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Green Lantern (2011)
It's not easy being Green
The bottom line if you really wanna know is this movie isn't great, but that doesn't mean that it's bad either. The movie has a lot of fun stuff in it, mostly spewing from bucket loads of really cool visuals. The Green Lantern headquarters on the planet Oa is awesome and I loved every second of it. Toss in a couple decent action scenes and you can at the very least sit back with some popcorn and enjoy yourself for a couple hours.
BUT like I said this isn't a great movie. First and foremost there's just way too much going on for a 2 hour movie. It falls into a similar category as Spider-man 3, just too much stuff to tell a coherent story. But Spider-man 3 was a sequel, this is the first one, this is the origin story, this is supposed to be the easy one.
Here's the basic origin. The Green Lantern corps is the police force that protects the galaxy from all harm. It's made up of hundreds, if not thousands of alien creatures who are supposed to be the best of the best and each one of them is equipped with a power ring that enables them to construct anything out of energy that might help them in a fight. One of their star players is killed in a fight and it becomes his ring's duty to seek out a successor and it finds him in Hal Jordon, the first human to ever be picked for the corps. Hal is a test pilot for a military aeronautics company, and when the ring finds him he's automatically recruited and whisked away to the planet Oa for his training.
This is a fun origin story and it's unique among most superheroes, the origin itself has enough going for it to fill a solid movie but things get bogged down with our villains. There's this evil alien named Paralax who wants to destroy all the Lanterns and he also infects a scientist who develops telepathic powers and turns evil. We also get a lot of attempts a character development that do nothing but slow things down. We meet Hal's nephew and see them share a tender moment, this was obviously put in to show Hal's soft side, a change from the brash side we're introduced to in the beginning...but the scene just feels slotted in, it's too short to carry and weight and thus isn't very effective. If certain elements of the plot had been stripped down or removed we could've spent more time in these character moments and gotten what we needed to out of them. We get ample back story on the Lantern mythology but we really don't need it. We could easily learn what we need to through Hal's eyes when he meets the other Lanterns...and any detail beyond that could've been saved for a sequel. At the same time though other details are omitted. Evidently our infected scientist has known Hal for most of his life and has a history with his girlfriend too, we don't get any indication of this at all until they bump into each other at a party and already know each other.
The movie also falls victims to unnecessary superhero clichés. Hal's first public appearance as the Green Lantern happens at a large outdoor party when a helicopter malfunctions and crashes into the crowd, culminating in the final moments when he saves his girl Carol from the final impact of the chopper. We saw the party scene in Spider-man. We saw the helicopter in Superman and Fantastic 4 and we saw the damsel in distress in every other superhero movie. There's also a later scene where he confronts Carol on her balcony in the night...very original. Clichés like this really stand out like a sore thumb too because the basis of the plot is so different from the others...why forcefully fit it into the mold that the others were built off of?
There's just too much stuff in here and it all bounces violently off one another. We should've cut down the Green Lantern corps' back story to the bare minimum and removed the opening narration all together. We could've started on our doomed Lantern, watch him die in an epic battle to tied us over for action and then flashed back 24 or 48 hours to meet Hal in his final hours before meeting his destiny...and until the ring finds him, there would've been no need to even go into space again. We could've developed our characters naturally...he could've then spent more time in Oa, meeting Hal's comrades and getting some actual training instead of the 5 minute sessions we currently get. Paralax should've been no more than an entity for the time being, he could've showed up in a sequel but for now he should be looming in the shadows at most so that Infected Hector could be properly introduced and serve as the real threat. And we could've cut out Hal's tech buddy altogether because he's just a useless character, seemingly only thought up so he could utter the line, "you're a superhero!" Just in case that wouldn't have been otherwise clear to the audience.
In spite of the many flaws the story is now set for another instalment and theoretically with all the excess baggage out of the way a sequel should run much smoother. While this movie ideally would be standing out on it's own as a great movie it could at least serve as the first chapter in what could be a great franchise over all...as long as the lackluster reviews it's been receiving don't blow it's chances. A fun movie none the less...just nowhere near what it should've been.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
Lives up to the Hype
Battlefield Earth has become something of a legend. It's the Holy Grail of Hollywood crap from the decade if not beyond and is quite possibly "that which we do not speak of" among scientologists. I was never one to pay much attention to critics, I always liked to watch and decide for myself but even I couldn't resist being strayed from any interest by the aura of disdain that surrounded this movie back in 2000. I was 16 then and any sci-fi adventure movie should've been worth a view, but not this one. Now, eleven years later I finally sat down to give it a shot and not only does it live up to it's reputation, it surpasses it.
I was expecting a bad a movie. I was expecting cheesy performances and a weak a script but I got so much more. Battlefield Earth is a garbled mess from start to finish. We begin, as you might have guessed, on earth. A tribe of caveman-esque people struggle to survive. They're warned of a beast that prowls the land just beyond the horizon and are told of demons that rule the planet. But one brave dude, played by Barry Pepper decides there's more out there worth seeing and sets out to prove it. That beast they're all scared of? That's a statue from a long since abandoned mini-golf course. And those demons they're always whining about? They're a race of aliens from the planet Psychlo that have enslaved the human populace. For you see this isn't earth billions of years ago but earth in the future where the humans are no longer the dominant lifeforce and it's been so long since they had any power they're not even aware of how badly they got screwed over. This might seem like a spoiler...like I just blew a twist for you...but nope...fear not. Because thanks to a lame subtitle at the opening we already know this is "A Saga of the Year 3000," and thanks to some other on screen text that we apparently needed we also already know that the human race is nearly extinct. Which basically means that if you actually managed to get to this movie without having seen any previews you still won't be in for any surprises. Because who wants to be surprised by a movie right? That would be stupid.
The basic idea behind this introduction to the world isn't actually bad, having us start on what seems like a primitive society and seeing the truth revealed in layers has been done before but it can be effective even in spite of those spoilerific titles at the beginning. The problem though is this information is thrown at us within about 15 minutes of screen time. The whole movie feels very rushed and none of the scenes have any room to breath and we're treated to the same split wipe transition every 5 minutes or so. I won't break down the plot any more than that because there's really no need...let's just say the badguys do some stuff, the goodguys get involved and they want to stop being slaves...because well, being a slave sucks.
The director seems determined to make this movie a visual feast but really doesn't know how. Every camera in the entire movie is tilted, which can make for an interesting shot, but when EVERY DAMN shot is done the same way it holds no artistic merit what so ever...instead it looks like they were working with a broken tripod. There's really nothing visually interesting about this movie at all except for the establishing shots of the planet Psychlo, which is only because they remind you of Blade Runner. In fact I'm pretty sure they just tinted a few shots from Blade Runner purple and cut them into this movie.
The aliens are essentially just people with dreadlocks and slightly bigger, hairier hands with an extra finger and apparently they're also really stupid. You see, they have access to all of Earth's history and the capability to learn how to decipher it but evidently nobody thought it was a good idea which is why they think the favorite meal of a human is uncooked rat, and they can't be sure of man's ability to fly without tossing them in the air as a test. To top it all off the alien performances are so goofy they lose all menace. John Travolta and Forest Whitaker have careers full of great performances but with this material they look like a High School theater troupe.
There might've actually be a decent story to be mined out of this mess but the people involved just weren't able to find it. I like to give credit where credit is due even in movie's I'm not fond of, it's not too often I find a movie with no redeeming qualities to be found but I'm afraid Battlefield Earth just made the list.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
I caught this movie on TCM a few years ago and it instantly became one of my favourite movies. I've never been able to find it on DVD but I've caught it on the tube a few more times since the first and I love it more with every viewing. I'm a sucker for film noir pulp fiction.
Set in the sleazy Los Angeles heat, you can feel the sweat dripping off the characters' even when they're stooped in shadow. This movie has more grit than Rooster Cogburn. Mike Hammer's a PI with a rep for blackmailed divorce cases with the help of his sexy assistant, Velda. When he's driving one night though he encounters Christina, a young woman, running down the road, naked under a trench coat and frantically trying to wave down a car for help in one of the best openings you could ask for in a film. After nearly running her down Hammer stops and picks her up, which snowballs into an intricate mystery that involves everything but the kitchen sink.
The action moves fast and has directly or indirectly influenced everything from 'Speed' to 'Pulp Fiction.' Mike Hammer is truly one of the original bad asses and Ralph Meeker plays him to the hilt. He doesn't take crap from anybody and isn't afraid of anything. His only weakness is his obsession with the case and the danger of losing himself in his ambition.
To give anything away from the plot would be criminal but if you want a fun, gritty and pulpy mystery with a dose of action you can't get much better than the original.
The Shadow (1994)
Not bad...but not great
I find myself most inspired to write reviews when I see wasted potential in a movie...the Shadow falls in that category though it doesn't fit quite as snuggly.
Set in 1930's New York, Lamont Cranston(Alec Baldwin)is a rich playboy who moonlights as a mysterious superhero known as the Shadow. He can turn himself invisible, hypnotize his enemies, is a crack shot with twin pistols and most importantly, "who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" The Shadow knows. When a descendant of Genghis Khan arrives in New York after completing his training with The Shadow's own former mentor(and killing him), The Shadow seems to have met his match, but he's not going down without a fight.
As a feat of art direction, The Shadow is pretty damn close to a masterpiece. It's set in a world of comic bookish 30's architecture, and light and shadow are played with a whimsical sense of noir. The movie is based on the 1930's pulp novels of the same name and visually it hits the mark dead center. The story unfortunately only makes it there half way. There's a lot of fun stuff in this movie and the plot is full of cool ideas that invoke the pulpy feel it should. Unfortunately it can't quite find its footing on the line between camp and dark grit. There's enough goofiness in the movie to keep you from taking it too seriously but not quite enough goofiness to make it just pure fun. Because of this the camp comes off as unintentional...like they wanted this to be serious and just didn't get there. The set up in the beginning of the film in particular is a little hokey in its clunky handling...if it had been slowed down it could've been interesting and cool...but then maybe the movie wouldn't have been as much fun. I found myself unimpressed with the script and yet at the same time I was more and more engaged as the movie waged on...by the climax I was very interested to see how it would all turn out and now, the next morning as I look back at watching it last night I find myself smirking at some of the fun quotes and winks at the camera.
All and all I enjoyed the movie I guess, but I just found myself so enthralled by the visuals of it, and combine that with my love of pulp fiction and I really should've loved this movie...so I guess, as I've often said before it just didn't quite live up to its potential.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
In the spring of 2001 audiences seemed eager to see Tim Burton's retelling of the 1968 classic, "Planet of the Apes." By the summer of 2001 it seemed to be the movie everybody loved to hate. Were the criticisms fair? Not if you ask me.
2001's Planet of the Apes' biggest downfall, in my opinion, is unfortunately also it's biggest strength. Unlike many remakes which often end up as nothing more than weaker rehashes of their predecessor's this version of 'Apes' dared to be different. The plot has been stripped down to its bare bones and then rebuilt into something completely new. This is refreshing, if you ask me. Especially when rewatching it now, because just a few short years after this film came out we launched into sort of a remake renaissance, where half the tent pole films that come out every year are the same lesser rehashes that I spoke of a second ago. This film does take a moment here and there to wink at the '68 original, but Burton and his merry band of screenwriters has created a world completely original...it could be watched next to any entry of that original series as a wholey different film.
This is also the film's biggest flaw though, or at least financially speaking, because the original 'Apes' franchise has a cult following behind it that could almost rival that of Star Wars or Star Trek. The core audience for this film really only wanted to see their favourite story told with modern day effects and makeup. I don't think we needed that, but I'm not sure how many would agree with me.
Now, if you want to compare the two films plots and decide which one is stronger that's a whole other debate. But I don't think that's fair, that's why I champion it for taking such a different approach. I don't think this movie should be compared to any other movie and with that mindset a much better appreciation can be found. To put it bluntly, this movie ain't bad...in fact it's actually pretty good.
I won't deconstruct the plot for you...if you're interested enough to be reading this you probably at least know the jist of it anyway. But it's a solid and interesting plot that sets up a very fun and entertaining action adventure flick. Visually its in many ways a departure from typical Burton fair but his stamp is definitely evident in its art direction, and the atmosphere he creates in this jungle/desert/urban/high tech universe is really something to behold. The apes are not only impressive in terms of makeup but they are also creatively impressive from the choices of the species to match personalities, the incredible costumes and simply perfect performances by a cast who act through all that latex. And while I'm praising I'll also throw up a shout out for Danny Elfman's great score, which just might be one of his best.
The only caveat I'll lay on the movie is that the twist ending, obviously conceived to rival the famous twist of the original, kind of falls flat. BUT...considering how many instalments the original franchise had I have no doubt that the producers had hoped to make a sequel had this film been more financially successful, and had that sequel been made maybe we would've learned the story behind this twist and all would've been forgiven.
It's a little too late to say, 'long story short,' but I will anyway. Give this movie a fair shot. It may not be without its flaws but how many movies are? Try not to compare it to the original, just watch it with a bowl of popcorn and have fun.
Mystery Men (1999)
Worth a second watch
So in the metropolis known as Champion city one hero stands up to evildoers, putting a triumphant end to criminal activity while the population swoons at his every act. His name is Captain Amazing(Greg Kinear)...but he's not alone. On the sidelines are Mr. Furious, The Shoveler and The Blue Raja. 3 misfit superheroes played by Ben Stiller, William H. Macy and Hank Azaria. They try their damnedest to follow Captain Amazing's example and help in all the crime fighting. But when Captain Amazing is captured by the villain Casanova Frankenstein(Geoffrey Rush) it's up to the three of them to find and rescue him, recruiting help along the way, rounding out their team with The Bowler(Janeane Garofalo), The Spleen(Paul Reubens), Invisible Boy(Kel Mitchell), and the Sphinx(Wes Studi).
This seemed like a hysterical premise for a movie and I was stoked back in 1999 to see it. As I recall I liked it but was maybe a little let down given my expectations. Apparently though I was alone in even that amount of praise. I remember at the time this movie getting a lot of flak, I had a couple of friends that out and out hated it. Maybe it was just unrealistic expectations from everybody given the film's stellar cast. Maybe the fact that it takes so many visual cue's from the Batman franchise(Burton and Schumacher alike), when people still had a bad taste in their mouth from 'Batman & Robin.' Maybe it's because superhero movies at that time were few and far between, so the references were just flying over people's heads...maybe if it had been released just a few years later things would've been different. Or maybe...just maybe it wasn't everyone's cup of tea. But it's my understanding that this film is finally starting to develop something of a cult following and I can see why.
I just watched this movie again, more than ten years later and I loved every minute of it. What many might have considered to be dumb in it's original run is actually a very clever commentary on superhero conventions. Out characters are gifted with ridiculous powers and skills that in no way should amount to any kind of heroics, and yet somehow they do...an extreme take on the superheros we're actually meant to take seriously. They poke fun at secret identities and costumes...these guys are just as concerned with allying their super persona with coherent themed branding so they can be recognizable to potential fans.
The movie is a parody on a genre that hadn't quite gotten its footing in the mainstream yet, and I'm sure that was its real downfall. Quite frankly with the A-list cast it should've been more financially successful regardless of the script, I just don't think many people quite knew what to make of it. If you were one of the many who was disappointed or in some way put off by this film back '99 I would recommend giving it a second shot. I never really hated it in the first place but my rating has definitely gone up and I've discovered a whole new appreciation for it. Beyond the plot which I've focused on in this review it is also quite well acted and directed and has some really stellar visuals in it...quite a feat of art direction as a matter of fact.
Jonah Hex (2010)
I'm hesitant to call this an out and out terrible movie as some have labelled it simply because it was mildly entertaining. There's a lot of action, some cool ideas, a great performance by Josh Brolin and the short 80 minute running time doesn't hurt it either.
The sad truth of the whole thing is that it just didn't come close to its potential. For starters, Jonah Hex didn't have to be macabre and supernatural...to my knowledge this wasn't even part of the original comic books that the movie is based on. The original story is simple, Jonah Hex's family is murdered, he's horribly scarred and left for dead. He gets better and sets out for revenge. It's a pretty classic western tale...one that we've seen before but given the general lack of western movies these days, that doesn't matter...there's plenty of room in theatres for a fun out for revenge Western. Having said all that, the supernatural ideas that they came up with are actually kinda cool, and I would've been happy to see them mixed in, if only they'd been handled better. Instead these elements seem tossed in as an excuse to include CG effects that the box office loves oh so much.
The end result is an unfortunate mash up of a good ideas...that maybe could've worked if more time had been put into development, it feels like it was either slapped together too hastily or suffered from a massive reedit...during most of the film I couldn't shake the feeling that there was maybe a 2 hour+ director's cut lying on the floor somewhere which may or may not be a superior and more coherent film. I was looking forward Jonah Hex based on a short appearance he had in a Batman cartoon years ago...from that alone I thought the character had a lot of movie potential but I was let down. Brolin's performance is the best part of the movie. Malkovich is good but nothing too spectacular considering his track record, and even Megan Fox is half decent but she doesn't have a lot to do with her pretty much useless character.
Foul Play (1978)
Breaks the mold
Mystery/thriller comedies come and go fairly often with mixed results, but Foul Play is a rarity that stands out among them.
Goldie Hawn gets mixed up in a murder plot when she's unwittingly handed evidence by a dying man. Suddenly she becomes the target of an assortment of killers and stalkers. Along the way she meets a handful of colourful characters, one of which played by Chevy Chase is a smart mouthed cop who after some convincing realizes her trouble and helps her out.
The reason Foul Play stands out from others of its genre is that the mystery plot that the movie centers around is dealt with with genuine Hitchcockian flare. It's not there just to set up a series of gags, it's there to make the whole thing interesting. You could strip away all the humour and still have an engaging story, the jokes just make the whole thing more fun. The final act of the film does deviate a bit from that flare I've been praising but even the best of dramatic thrillers often lose steam once the mystery's been solved...at that point in the movie it's pretty much pure comedy.
It's aged pretty well too, although younger crowds may still be a little put off by the seventies-ness of it. I'm 25 and loved it, but I also saw it several years ago and wasn't nearly as impressed. Good movie, check it out.
I Saw What You Did (1965)
William Castle made a career out of monster and ghost stories, so even though the synopsis on my TV said this was a departure about teenage girls involved with murder I still expected the same kind of B-movie action. In truth though it was actually a pretty decent thriller.
A sixteen year old girl and her little sister who live in a secluded home a few miles away from anybody get the house to themselves for a night. The older girl invites her friend over for dinner and the three of them eventually resort to prank calling random people from the phone book to entertain themselves. Unfortunately for them they make the mistake of calling a man who's just committed murder and jokingly tell him, "I know what you did, and I know who you are." The man naturally assumes the voice on the line is serious and there is a witness out there who saw him disposing of his girlfriend's body. A variety of twists and intertwining characters eventually put the guilty man in the same room as our innocent kids.
The plot relies heavily on coincidence to stitch everything together and a major plot point hinges on an extremely stupid decision by our protagonists but in spite of it all, it still manages to build a lot of tension towards it's climax which although brief is handled very effectively. It also helps that this secluded home of there's is surrounded by forestry and continually deepening shadows as the night wares on with fog that's barely visible outside the moonlight, making for a very creepy and cool atmosphere. The acting is pretty good too, even our teenage heroes seem to exercise some decent chops all things considered. Good fun and good thrills.
The Pebble and the Penguin (1995)
I'm an animator myself and an all around buff of the medium so when I saw this movie in a $5 bin I figured it was worth a shot to add to my collection. While I never regret having a new addition to my animation library this film was definitely disappointing.
The premise has enough potential. A penguin named Hubie finds the perfect pebble to give to the girl he loves as the penguin equivalent to an engagement ring but before he can give it to her, he's cast out by an evil rival and lost at sea. He then befriends another penguin who helps him find his way home. That set up isn't great but it's enough to set up what could be a fun adventure. Unfortunately the duo's exploits never really amount to much and it all gets pretty repetitive. Most of the situations they find themselves in are really uninspired and lacking in creativity...and the bonding the two of them under go is cheesy and forced.
Animation is good but not up to Don Bluth's usual standards. This is the guy that gave us The Secret of Nimh, Land Before Time and An American Tale, all of which had an attention to detail that often surpassed Disney, the granddaddy of feature animation. This one doesn't amount to much beyond high end TV fair.
The music is alright but pretty forgettable and the voice actors are all wasted talent...Martin Short is particularly wasted here as the lead character who in spite of being spoken of as a bumbler is practically a straight man through the whole film.
In short the movie will probably appeal to very small kids but a good family film should appeal to all ages and unfortunately it doesn't got what it takes.