance makes him the most important element in the film.

del Toro saturates the viewer in the milieu–the creepy, the exciting–and it works. When Tambor’s stunned at the bad guys, it’s a shock–it’s hard to remember not everyone in the film is used to the oddities, since the viewer has to accept them from the first scene. The Prague shooting doesn’t help the atmosphere. While it all looks great, there’s an unreality to it. It’s clearly not Manhattan or New Jersey… it’s artificial. del Toro’s color schemes work great–director of photography Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job (except one really jarring, apparently shot on video and cut in, moment)–and, for the first half, Hellboy looks so good, it’s hard to think about anything else. The narrative works, it just doesn’t pay off in the end.

One big problem is the villain–Karel Roden is no good. It’s like he’s out of a TV movie.

But for what del Toro’s going for, Hellboy pretty much does it all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by del Toro, based on a story by del Toro and Peter Briggs and on the Dark Horse comic books by Mike Mignola; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Hurt (Professor Bruttenholm), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Karel Roden (Rasputin), Jeffrey Tambor (Manning), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Ladislav Beran (Kroenen), Biddy Hodson (Ilsa Haupstein) and Corey Johnson (Clay).


Howard the Duck (1986, Willard Huyck)

It’d be interesting to know how much of the relationship between Howard and Lea Thompson got toned down, like if Huyck and Katz originally had them more visibly romantically involved. It wouldn’t be interesting to see cut scenes or even to read old drafts of the script, it’d just be interesting to know. Seeing cut scenes or reading the script would require one to endure more of this intolerable production.

Howard the Duck has absolutely nothing to recommend it. Casting Richard Kiley as the Voice of the Cosmos aside, it’s worthless. All I could think, as the terribly acted Duck got to Earth and met Thompson was–these people wrote American Graffiti. The duck planet scenes at the beginning, which should have been amusing and inventive is more instead tired. There’s no exuberance to the scenes, they’re mundane. As a director, Huyck is never willing to acknowledge Howard the Duck‘s idiocy. It’s about a talking duck who gets it on with a human girl. It ought to be dumb, fun and outlandish–and aware of it. Instead, it’s all about not selling out the music for the man. It’s embarrassing to watch it, much less to imagine having participated in its making in any capacity.

I’m not real familiar with the comic books, but the movie Howard is a unfunny whiner who’s mad he had to get a job. I can only figure the comic book Howard is probably a funny whiner. The occasional promises of a smoking and drinking duck are never realized (he gets whisked to Earth before he lights his cigar and his beer later magically disappears into PG-land). Sadly, Howard the Duck probably isn’t even the worst of the atrocious teen-minded sci-fi movies on the mid-1980s, just the most famous.

The acting is unspeakable. Lea Thompson has never been really good so her inability to act opposite a guy in a costume who talks (the cast of “Alf” did far better) is no surprise. But Tim Robbins? Robbins is awful. Jeffrey Jones is awful. Some of the blame has to fall on the script and direction, but good acting might have made it a little less unbearable.

As for the costumed Howard the Duck… the costume’s not detailed enough to be convincing in regular shots. It looks like a television commercial. And Chip Zien’s vocal performance as Howard might be the worst thing in the movie, which is a hard thing to be.

The only other thing worth commenting on is John Barry’s score. When I saw his name in the opening titles, I figured at least the music would be good. It isn’t. It’s John Barry trying to be zany. It’s a metaphor for the whole movie–a bunch of squares pretending to be zany and not even managing to make an unconventional failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Willard Huyck; screenplay by Huyck and Gloria Katz, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Michael Chandler and Sidney Wolinsky; music by John Barry; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Katz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lea Thompson (Beverly Switzler), Jeffrey Jones (Dr. Walter Jenning), Tim Robbins (Phil Blumburtt), Paul Guilfoyle (Lieutenant Welker) and Ed Gale & Chip Zien (Howard T. Duck).


The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier)

All I wanted from The Incredible Hulk was dumb fun. I figured Louis Leterrier could deliver. Unfortunately, it’s not dumb fun, but Leterrier does deliver–and instead of fast food, it’s rather good French. Frequently, Hulk showcases Leterrier’s directorial abilities and they’re significant. Leterrier handles everything the story needs–be it rural or urban, Brazil or New York (well, Canada). The Incredible Hulk has a distinctive, maturing visual style. Leterrier adds on to the beginning until he reaches the end, which is his sole misstep.

But I’ll start at the beginning. The Incredible Hulk drops the viewer into a continuing story (sort of, again, more on this bit later) and doesn’t give he or she a lot of information. For example, expatriate Edward Norton seems to have a flirtation with his neighbor and co-worker, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Norton spends most of this time alone, not even with his dog, and it doesn’t move. Norton can make watching “Sesame Street” interesting, but the script cannot. So there are lots of cuts to William Hurt’s pursuit of him. Hurt’s not an Ahab here, which is an interesting move, but one of the script’s eventual bungles (it fails to recognize what it’s done with the character). Eventually, Norton heads back to America and the script hits the first enormous logic hole. Hurt returns to the U.S. too, but has no idea Norton wasn’t still in Brazil. Norton’s reasons for heading back are inferred, rather than explained. They’re neither shown nor told. Except maybe in the press release.

As Norton gets back, the movie starts toward its now inevitable conclusion. The Incredible Hulk is not really a continuing story, it’s just a story deferred. Apparently, in the five years in between the opening titles recap and the present action, there haven’t really been any interesting Hulk sightings. It’s an origin movie, only with the fight scene five years later than it should be.

But the break does make the relationship between Norton and Liv Tyler better. Tyler starts incredibly weak, but once she and Norton get together (actually, it starts with her and the CG Hulk), she gets good. Even though she’s a scientist (sure), her voice turns their relationship into an analog of Toad and Debbie’s, from American Graffiti, and the relationship sustains through the rest of the film. But the movie’s already half over when they finally get together alone and the third act and the big fight scene hang over the scenes like the Sword of Damocles.

The big fight scene at the end starts all right, but then it gets real dumb. Zak Penn’s a terrible plotter. The fight gets boring once it’s the two CG monsters duking it out, the only accessory a helicopter. It’s just nowhere near as interesting as the idea of the fight putting people in danger. When everyone shows up to (silently) commend the Hulk, it doesn’t make any sense… only two people saw the fight scene besides the viewer.

The script’s the big problem, summarizing too much or just insinuating too many important details. There are some great moments–and they do resonate and they are memorable–but there’s too much malarky.

Norton’s amazing–I don’t think any other actor could have made the Brazilian exile believable. Everything he does is gold in the film. Tyler’s got that incredibly problematic start (why does she have to be a scientist too?), but then she’s fine. Good even. Hurt’s okay, nothing more. He’s probably never had such a poorly written character. Tim Roth’s decent, until the script fails him. Tim Blake Nelson’s strangely bad, overdoing it as a generically eccentric scientist. His character and the lack of explanation is another big script defect.

The tie-ins to the Marvel comic books are almost all terrible. They’re only goofy at the start, then there’s the excellent scenes with Norton and Tyler on the road and the hints of what a good movie it could have been (not dumb fun either)… or the nice references to the television show. With the exception of the use of the show’s theme music, which is disingenuous. Then there’s the Robert Downey Jr. cameo at the end, which is a disgrace. Maybe if they’d stuck it after the credits, but it basically takes the movie away from Norton and gives it to Downey. I’d be shocked if Norton ever makes a return to the character, given the diss.

With Leterrier’s direction, with Norton, The Incredible Hulk should have been good. With Leterrier turning out to be a great director (though the fight scene at the end is too Hollywood, not at all visceral), it should have been ever better.

Instead, it hints of a good film and it should do much more. Especially given how… incredible the love story turns out to be.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Zak Penn, based on a story by Penn and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Rick Shane, John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns), Ty Burrell (Dr. Samson), William Hurt (General Ross), Christina Cabot (Major Sparr) and Lou Ferrigno (the security guard).


Man-Thing (2005, Brett Leonard)

I’ve actually seen Man-Thing before, back when it aired on Sci-Fi. Lionsgate’s DVD release has it in what appears to be an open matte 16:9, as opposed to 2.35:1 (which is how Sci-Fi aired it). So, I matted the DVD and tried the uncut version. It’s probably no better than the televised, but–and here’s why I’ve always had some affection for the movie–it’s interesting in its derivations. Screenwriter Hans Rodionoff seems, understandably, influenced by a couple major sources–Jaws and The Thing. It’s an odd mix, especially since the unknown factor from The Thing isn’t present at all in Man-Thing, but still Rodionoff–and especially Brett Leonard–manage to get that vibe.

Leonard’s direction is–not even taking his budget or the ludicrous nature of the movie into account–a success. Until the very last sequence, he’s golden. Even his semi-sepia tone for daylight and his green filters for the swamp scenes work. He gives Man-Thing a wonderful mood, making the silliness look good and bringing validity to the working parts. He’s just not a horror director and Rodionoff’s script sets Man-Thing up as a horror movie, a monster movie with a lot of suspects (who can’t possibly be guilty but by investigating and clearing each of them… well, it delays having to show the monster and spend the bucks doing so–kind of like a William Castle). Leonard can’t make anything scary. He also can’t get any chemistry between leads Matthew Le Nevez and Rachael Taylor, but that problem seems to be Taylor’s fault (and whoever cast her).

For budgetary reasons, the whole production is Australian. The locations work and maybe three of the cast members can handle the Southern accents (for a while). Luckily, Le Nevez is playing a “yankee,” something Rodionoff’s script frequently points out (though there are exceptions, Rodionoff’s got a couple rednecks straight from Deliverance) and only has to maintain a straight California TV accent. Le Nevez somehow manages to turn in a good performance, which is impressive, considering his face doesn’t seem to emote. But, when called for, he manages with his eyes. He makes the movie watchable for lots of parts, though he gets some help. Alex O’Loughlin, whose accent is shaky, is appealing as the sidekick and director Leonard’s acting turn as the bewildered coroner is good. Taylor’s awful, as is bad guy Patrick Thompson. The Native Americans who know all the answers, Rawiri Paratene and Steve Bastroni (a New Zealander and an Italian, respectively), have good moments and bad. Jack Thompson’s Mr. Big is a lot of fun, as he lays on his fake accent and turns up the volume. Man-Thing, as a comedy, would have probably worked… Even sinister redneck John Batchelor has his moments. But Taylor’s just awful.

Man-Thing‘s conclusion, which ties up the mystery and brings all the characters together, is a misstep. The Man-Thing special effects, when Leonard’s hiding them, are good and he even earns enough credit to get away with a couple long shots of the creature. But the convenient ending reveals the movie’s biggest problem (well, besides Taylor and the scenes with the real-life father and son Thompson team, which just get too goofy–and it’s clear Leonard isn’t directing for them–bad script, good direction)–Rodionoff doesn’t have a story. There’s no plot. Le Nevez’s new sheriff shows up and sees some stuff. Besides his silly romance and some serious mistakes, he’s inessential to the story unfolding. He’s a witness… and all the time spent with him doesn’t add up to anything in the way of narrative pay-off (evidenced by the movie’s abrupt ending).

A lot of the movie suggested, in the end, it’d get a point. The ending, though, and Taylor’s growing screen presence, knock it around too much. It’s just too bad Leonard, who can direct, and Rodionoff, who can at least plot compelling scenes… but maybe not full narratives, don’t do anything better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Leonard; screenplay by Hans Rodionoff, based on Marvel comics by Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog and the character created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow; director of photography, Steve Arnold; edited by Martin Connor; music by Roger Mason; production designers, Tim Ferrier and Peter Pound; produced by Avi Arad, Scott Karol and Christopher Petzel; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Matthew Le Nevez (Sheriff Kyle Williams), Rachael Taylor (Teri Elizabeth Richards), Jack Thompson (Frederic Schist), Rawiri Paratene (Pete Horn), Alex O’Loughlin (Deputy Eric Fraser), Steve Bastoni (Rene LaRoque), Robert Mammone (Mike Ploog), Patrick Thompson (Jake Schist), William Zappa (Steve Gerber), John Batchelor (Wayne Thibadeaux), Ian Bliss (Rodney Thibadeaux) and Brett Leonard (Val Mayerick).


Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau)

Iron Man is a qualified success. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic throughout–the movie’s greatest strength is how much screen time he gets–and Jon Favreau does really well with the Iron Man scenes and the action scenes in general (he does terrible with almost everything else). But, while it also moderately succeeds as a romantic comedy–Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances in their absurdly written scenes are great–it fails dramatically. There’s no friendship between Downey and Terrence Howard (the movie doesn’t even need him) and here’s no father (figure) and son relationship between Downey and Jeff Bridges. Bridges is necessary to the movie, from a plot standpoint, and he’s far better are turning in a solid performance in a poorly sketched role than Howard. It also fails as any kind of commentary about war profiteering or weapons manufacturing. It pays lip service to the idea of Downey rushing off to save people… but he only gets around to it once. (Hey, it’s kind of like Rambo… except Stallone doesn’t wimp out of showing suffering).

Basically, it’s all about enjoying Downey’s performance and the Iron Man sequences. Downey’s got a gift for comedy and, even though Favreau can’t frame a comedy shot, he does get the tone right. Favreau’s best part is actually the Afghanistan sequence, which seems like it goes on too long, but then when he can never match it, it’s clear it was too short. Shaun Toub makes an impossible character work really well in that sequence.

The movie’s also something of a narrative mess, with the ending more appropriate for a less serious film. The end’s supposed to be goofy and fun, which Downey can do, but the movie doesn’t set itself up for that kind of conclusion. (I won’t mention the asinine post-credit “teaser,” which is embarrassing).

The special effects are mostly good. There’s some really bad CG and a few of the flying sequences are boring, but they’re solid. Favreau tends to get way too excited during action scenes and shoot in close-up (for budget reasons?) and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. He lifts some of the action directly from Robocop and Robocop 2, but it looks good and no one’s ever going to accuse Favreau of originality or innovation, so it’s harmless.

There are some major hiccups–the movie is occasionally way too long, like when Paltrow is off in the poorly directed industrial thriller with Bridges, or Ramin Djawadi’s warm to frozen score or Leslie Bibb’s terrible performance. She’s supposed to be playing a Vanity Fair reporter, but she doesn’t even seem suited for Soap Opera Digest. And Favreau’s filling the movie with cameos–including himself–kind of make it seem like Casino Royale, not a real movie.

But for what it is–a timid but reasonably self-aware attempt at a “real” superhero movie–it’s decent, even if Favreau’s lack of a visual tone for the movie is somewhat alarming. Mostly, it’s just really nice Downey will have some career security for a bit.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Terrence Howard (Jim Rhodes), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart), Shaun Toub (Yinsen), Faran Tahir (Raza), Sayed Badreya (Abu Bakaar) and Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson).


Fantastic Four (2005, Tim Story), the extended cut

I watched Fantastic Four for a number of reasons (really). First, because I liked one of the previews to the second one. Second, there is a recently released on DVD extended cut. Third, I wanted to compare and contrast it to the unreleased 1994 version. Fourth, to give movielens a run for its money (it’s currently predicted at 11⁄2, which is whopping in my opinion). Fifth, as the film’s so hated by comic book fans, I figured–as usual–my response would be somewhat opposite. Finally, because a friend of mine was recommending The Stop Button as a perceptive and effective online film review site and navigated to it and found a review of Ghost Rider, mortifying him. I figured Fantastic Four would be even worse… but, really, it’s quite the reverse.

I’ve had the extended cut for a few days and have been dreading watching it, as I assumed I’d just turn it off after fifteen or twenty minutes (on the outside). I even started it and the first scene–not the rather nice opening credits–did nothing to change that prediction. Ioan Gruffudd seemed ineffectual and Michael Chiklis seemed like he was mugging it a bit heavy. But I stuck through that first awkward scene and when Julian McMahon and Jessica Alba showed up, it got engaging. McMahon is great throughout–except when he’s got on the Doctor Doom mask for the final fight scene. He’s phoning in a voice over performance in that part. Alba’s interesting. I’ve only seen her in Sin City–let me quote that review–and in it, she “was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe.” She starts out in Four mediocre, then she gets good. The age difference between her and Gruffudd disappears. Their romance, which is ludicrous by any reasonable standard, becomes a touching part of the film. Gruffudd’s okay, nothing more. He gives the film’s most unremarkable performance–he’s effective as the romantic lead, as the friend to Chiklis (particularly in the beginning), but as the super-smart scientist, he falls flat. He’s not a believable genius. The script doesn’t really present him as one either, but Gruffudd more plays the role like an eighties teen romantic lead (and not even the kid from Real Genius). Chris Evans has a freaking ball with his role (though he and Alba come across as siblings on paper, not in reality). Still, taking her age at the time (twenty-four) into account, she gives a rather good performance. And I already said McMahon is great.

So what’s wrong with Fantastic Four. First, the easy part. Tim Story can’t compose a Panavision shot. The action scenes are pretty damn neat (though the special effects are terrible), but the other scenes… medium shots, close-ups… Story’s out of his compositional depth. The long shots he tends to be all right with, maybe a C (at best). It depends on the characters interaction in the scene, which might be where Four is so surprisingly effective… because the script, in terms of plot, is terrible. The dialogue’s fine (as it should be, Mark Frost has a lot of experience on fine projects). It makes absolutely no sense with any consideration of reality. I can’t imagine watching this film and thinking about the comic book, because Story spends so much time referencing other films–Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark–the film, with those stylized opening credits, establishes itself on its terms. Ones where common sense and a level of believability don’t exist. And it’s with those terms. It never breaks them, which might be another factor in its (moderate) success. Though it’s really the cast. McMahon, Evans and Alba.

However, I do need to mention one more thing about Tim Story. There’s a scene where the blind sculptor, played with earnest zeal by Kerry Washington–who frequently substitutes vigor for acting talent, to an acceptable degree here–washes rock-encrusted Thing Chiklis. It is the finest, most romantic sex scene I have seen in a long time. There’s a lot of bad editing in Fantastic Four, particularly in the first act (not to mention the extended cut including two versions of the same scene), but that scene is perfect. It’s masterful… something I never thought I’d be saying about this film.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Story; written by Mark Frost, Simon Kinberg and Michael France, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by William Hoy; music by John Ottman; production designer, Bill Boes; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Hamish Linklater (Leonard) and Kerry Washington (Alicia Masters).


Ghost Rider (2007, Mark Steven Johnson), the extended cut

Watching former–I don’t know, he wasn’t really an indie, so something like pre-hipster hipster–wunderkind Wes Bentley in material like this movie (where he finally finds his appropriate level, skill-wise) is kind of amusing. Is it amusing enough to get through the whole movie, especially since Bentley doesn’t show up until twenty-five minutes into it (remember, he was supposedly going to be Spider-Man at one point)? No, because it only occurred to me I should be so amused by Bentley’s plummeting when he showed up. I needed something to amuse me, since his acting and the script are both so awful.

It’s also amazing what the MPAA will give a PG-13 if the intended audience are red state voters. Ghost Rider‘s got some positively nightmare-inducing grotesque imagery (but no swearing).

Watching Peter Fonda and Bentley “act” opposite each other… someone out there–presumably Mark Steven Johnson–thought they were doing a good job. He thought he’d written a good scene even, instead of something so laughable, it plays like a joke commercial on an episode of “Family Guy.” Worse is Johnson’s attempt to make Ghost Rider a story about fathers and sons, which is a bit like he did in Daredevil, only Daredevil seemed like a real movie, various absurdities aside. Ghost Rider seems like–given Nicolas Cage has been in it for three minutes thirty minutes in–a bunch of live-action video game cut-scenes.

In one neat thing, maybe unintentional, Cage’s friend, played by Donal Logue, resembles Cage’s (filmic) father, Brett Cullen. Cullen’s only in it in the flashback but he’s sturdily good, giving Johnson’s lame dialogue some life.

Cage’s unsteady Southern accent. I don’t know what to say about it. Other than someone should have noticed and had him loop his lines.

Johnson’s actually a Panavision throwback–he shoots it in 1950s and 1960s-style (pre-Leone?). He uses the widescreen to fill it with as much information as possible, instead of actually composing meaningful shots. I don’t even mean that one as an insult.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m still watching Ghost Rider, almost forty minutes in. Maybe because Ghost Rider hasn’t shown up yet.

Johnson treats the romance between Cage and Eva Mendes like a romantic comedy, something for Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Cage almost achieves charming, but Mendes is terrible. Not just in the romantic comedy attempts either, but on every possible level. I hope there’s a scene with her and Bentley though, just because it’d be so bad I can’t even imagine it.

Anyway, forty-two minutes and still no flaming Ghost Rider. I’m not turning it off until then–which I think Johnson considered, since he slaps two flashbacks on the front of it, taking up fifteen or twenty minutes.

His face burns off. PG-13.

And there it is. At forty-eight minutes, Ghost Rider shows up. At fifty, I turn it off. I can’t believe I made it. (I do need to point out, even though Ghost Rider’s smaller than Nicolas Cage because he’s just a skeleton, he still fills out the clothes like he’s got skin and muscles).

Leaving Las Vegas. Bringing Out the Dead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel Comic character created by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog; director of photography, Russell Boyd; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Steven Paul, Michael De Luca and Gary Foster; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze), Eva Mendes (Roxanne), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Sam Elliott (Caretaker), Donal Logue (Mack), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Matt Young (Young Johnny), Raquel Alessi (Young Roxanne) and Brett Cullen (Barton Blaze).


Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

I love how the end of Superman, with the spinning back of the earth, causes so much trouble for people. My fiancée–before Marlon Brando had even gotten the kid into the spaceship–made me stop the movie twice (I had to tell her to stop, though I love her line about Superman having just as many plot holes as the Bible) to make observations about its inconsistency. So, two major inconsistencies in the first ten minutes. I was more concentrated on Krypton’s apparent lack of atmosphere and the effect it’d have on the three criminals (wouldn’t they suffocate before the Phantom Zone got them?). My point being, Superman is rife with dramatic inconsistencies and silliness, the world-turning being one of the lesser ones.

I’ve probably seen Superman six times as an adult, maybe seven (this viewing is the fourth time since 2001), so it’s kind of hard to write about it like it’s tomorrow’s bread. I notice things, every time I watch, and sometimes I’ve noticed them before and sometimes I think I have or haven’t. Superman‘s an incredibly watchable film, because it works so damn well–I can’t think of a film where the music was more important than this one. John Williams’s score literally makes the film. Something about the epical storytelling and Donner’s use of cranes and his short on dialogue, but not short in running time scenes, makes Williams’s music essential. Without it, Superman wouldn’t just not work, it’d be funny looking. There’s music for most of the movie, with the exception of the Daily Planet scenes. The other superior technical aspect of the film is the editing. Donner shot some great coverage for the film and editor Stuart Baird puts it all together beautifully–that scene in the cornfield and the Superman finding Lois in the car scene are both editorially magnificent. I never thought about it before, but in a certain way (not narratively) Superman‘s got a lot in common with 2001.

Other things I noticed this time was Donner’s great close-ups of Terence Stamp at the beginning, which I’m sure I’d noticed before, but never really appreciated, especially since it’s a movie called Superman‘s first real scene. Glenn Ford gets better with each viewing… The infamous “Can You Read My Mind?” flying dance number, which has become, in the last couple viewings, my favorite scene in the film. Also a big fan of the interview scene and the helicopter scene from the cinematography angle. I think the last time I watched it, I appreciated Superman ignoring Marlon Brando for Glenn Ford (something Bryan Singer ditched in the latest “sequel”), and I appreciated it again this time.

It’s amazing to me, the film I’ve seen, man and boy, fifteen or twenty times, about a flying guy in blue tights, still has so much to offer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

The Punisher (1989, Mark Goldblatt)

Back in the late 1980s, The Punisher was part of that period’s comic book movie wave. Most of these films had little to do with Batman’s success and most of them failed, both commercially and artistically. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course, succeeded financially. Watching this Punisher film (I have no interest in the new one) again–I’ve seen it multiple times, as the teenager looking for the action film where cars inexplicably blow up, and again as an adult, when it came out on DVD–I noticed just how much of it did succeed. The key to The Punisher is forgiveness. One has to forgive the bad opening credits (with tinted action shots from the film), the direction, and the music. Once those three factors are forgiven, and the viewer can accept the film as a 1980s action film, The Punisher can offer a lot… really. Well, at the least, it can offer quite a bit.

Director Mark Goldblatt edited a number of 1980s action films–The Terminator and Commando–and The Punisher is a well-edited action film. It’s Goldblatt’s direction. He doesn’t know how to frame a shot, doesn’t know how to move a camera, doesn’t know how to direct actors. His previous directing experience including second-unit work on Robocop and it shows in The Terminator. There are some very Robocop-influenced shots in the film… The lack of good framing hurts The Punisher the most (except the terrible score), since there’s only one bad principal performance–Nancy Everhard is way too spunky. The rest of the performances are good. Jeroen Krabbé is particularly excellent in the film–oh, another problem with the film, though it’s not really its fault–the costumes, bad 1980s jackets and such. Sorry. Krabbé wears a terrible denim jacket at the end and I couldn’t let it go. But anyway, he’s great as the crime boss. Louis Gossett Jr. is great as well, as the Punisher’s old partner. As for Dolph… Dolph’s pretty good. He’s not great (his accent breaks in at a few inopportune moments), but he’s got a few great scenes in the film, particularly when he’s working with kids and he and Gossett have a good scene together. He also manages to deliver the Punisher sound bites well.

There’s a certain amount of right-headedness working for the film. The wrong-headedness, which runs rampant of course, includes the Punisher running around with Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. It looks really silly. The film works because of the writing. Boaz Yakin has probably dropped the credit from his filmography (maybe not though, I mean, Dirty Dancing 2 is on there), but it’s a well-constructed script. The film moves fast (though it’s not particularly engaging for much of the middle), slowing down for the occasional action sequence, but Yakin gives the characters some meat, particularly Gossett’s. He lets Gossett tell a character-defining story, a device I always like. Given how much Garth Ennis’s relatively recent (three years?) handling of the Punisher character has changed my view of the character, its limits and its possibilities, Yakin does a great job. The film puts the Punisher alone a lot, something comic book movies have never been comfortable doing, and it works out. Lundgren does make some silly expressions, but the emphasis (and his performance) work out, overall.

There are fifteen more minutes of The Punisher out there (I always expected a special edition DVD to tie-in to the recent adaptation, but it never happened) and they might be what the film needs–more scenes without guns. The film’s a difficult proposition in the first place and the handling of it, given its era and the budget and the cast and crew, has a lot of problems. So its relative successes become prominent. They make it a memorable film, which is odd–remembering a Dolph Lundgren film because it works… to a degree.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Goldblatt; written by Boaz Yakin, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Ian Baker; edited by Tim Wellburn; music by Dennis Dreith; production designer, Norma Moriceau; produced by Robert Mark Kamen; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (Frank Castle), Louis Gossett Jr. (Jake Berkowitz), Jeroen Krabbé (Gianni Franco), Kim Miyori (Lady Tanaka), Bryan Marshall (Dino Moretti), Nancy Everhard (Sam Leary), Barry Otto (Shake), Brian Rooney (Tommy Franco) and Zoshka Mizak (Tanaka’s Daughter).


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