James Marsden

Into the Grizzly Maze (2014, David Hackl)

Should Into the Grizzly Maze be any good? It’s the story of two bickering brothers who have to hunt a giant killer bear. In Alaska. With the deaf wife of one brother–the cop–and the ex-girlfriend of the other brother. And the other brother is an ex-con. Their father’s former bear hunting protege also figures into the mix.

It sounds like a really lame soap opera, not a movie about a giant monster bear. And when you consider the actors–Thomas Jane as the cop, James Marsden as the ex-con, Piper Perabo as the deaf wife, Billy Bob Thornton as the protege (and, yes, TV supporting player Michaela McManus as the ex-girlfriend). These actors used to be movie stars. If they’re going to be in a movie about a killer grizzly bear, shouldn’t it be somehow awesome?

Yes, it should. But director Hackl’s atrocious. He can’t make Maze scary, can’t do the gore–and he wastes a few really good gore possibilities because the whole thing has awful CG in awful day for night digital shooting. Occasionally, it seems like James Liston’s photography is good, but then it’s obvious he just knows how to give that impression. It’s still better than anything Hackl does.

The whole reason Perabo is deaf is so she can be hunted and the audience can know what’s coming (and maybe to pay her less) and Hackl can’t even sell that moment.

Bad acting. Bad movie. Except Scott Glenn, of course.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Hackl; screenplay by Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher, based on a story by Reher; director of photography, James Liston; edited by Andrew Coutts, Michael N. Knue and Sara Mineo; music by Marcus Trumpp; production designer, Tink; produced by Paul Schiff, Tai Duncan and Hadeel Reda; released by Vertical Entertainment.

Starring James Marsden (Rowan), Thomas Jane (Beckett), Piper Perabo (Michelle), Billy Bob Thornton (Douglass), Scott Glenn (Sully), Michaela McManus (Kaley), Kelly Curran (Amber) and Adam Beach (Johnny Cadillac).

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, Brett Ratner)

Apparently all the X-Men movies needed was the vapidness of Brett Ratner. What’s strangest about his replacing of Singer is the mutation being a metaphor for homosexuality. Singer used it as a metaphor (poorly) for race in the first one. I don’t think there were any metaphors in the second one, but it works perfectly in this one–especially since the mutation can be hidden and so on. But Ratner doesn’t harp on it, it’s just a little detail.

Maybe it’s Ratner’s lack of harping–Dante Spinotti’s cinematography and some great special effects sequences (the whole Golden Gate bridge scene is handled maybe better than any superhero movie moment since Superman)–but X-Men: The Last Stand is a lot of fun. It features some great character actors in bit roles–Michael Murphy, Bill Duke, Josef Sommer, Anthony Heald–finally casts some good actors in the supporting roles–Ben Foster and Kelsey Grammer. Grammer, under pounds of makeup, is great.

The regular cast is better this time too. Berry’s not as annoying as usual, Hugh Jackman’s fine, Patrick Stewart and James Marsden aren’t in it enough to hurt much… Ian McKellan finally gets a director who understands encouraging his overacting is funny. And even though Aaron Stanford’s a terrible actor, it’s hard not to get a homoerotic vibe off he and McKellan’s scenes together.

Anna Paquin’s terrible, but no worse than usual. Ellen Page is pretty obnoxious. Famke Janssen’s blank, but it’s finally her role.

It’s a good time.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Ratner; written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Mark Helfrich, Mark Goldblatt and Julia Wong; music by John Powell; production designer, Edward Verreaux; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter and Avi Arad; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Halle Berry (Storm), Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Henry McCoy), James Marsden (Cyclops), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake), Aaron Stanford (Pyro), Vinnie Jones (Juggernaut), Ben Foster (Warren Worthington III), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Michael Murphy (Warren Worthington II), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Dr. Kavita Rao), Bill Duke (Trask) and Josef Sommer as the President.


X2 (2003, Bryan Singer)

X-Men 2–sorry, X2–is one of the worst movies I’ve ever sat through, if not the worst.

Singer does a lousy job on X2. It looks like it was filmed in Canada on a restricted budget; it looks goofy and cheap. The story is idiotic and the script is terrible. There’s no good split between the characters in terms of screen time. Patrick Stewart disappears for a while, so does James Marsden.

There’s one scene with promise–when Hugh Jackman is talking with Shawn Ashmore and it’s an awkward moment. It doesn’t really fulfill any of that promise, but it’s not as bad as most of the film.

There aren’t any good performances, which is disappointing if not surprising. Ashmore gives one of the better performances. Bruce Davison’s all right. As opposed to the first one, Jackman’s not good in this one. Patrick Stewart’s bad. Halle Berry’s bad. Famke Janssen’s less bad than those two, but still bad. Ian McKellan’s not as bad as he was in the first one, but he’s still lousy. Anna Paquin’s no good. Brian Cox is awful. Alan Cumming is awful. Cotter Smith plays the President–he exudes a Canadian production.

There is the one amazing scene where Wolverine kills all the army guys–the U.S. Army is the bad guy in X2. They’re child killers. This movie’s from 2003, demonizing the U.S. Army, which is kind of ballsy. It’s a gratuitous scene and its presence in a huge Hollywood blockbuster is startling. It’s great.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; screenplay by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter, based on a story by Zak Penn, Hayter and Singer; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman and Elliot Graham; music by Ottman; production designer, Guy Dyas; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier), Hugh Jackman (Logan / Wolverine), Ian McKellen (Eric Lensherr / Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm / Ororo Munroe), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), James Marsden (Scott Summers / Cyclops), Anna Paquin (Rogue / Marie D’Ancanto), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique / Grace), Brian Cox (William Stryker), Alan Cumming (Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler), Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly), Aaron Stanford (John Allerdyce / Pyro), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake / Iceman), Kelly Hu (Yuriko Oyama / Deathstrike), Katie Stuart (Kitty Pryde), Kea Wong (Jubilee) and Cotter Smith (President McKenna).


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).


Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

My expectations for Superman Returns were incredibly high (especially since everything Bryan Singer’s done since The Usual Suspects with the exception of the “House” pilot has been dreck). Three stars. I don’t bother putting star ratings on The Stop Button, since whenever I see them in reviews, I look at them and then at not the review. Also, the New York Times doesn’t do it. Watching the previews for Superman Returns, I realized Singer wasn’t just making a sequel to the originals, he was structurally remaking the first Superman. That prediction proves true, but it’s not a bad thing. The first Superman film has a fine structure and it isn’t as though Returns was ever going to be as good as the first film. For moments during the film, it seemed like Superman Returns might get up to that three star level. The film runs two and a half hours, so there’s a lot of time for it to make up for early faults. During the first hour and a half, Singer cuts between Superman and company and Lex Luthor and company, which doesn’t work particularly well and there are major dips because of the pacing–and it takes a long time for Superman and Luthor to seem like they’re in the same film. The Luthor scenes have a comical, winking with the audience feel, while the rest doesn’t.

On an episode of “Boston Legal,” there was a line about winning a case in the closing testimony–going on and on and on until you’ve won the jury over. Singer implements that practice in Superman Returns. It doesn’t exactly have multiple endings–in fact, it doesn’t really have one–but he goes on and on until he’s gotten the film to where he can let it go. Singer obviously loves the film he’s made and there’s a lot to love about Superman Returns. While it never achieves the wonderment of the original film, the flying scenes in this film are breathtaking. Green screen special effects and computer compositing have finally gotten to good spot. But that ending trouble, it isn’t something inherent in the film, it’s all because of Singer’s structuring. Superman Returns has some great scenes, but whenever–with one exception I’ll get to–Singer deviates from that appropriated Superman structure, the film gets long.

As for the cast… Brandon Routh is fine. He’s good as Clark Kent and fine as Superman. Here’s the problem. Not enough Superman–and when there is Superman, Singer doesn’t let Routh do much. I wonder if there was a trust factor involved–I’m sure Singer wasn’t willing to let Routh end his career. Kate Bosworth is adequate as Lois Lane, but Superman Returns reconfigures her character so much, she’s not really Lois Lane anymore. She’s been domesticated. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane never had long hair because she would have thought it too much of a fuss. Bosworth looks like she spends as much time combing hers as Marcia Brady. James Marsden plays Lois Lane’s fiancé, one of Superman Returns’s best innovations, and he’s actually really good. His action scenes are the exception I talked about before, where he shows human heroism, which nicely offsets the guy who can lift continents. I’d only seen Marsden in X-Men and thought he was the pits, but he gives the second best performance in Superman Returns. The first is Parker Posey. She’s great (she’s also been on “Boston Legal,” though not in the episode I was talking about). Kevin Spacey occasionally has fun as Lex Luthor, but he never embraces it like Gene Hackman did. I kept waiting for him to do it and it kept seeming like he would, but it never gets there. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, but not worth name-checking.

While my fiancée has no interest in ever seeing Superman Returns again–as she told me in no uncertain terms–I’m curious how a rewatch might affect the experience. I imagine it would have a positive effect, but I’m not sure how much (no matter how many times I watch it, for example, John Ottman’s score will never get better). For this entire post, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to lambaste Singer’s Ripley into the lava shot, which might have been all right, if the music weren’t so overbearing, but I’m having trouble–but now I think it’s the music’s fault. The music stops working at a certain point in the film. It stops relying on the John Williams score and it starts to sound cheap. Leaving the Williams score behind is a bad idea, given Superman Returns’s agreement with the audience is solely based on the images the score conjures and breaking that agreement is what gets Superman Returns into the most trouble. And the little kid. The little kid gets real annoying.

While the film didn’t earn the three I wanted, it did get two and a half, which isn’t bad–even with all the problems, it’s still Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, based on a story by Singer, Dougherty and Harris, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Elliot Graham and John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Singer, Jon Peters and Gilbert Adler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Kal Penn (Stanford) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.
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