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Toy Story 3 (2010)
Pixar Goes Past The Heart, And Straight For The Soul.
It's been a long time since a recent movie has made me think.
How can they, really? Mainstream movies have become all about marketing ploys with characters designed to adorn a Taco Bell cup, and rehashing of ideas and franchises we've already seen from the last few decades. We're stuck with movies that cost no less than $12 on a good day, and are using 3D as a means to keep us in the theaters and away from our home theaters. Is it little wonder why people have grown cynical? Doesn't a "Part 3" mean that we're just getting more of the same, even with a pedigree as strong as Pixar's? No. It doesn't. And that's where something very different sets in.
The most jarring realization is that Toy Story 3 is set in real-time. It's not the animated character that remains ageless. Andy has grown up with us, and like us, has become an adult as well. He's even voiced by his (also grown) original voice actor, and it puts it even more into perspective.
But toys don't age. Sure, Woody, Buzz and the gang have a few paint scuffs here and there, but they remain true to themselves. But times have changed. Andy's toy room is paired down to the surviving "favorites" who made the cut past the garage sales or getting lost or broken. Some old friends are gone and briefly twinge sadly upon the character's memories when the names are said, but there's something more. All they want is to be played with and simply feel their human friend's touch after years of neglect.
If Toy Story 3 sounds like a depressing film, it isn't. There are some wonderful characters. The old toys are still as vibrant and funny as ever, the new toys (such as a fabulously metrosexual Ken doll and a creepy cymbal monkey) are hilarious new additions to the cast, and as bitter as a stuffed bear can be for an enemy, there's a real level of sympathy for what made him the way he is.
And that's the thing about Toy Story 3. It's a love story. And a coming of age story. And a story about the fears of losing someone, or being rejected or abandoned, and the need to be useful and loved by someone. And it's a story about friends sticking together, because in this world, that's all they have.
The beginning aspect of the story is standard for Toy Story 3 is a familiar "The toys get separated from Andy and must find their way home" story, but it's the journey there that's different, and of all the characters, Woody has matured the most.
Gone is the spoiled, jealous "favorite" who retains a conscience, and later loses sight of his priorities and duties to be there for Andy. He's older, and wiser. He understands that he not only has to be there for his human friend, but his toy friends as well.
Buzz is no different. From delusional hero to realizing what he is, becoming comfortable with that, and providing his unwavering support, Buzz shows a new side as well. He's certainly funny, and hits his prime in this film, but he's content in what he is, and finally loosens up.
From potatoes to piggy banks to dinosaurs and restaurant squeak toys, the gang has seen a lot together, and in the final act, in easily their worst predicament yet, it struck me how "real" they had become. Like Andy, these toys were friends that I grew up with over the last 15 years. It's a powerful testament to Pixar that these little toys had dreams and deep emotions, and unwavering loyalty. Of course, you know nothing bad is going to happen to them, but the sincerity of one shared moment in the garbage dump was an amazing testament to a very pure moment of love and loyalty, and proving that how you live your life is just as important as how you prepare for your end. A day later, I still find myself pondering the implications of what I've taken from this film.
Again, this film is not a "downer" movie by any means. The ending is earned and well-deserved. Like the rest of the film, it's bittersweet and very "real", and I found myself simultaneously smiling and choking up with its resolution, and a yearning for my own stuffed and plastic friends long gone.
Pixar has again broken the mold with a brand of storytelling that can reach out to children and the child still in adults. Other films could learn a lot about Pixar's philosophy, animated or otherwise, and tell a story that comes from the heart, and not designed to promote a website or soda.
It doesn't get much better than this. Especially these days.
This Is It (2009)
An Appropriate, Heartfelt Good-Bye To Not The Man We Didn't Know, But The Man We Forgot.
When "This Is It" was released the Fall after Michael Jackson's death, it promoted to be the film to "Discover The Man You Never Knew". After watching the film, and seeing what would have been, it turns out to be more the man that people forgot existed.
This is a very different look at Jackson than we've seen in a while. Gone are the media tabloid stories, the court cases, the allegations, the rumors, the scandals.... The film focuses on something that had long been forgotten under all of the press about Jackson's unusual and turbulent life: This is about the artist.
Michael Jackson was in top form here. Singing, dancing, creative control.... Forget the "frail" allegations regarding his health, the man was truly in his prime, and moreso than any of us could hope to be when we reach 50 years old. The Jackson we see is funny, good-natured, patient, understanding, and above all, a consummate artist. A total professional and perfectionist in his work who knows what he wants, and works to get that performance out of every aspect of his crew, his performers and this show. He never loses his temper. He just reminds that this is why they have rehearsals.
For "rehearsal" sessions, MJ sings and dances through his performances with a vigor that we haven't seen documented in years. While these are clips put together to make a coherent performance for the film, the only thing that really changes is the outfits Jackson wears through his performances. The editing is solid in this film, showing that no matter the number of practice sessions, he was "on" the whole time. For a man holding back, his stage presence remains mesmerizing, and perhaps even more invigorated than seen in the last decade.
Throughout this film are clips of various short films that Jackson was known for instead of the standard music video. There are new updates on "Thriller", "Smooth Criminal", and "Earth Song" that show not only his love of film, but that he really was going out for this final show. Even the concept renderings of what would have been are amazing, and are edited in to flow well with the film's narrative.
The film provides a glimpse at what could have been. The concert that will never be. And in seeing what Michael Jackson had in store for his final tour, it would have been very special indeed. It was a spectacle of music and visual wonders that will only ever be seen in this film, and would have been nothing short of a near-magical experience had it come to reality.
I left the movie feeling sad for so many reasons. His untimely passing, of course, but also for all of the performers, musicians, and crew who clearly poured their hearts into this production. And for the mere fact that it took for the man to pass away for people to be reminded how talented and creative he truly was. There were a number of reasons that I left this film sad, in some ways unexplainable, but the show that could have been was most definitely an entertaining film with some truly classic music.
A remarkable, energizing documentary, and a fond, fitting tribute to one of the greatest pop legends of our time. It's never sappy or heavy-handed, or even gives an inkling of the events in weeks to follow, but it's no less of a very real experience.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
It Takes A Princess....
Every Disney "revolution" starts with a princess.
"Snow White" began the Disney animated film series. "Sleeping Beauty" brought the series to the 70mm format. "Little Mermaid" revitalized the modern day format as things were growing stagnant past Disney's death, and "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" perfected the "animated Broadway" style of the films.
For five years now, we've done without traditional 2D animation. Disney went CG to try to self-compete with Pixar, which in an honest opinion, Disney should have left things to the masters, and just remained true to their own gifts. "The Princess and the Frog" returns Disney back to its former self.
The film isn't a direct retelling of "The Frog Prince". It just takes the theme and runs with it, opting to tell its own interpretation. Set in 1920's New Orleans, this is a genuine and grand celebration of a beautiful, mysterious and magical city set in its prime before politics and natural disasters hurt its image and people. This is a reminder of how wonderful the city has been, and what still remains. The color, the architecture, and especially the music, ring true.
Tiana is a "working girl" (waitress) long before she ever becomes a princess. She has a dream, and nothing is going to get in her way of achieving her goals. Her childhood friend is spoiled and boy-crazy, but is a genuine nice surprise by proving that she's not a total superficial and shallow character, and actually has a heart. Of course there are distinctions and acknowledgements in class (it IS the 1920's, after all), but they are merely presented as being what was without being focused on, and in a story like this, it shouldn't be. This isn't a political piece. It's a fairy tale.
Tiana herself is charming, funny, independent, and of course, has a wonderful singing voice. And when the mysterious "shadow man" sets his voodoo in action for all of the main characters, the "adventure" aspect begins.
Of course, Prince Naveen and Tiana, while being two completely different people, find ways to work with each other, accompanied by a jazz-playing alligator (which this character reminded me more of Walt's era and style than most have of late), and a Cajun firefly who actually had some depth and soul to him, not merely being the annoying comedic sidekick.
And of course, being a Disney film, there are big musical numbers. With "Tarzan" in 1999, they took a break from the standard musical format, and bring it back here with lavish spectacle not unlike "The Lion King", "Aladdin", or "Beauty and the Beast".
The film works on a lot of levels, the biggest being a genuine "return to form", when Disney released critically acclaimed film after film in the 1990's. Disney seemed to have genuine intent to return to the "glory days", and in that respect, I think they have succeeded (in no small part due to Pixar's John Lasseter taking over Disney's animation - thank you, John).
But it also hearkens back to Walt's fun time with the bright colors and characters, and the scary moments and yes, even the sad, "real" moments.
One of the main characters dies, and it's handled in a serious, but touching manner*
I've read some comments on review sites that the first "black princess" is downplayed by having her be a different form for a large part of the film. If you know anything about Disney films, this is not a new concept. Films like "The Little Mermaid", "Mulan", and "The Emperor's New Groove" all had their protagonists change into something else until they could look deeper inside themselves and figure themselves out. Tiana, while a good character, isn't "perfect", and misses some important aspects of being a full person. And it's in this time of being out of her element that she figures out what it is, as does Naveen.
Of course, being a fairy tale, one should expect the "Happily Ever After" ending. And it's a fun, uplifting ride, and going into something like this, I think people want that.
"The Princess and the Frog" is a long-overdue return from Disney, and something that they shouldn't deviate from again (i.e. - forsaking traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation). The characters are lively and fun with good development and depth, the music is accurate for the setting, it has a real, thought-out story, and the visuals are colorful, detailed and spectacular. The best way to describe seeing the film is like revisiting a friend that you haven't seen around in a long time.
The film is worth the wait, and definitely a highlight in a sea of bland "family" films. I think in some ways, this is also a fairy tale for Disney studios itself, as they seem to have taken a look inside as well, and were reminded by what makes them special and unique.
Walks A Fine Line Between Nostalgia and Digital Nonsense.
I've come to realize that after two viewings, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does not make me angry inside as the Star Wars prequels did, and is by far better than anything that was released during the dismal Summer 2007 season.
That's not to say that it's a perfect film. There's still enough in the movie to retain the love for the character of Indiana Jones, and there's still a handful of classic action moments fitting for the series, but this one has a feeling of being sterile, less gritty than the other installments, and it's these brief, but all too frequent moments that keep the film from being what it could have been.
The CG is the real culprit of the film, and the film could have used about 4-5 minutes of various cuts from the film.
Little things, such as an unexplainable adoration of digital prairie dogs giving multiple "reaction shots" that did NOTHING to advance or add to the plot, delving into Lucas' realm of trademark unnecessary "cutesy" moments that his later films have fallen victim to. Same for his need to have a 1950's drag race at the beginning of film because he has a love affair with old cars a la "American Graffiti". These moments don't last long, but succeed in jarring one out of the movie to wonder why said effect or plot element was there at all.
There are also some moments during stunts that push the limits of even Indiana Jones fantasy, largely attributed to the poor CG work done in the film, making some effects and backgrounds look like a Playstation game. It's frustrating to realize that Lucasfilm was the originator of the brilliant special effects movement in modern film, and now, the majority of their recent works look woefully and unmistakably outdated. As with the Star Wars prequels, the overused CG wonderment gives an "out of place" feeling that doesn't mesh as well with the previous installments.
In contrast, the classic stunts and special effects, fit well into the Indiana Jones universe, and seemed more appropriate. This film should have stuck to classic special effects and props, and any technical flaw would have been more acceptable, being more appropriate and "realistic" for this type of genre "period" serial-style film. No matter how fantastical the plot and action of an Indiana Jones film got, there is still some grounding of reality to it. This CG doesn't feel "real".
The hardest part of the film was Harrison Ford's intro and opening conversation as he just seemed out of character. This wasn't due to the fact that he was an older man in this installment, but he didn't seem like himself, ranging from the tone and sound of his voice, his posture, mannerisms, even facially, there was something just very "off".
Then without warning, something in Ford's performance suddenly "clicked", reverting the Indiana Jones character back into his full, unmistakable persona. It's not the age or the actor that was the problem, there was just a perceived lack of uncertainty of who the character used to be, and was not a strong start to the film.
There were also a handful of story elements and plot devices that were introduced and referenced, then unexplainably dropped and never mentioned again. It was like all these new and potential ideas had come to mind, and they simply remained unrealized ideas. For example, the main villain hints at having a supernatural ability at the beginning of the film that is never explored, explained, or mentioned in the film again.
All this said, there were quite a handful of moments that were unmistakably Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford still has it, and while it took a few minutes to fall into place (which should have been fixed with a reshoot), the character of Indiana Jones is back like he never missed a day, which made for a lot of fun moments, though some unreturning characters were sorely missed. John Williams' music is also excellent, bringing back several classic themes from the previous films, but I honestly don't remember the new musical themes introduced into this film. There are also a few references to previous adventures which brings on a fond smile.
Without divulging (incredibly obvious) spoiler elements, the film walks a fine line in maintaining its classic feel and being too modern. If they plan to do a new film, they had better start shooting RIGHT NOW. However, the idea of the franchise's suggested idea of a future protagonist delves into "bad idea" territory, with potential to derail the series, and minimize the central character. If so, the Indy hat needs to be hung up for the film series, and continue in video games and novels from this point. Nostalgia for Indy is what keeps the viewer, and it has a clean ending for the fabled archaeologist. If not Indy, let it be.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an alright movie that suffers from occasional uneven acting, unresolved numerous plot points, an ending that makes no attempt to surprise the viewer, and bad CG backgrounds and effects. Lucas should just stick to video games, and Spielberg should have made some edits, as the present film could have been so much better if they had just simply taken the time to just clean up a few rough or unnecessary areas.
Crystal Skull is a respectable "swan song" for the franchise, but the potential future that the film hints it wants to take the series should be left alone. There's still enough good in the film, and seeing Indy again is like revisiting an old friend who hasn't worn out his welcome. But the series should consider stopping now while it can, because Crystal Skull managed to get away with itself without damaging the series, and that should be good enough of a note to end on.
Are You Being Served? (1977)
Like The Show, Yet Not Enough In Other Ways.
I have to admit that I am a little surprised by the reviews and rating for this movie. I actually found it quite funny at times, but I grew up with the show. I think what ultimately pulls this film past an average outing is the facts that some of the one-liners genuinely are funny, and my own personal affinity of the characters.
That's not to say that there aren't a few issues with the film. While the cast doesn't have to be regulated to the store to be funny (Grace and Favour proved that years later), they didn't have to transport the same jokes. There were at least 2-3 scenarios taken directly from the more popular episodes. On one hand, it's not the most original, however funny it was the first time, on the other hand, one has to take into account that some people may have never seen the show, and this movie is their first exposure to it (And shame on you, if so).
The biggest problem is that the plot relies too heavily on the likability of the characters, and the one-liners they shoot out. There are several inconsistencies, the ending is startlingly abrupt (yet ends on the same note as any of the episodes on the show), and plot-wise, they don't do that much. The Grace Brothers staff never gets out to explore their surroundings to add to some new situations and jokes. Again, the innuendos are funny, but the middle of the film drags in terms of things actually happening.
I don't think this film is worthy of its current "3" rating it has. It has it's moments, and the main cast shines in their personalities and silly hi-jinks (the supporting actors don't give the main cast much to work with, however). I think the biggest problem is that it's set up like an extended version of the show, minus the laugh track. You can see the television show format in it, and I think that ultimately hurts the pacing.
Perhaps this would be better for fans-only of the show, or people who haven't seen the show at all. It's not one of the best "episodes" of the series, but it's better than it's been given credit for, outside of some obvious flaws.
The King of Kong (2007)
A Fairly Accurate Look At Gaming Sub Culture.
After having worked with video games in a professional capacity for several years, the people shown in the film were pretty accurate representations of the various levels of gaming personality: The contenders, the arrogant zealots, the wannabes, and the know it alls who claim to be the undisputed masters of things gaming.
The film was funny in a sad, yet sympathetic way. Steve Weibe is this "average" guy who gets his 15 minutes of fame, only to have it continually disputed by a mullet-haired Billy Mitchell (who bore more than a passing resemblance to Superman's General Zod), who seemed to not defend his titles out of fair competition, but out of insecurity that he might not be known as "the best".
The main prize of the whole competition seemed to be not the point of having the highest score in Donkey Kong, but it was more a battle of Steve's point to be credited for a score which he kept earning time and time again, versus Billy's fragile ego. Steve video tapes his high score, Billy contends that it's not credible unless played live. Steve goes to play live in a public place, Billy sneaks out this "top secret" hi-score tape, where the editing and quality are questionable. And yet, that's somehow okay by the judges board.
The Twin Galaxies organization also seems very much like a "Boy's Club" looking out for their "bro", and are willing to subvert their own set guidelines to keep their buddy's prestigious spot within the organization.
As a gamer, it was very frustrating to watch Steve get his title taken away time and time again, due to frequently changing "technicalities" insisted on by Billy Mitchell, especially when Steve proved it repeatedly, and Billy never bothered to show up to any of these competitions at all (save for one where he skulked in the background like a 12-year old comic book villain), much less even play a game during the run of the whole film. The only game he had at all was just running his mouth, and I'm surprised he didn't start twirling his mustache like Snidely Whiplash.
Even if it was the editing that could have put Mitchell more in a negative light, all the editing in the world couldn't remove his preening, skulking, and making arrogant and ridiculous comments throughout the film. He seemed so incredulous that he would be incapable of losing anything he attempted, but it was obvious that he wasn't willing to risk the chance of even the slightest chance of losing. It was very clear that the guy was willing to do whatever it took to not only protect his high score, but his ego and status within his circle of hangers on.
Without divulging anything regarding the ending. my theater clapped at the end of the film due so several surprises that take place in the last 20 minutes or so. In a sense, this is the "Rocky" of video game films (complete with "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background at one point). As a video gamer, I've seen the world portrayed in the film, and there really are Steve Weibes and Billy Mitchells out there, along with the rest of the supporting cast. And for a documentary, it's a lot funnier than what one would expect, though in unexpected ways.
For those who enjoy video games, or even the excitement of seeing an unusual competition, it's a worthwhile film, and definitely recommended if you can find it in theaters.
When Summer Blockbusters Go Really REALLY Wrong.
When the announcement came for a new Transformers movie for Summer, I was pretty excited. I wasn't a major Transformers fan, but I had fond memories of the cartoon and toys. However, I hated the re-designed Transformers, thinking that these new designs were an overly busy cross between Lego's Bionicle toys and expressionist modern art sculptures. I also heard the script was poor, so I decided to skip this one.
However, I started hearing movie reviews about what an amazing film this was. "The greatest film of all time!" people proclaimed. So I came to terms with and accepted that these weren't the robots I grew up with, this was a "new" version, and I'd at least find interest in robots transforming into cars and beating each other up. I'd even go see this even though I don't like Michael Bay films.
How was it? Transformers is a disgustingly bloated and self-indulgent piece of crap. I understand that I'll get rated down for my review, but I'm prepared to accept that. Sadly, my theater must not have gotten the euphoria inducing gas that apparently other theaters got, causing me to gush over this film like other people.
Even the 1986 Transformers film wasn't perfect. It was basically one fight scene after another, and was a means to replace the old toys for a new line, but the action was good, showed the consequences of war, and featured the death of a beloved character. It kept true to the mythos, even though it was different. This movie makes reference to so many other films that it feels like a mishmash of 30 films you've seen before.
Bumblebee sends up an "Autobat Symbol" to summon the other Autobots like Batman. There's a scene in an underground bunker which felt totally pulled from Terminator 3 (and a few scenes later, uses the exact drumbeat from the "Terminator Theme"). The fight scenes with their out of focus cameras and "shaky cam" style seems like they are trying to treat the battles as if they were "Saving Private Ryan" caliber. When Bumblebee gets captured during a scene, the music swells up so mournfully and overdramatically, that it makes the tragedies found in "Schindler's List" seem modest.
The biggest problem in character design lies in the fact that they all really do look alike. The worst offender was the Decepticon Frenzy, which looked like a 3D rendered pencil scribble, and acted like the Zuni Fetish Doll from "Trilogy of Terror". During the final battle, I was having problems telling who was who, and when the robots collided, it was hard to see where one began and the other ended. The car forms were presented as blatant product showcases, ripped straight from a commercial. Then again, there was so much product placement in the film. eBay must have made a fortune.
The slow set-up to the action or even any real glimpses of the title characters felt like "The Hulk". I pay for a movie about transforming robots, that's what I want to see.
Why would they keep a deadly robot under Hoover Dam, a major water source and tourist attraction? Why would they bring this "All-Spark" out of the desert and into a heavily-populated city where property damage and civilian casualties could run their full course. The dialogue was painful, sounded like it was written for teenagers, by teenagers in a really bad fanfic like what they thought people would say. What really irked me is how the Autobots couldn't seem to kill a Decepticon, but a lone soldier skidding on his back could dispatch one with a single shot. Why were the Autobots even there if the humans could do it better? How is it that they can save Bumblebee, but they can't repair Jazz? What was the difference? The government/military/robot/anyone dialogue was totally unrealistic, with officials willing to "bet their ridiculously high government paychecks" on hunches. Every line smacked on bad puns, clichés, or just sounded stupid. There was an extended conversation about masturbation between Sam and his parents that felt really awkward and extended far too long.
The personalities were also way underdeveloped. Transformers has over two decades of history that wasn't touched upon. The Starscream and Megatron rivalry, where Starscream tried to usurp Megatron for leadership was not mentioned or covered at all. Jazz was cool and fun-loving with a sense of style, while in the film he sounds like a ghetto thug. His first line is profanity, and I felt insulted. Not because of the language, but the fact that this was apparently the best the writers could do. Decepticons were introduced and blown away within minutes. The Autobots weren't much better. Did the people who wrote the story know anything about the subject material besides the fact that robots changed to vehicles? And then Optimus Prime. Obviously, Bay's madness knew better than to totally ruin this character, as he was the only robot who looked even remotely familiar to any previous version. And the personality was fairly accurate... up to the backyard scene, where Prime's personality suddenly shifts, breaks character, and he becomes a clumsy comedian. The next scene, he shifts back into a "leader" personality.
The saving grace outside of Prime was Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf), who brought a credible "gee whiz" performance to the film, and yet I felt sorry for him using such ham-fisted dialogue.
Summer 2007 has been really mediocre for "blockbuster" films, as we're apparently supposed to lower our standards, "sit back, not think and enjoy" with these types of films, but how is one supposed to do that with with film devoid of heart, personality or no focus on the main characters? As a stand-alone film, this is a really bad movie. As a Transformers-licensed film, it's a God awful embarrassment. I'm avoiding the sequels unless they drastically overhaul the franchise and get a script not limited to high-school level online fanfic.
A Funny Adaption Of A Funny Show.
Having a movie based off a television show is nothing new. Taking a television show and putting it up on the big screen in an almost unaltered format, that's a little more unique, but somehow it works for this cult classic.
I grew up watching MST3K, as it inspired most of my humor and love of cheesy movies. The show takes the whole premise of Mike, Tom Servo and Crow and puts them up on the big screen to simply do their thing. They aren't given a contrived plot, an epic story, or even an origin... they just make fun of a film. The actual audience actually pays to watch an older sci-fi movie that is heckled by an on screen audience. It's ludicrous and brilliant all at once.
The chosen film "This Island Earth", isn't a bad film. It's dated, and some of the concepts are silly by today's standards, but not really a clunker of a film like "Manos: The Hands of Fate", "Mitchell", or "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank". But Mike and the bots riff away as they always did before, adding some classic lines, and pausing every few minutes in an attempt to escape the Satellite of Love, or annoy Dr. Forrester.
The budget for the movie is a little better, but not by much. But expecting elaborate sets from a show like this is like expecting gas prices to drop anytime soon. And for the fanbase, it's what one would expect from the characters. Putting them in a contrived situation for a movie plot's sake might have had the guys riffing their own film somewhere down the line. The strength of the film remains in the show's writing and biting sarcasm of anything happening on screen.
The downsides of the film are the fact that the cut down the overall run time of "This Island Earth" as they would in the show, which didn't make sense as movies in the theater don't have commercial breaks (well, not yet, anyway). And I would have enjoyed seeing a short before the actual film, as those were some of the best gems of the entire series.
The film didn't have a huge release, and finding a copy of the out of print DVD is a hard task in itself, but the movie caters to the fans, and in that respect does not disappoint. Anyone else may or may not get it, but the endless barrage of one-liners still remain funny.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
A Good Movie, But Slight Fraying Is Showing Around The Webbing.
Spider-Man is a childhood hero of mine. I've enjoyed the comics over the years, and the second Spider-Man film is one of the greatest comic book to film movies ever made. From that standpoint, I review this as a fan, but as a film enthusiast as well.
I was very excited about seeing the black costume and Venom, my personal favorite moments from the comics. Spider-Man 3 was enjoyable entertainment, and broke the "curse" of "Part 3" destroying a good comic movie series (Batman, Superman, X-Men). But this didn't overthrow Spider-Man 2 as the best. It could have, but some liberties taken with the film ultimately cost it.
The story arcs for villains Sandman, Harry Osborn (I loathe the name "New Goblin") and Venom were VERY accurate to their comic counterparts. If some of it seemed a little coincidental or contrived, in honesty, that's how the stories progressed over the years, especially for Harry and Venom. They took a few liberties with Sandman, but the saving grace is that they keep to the trend of not making the "bad guys" one-dimensional villains.
This film dealt with a LOT of plot threads. Venom should have been saved for a fourth film, as once he is "created", he becomes underused, which is a shame for a major villain in the Spider-Man mythos. Truthfully, the film could have worked with or without Venom, who felt like an afterthought or "fan service". However, with 18,000 story lines running rampant in the movie, they somehow manage to keep it all together and pull it through to the end, while tying up the entire plot. That feat alone is impressive, so kudos to the Raimi's writing talents.
Still, it seemed that the only character that went anywhere by the end and actually moved forward was Harry Osborn. Peter and Mary Jane just didn't seem to end up anywhere new or different by the film's end, leaving them somewhat ambiguous. The same goes for Gwen Stacy. Another iconic character in the comics, but her status remains unknown.
J.K. Simmons' role as J. Jonah Jameson and Bruce Campbell in his "Where's Waldo: Spider-Man Movie Edition" appearances in the film are once again comedy gold.
The real problem of the film lies in the black costume. The comic's concept holds true in the movies, but the added aspect the story gives it also introduces elements in the film that I thought was the worst moment of not only this film, but out of all three films as a whole.
Peter's need to comb over his hair "emo" style whenever he suited up in the black costume: The "emo" thing as a whole is irksome, but the movie makes it clear this is some conscious and deliberate decision on Peter's part. It's irritating that they would do this, however indirect the reference may have been. And all I could see was "Emo Spider-Man". Leave the fad sub-cultures out of films, please. Not just this film, but any film. It's silly to allow a comb over show that this is "angry" Peter, like the audience couldn't figure it out.
The second aspect of the film again related to the black costume. The costume isn't supposed to magnify emotions of the wearer. And when they gave that description in the dialogue, another comic-based film popped into my mind. And sure enough, Peter becomes a disco dancing, crotch thrusting show-off that that seemed to be a direct reference to Jim Carrey's "The Mask". If Peter has suddenly cried out "Smokin'", I wouldn't have been surprised. In fact, I was just waiting for him to say it and get it over with. The scene certainly went on long enough, and outwore its welcome. This is the first and only moment of all three films that made me shake my head with disbelief and disappointment.
The final contention point was like the second film, Spider-Man remained unmasked at any given opportunity. I'm sure this was due to making sure Tobey Maguire got some "face" time, but Spider-Man (until recently) had a secret identity. It felt like he'd whip the mask off for no necessary reason at any given time. One starts to question why he even used a mask at all after a while.
Another criticism is the "New Goblin". I never liked the original Green Goblin costume as it was far too "Power Rangers" for its own good, and the biggest deviant of all the character's looks. New Goblin gives Harry an "Extreme Snowboarder with an anger management problem" look that honestly, he could have called himself anything, and the audience would have never made the "Goblin" connection.
Despite some issues, Spider-Man 3 was a very good film. Not a great film, but it was a good closure to the unresolved plot threads of the first two films. And overall, the characters and their motivations remained intact. As a trilogy, the films hold up very well. Thankfully, the story didn't veer off in some alternate direction that seemed inconsistent with the first two films and left one scratching their head in confusion.
That said, as much of a Spider-Man enthusiast as I am, I hope they don't push any farther with the series (though I'm sure they will). There are a lot of stories and villains they can cover, so the lack of source material is in no danger of being used up, but for the first time, I began to see the rough edges start to wear around the series. After the mess made with "X-Men 3" (putting a real chink in the armor of that series), it's best to bow out now, and keep the dignity intact of this series. As I said, the movie held up, but it became apparent that it's not going to always be so lucky in the future.
Lost in Translation (2003)
A Remarkable Film That Says A Lot.
I enjoy Bill Murray's acting. Loved him in Ghostbusters, and thought his turn in Groundhog Day was a real growth of his acting skills. I never got around to seeing "Lost in Translation" until recently, and after viewing it, I shouldn't have missed it the first time around.
Not everyone is going to get this film. Starring Bill Murray, one might expect it to be a comedy or for him to pull some of his wacky, sarcastic hi-jinks. In the film, he's portrayed as bitter, weary and just very alone. It's not that his character (Bob) comes off as a jerk, it's more that his life has become mundane and uninspiring, and he's simply going through a routine with his marriage, his career, his life... knowing exactly what to expect. This is one of the deepest and most low-key performance yet from Murray.
The same applies to the younger Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a wife who is also basically alone, even though her husband is more or less around, much like herself and her role in the marriage. Despite the age differences, Bob and Charlotte strike up a friendship, and give each other a chance to sample some living.
It's not exactly a romantic film. There's an unspoken feeling of love or attraction, but it focuses more on the friendship aspect. The connection of having someone around who actually "gets" the other, or at least makes an attempt to listen past previously deaf words. The film focuses a lot on the isolation and loneliness of the two characters at different stages in their lives, but each character seems to want more out of their daily routines, and can't seem to find it anywhere else than with each other. You feel for the two characters trying to maintain their roles versus trying to make themselves aware of their own lives again.
Outside of the story, the movie has great cinematography and dialogue, both realistic and humorous. It's not a depressing twist on the "mid-life crisis" fable. It just makes one think, especially for those who have felt like they've been in a rut themselves. It reminds that wanting to change a routine either takes a lot of work, or to simply try something different. And for those who need a tight sense of "conclusion" at the end of a film, it's not going to be found here.
*SPOILER* There are a lot of things that could be interpreted from the ending, but my own thoughts tell me the end is perhaps the most realistic scenario, albeit each having been changed for the better from the experience. *END SPOILER*
I read a few of the negative reviews on here, and I don't understand how this film could be viewed as a waste of time. Maybe the story was too slow paced, or Bill Murray wasn't zany enough for them. Or it's possible that I found this film at a point in my life where I wanted to hear what it had to say, but this film is well worth the attention and awards it received, and in many respects, I can't even properly describe why this film stood out as much as it did. To watch it is to better understand.