Superman Returns

July 24th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0348150/

Superman Returns is playing locally at the IMAX theater, though I did not see it in IMAX due to timing issues. I do not think seeing it on the regular screen had any negative effect on my experience, however.

Adrenaline. If I had to pick a one-word theme for the movie, that would be it. Edge or your seat, heart-pounding adrenaline. If you have watched the preview for the movie, you may be familiar with a scene involving Superman and an airplane. It is maybe 30 minutes into the movie and I kid you not, they could have ended it right there and I would have paid to see it a second time. That is not to say the movie was downhill from that point on, but it was worth the price of admission, even in the days of increased movie ticket prices.

I had heard reports that Superman Returns was too much of a love story and not enough of what we should expect from a Superman movie: Superman fighting crime and saving the day. The (awkward) love story rekindled between our caped hero and Lois Lane was obvious, but not overbearing. There were scenes devoted to it entirely, but this was not the first Superman movie to do it. Let's not forget the rest of the movie, however. Bryan Singer did a great job of incorporating all of Superman's powers over the course of the film. We see plenty of flying, impenetrable skin, super-human strength, heat vision and super breath. But don't leave out the tights and the cape; Superman was well represented throughout the film.

I liked how well Brandon Routh maintained the dichotomy of the character he played, selling the Clark Kent secret identity. He stayed clumsy as Clark and was, for the most part, strong and confident as Superman. I was among those in the camp who thought Tom Welling probably should have gotten the part when "Mr. Unknown" Brandon Routh was announced. Sorry Tom, but Brandon ended up being a good casting choice. Tom Welling may have been a little too "teen drama" and not enough "comic-book superhero" for the part.

Kevin Spacey is no Gene Hackman, but he did well as Lex Luthor. Watching Lex in action I did have the realization that though I typically prefer Marvel books, I like DC villains much better. My favorites are The Joker (big surprise), The Riddler and Lex Luthor. DC villains, to me, seem much more... complex. Lex Luthor is a bit over the top and he does require some over-acting and forced lines as well as some just-right facial expressions to fully portray his quirks. Spacey kept his composure and I really think he nailed the part.

So I really did like the movie, but I did have a few small gripes. You probably would not believe I wrote this if there wasn't a flaw or two pointed out...

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Did they make Kate Bosworth look like Natalie Portman on purpose? Or did it just happen naturally? Don't get me wrong, she looked better as Lois Lane than she has in any other role I have seen her in. All I am saying is that after Natalie does a movie or two with a shaved head, maybe Hollywood is trying to snatch her look back from her before she has a chance to make another movie with hair.

I love that James Marsden continues to get roles in comic book films as the guy who has the girl who is at least arguably in love with someone else (think Cyclops). I understand he followed Writer/Producer/Director Bryan Singer from the X-Men series to Superman, but he is now sufficiently typecast.

Was Brandon Routh's "Clark Kent" hair a tribute to Jason Schwartzman?

Kal Penn goes from a late night craving for White Castle burgers to playing Lex Luthor's goon? Really? It does not seem like the most natural transition to me. At least I am pretty sure he did not have a single speaking part.

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Petty criticisms aside, I really liked Superman Returns. The movie had a few slow scenes, primarily right at the beginning, but they served well enough to build up to the climax. The casting was great, even down to Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen. I hope I can find time to see it again...in IMAX this time.

I like that Bryan Singer has already announced his plans/desire to make a sequel to Superman Returns. A few sites (Cinematical and Comingsoon) have early news about the follow-up. If only we didn't have to wait until 2009...

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Movie of the Month - August, 2006

July 20th, 2006

Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm SchoolRobert Carlyle (The Full Monty) heads up an all-star cast as Frank Keane, a grieving widower who's convinced he'll never know happiness again. But everything changes when he stops to help Steve Mills (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski), a stranger who's been injured in a serious car wreck. Determined to fulfill the dying man's last wish, Frank races to a dance school hoping to keep a date with Steve's long lost love -- only to find romance waiting to sweep him off his feet in this humorous, warm-hearted drama that's a must-have for any independent film collection.

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July 17th, 2006

Secondhand Lions

Rather than release a two-disc set, the makers of the Secondhand Lions DVD opted for the double-sided disc. This Easter Egg is on the backside of the DVD. Before or after you watch the movie, flip over the disc for additional special features. Highlight "On The Set with Secondhand Lions (26:06)" and move to the left to see a yellow flower icon appear on the dog's chest. Press enter/select to see a few takes of the scene where Walter (Haley Joel Osment) places a well aimed kick to Stan's groin. The different takes show the different things that Stan (Nicky Katt) says as he falls to the floor post-kick.

Superhero Studios

July 14th, 2006

When will a production studio pop up that specializes in Comic Book Hero movies? Similar to how Dreamworks and Pixar have found their niche, let someone come in while the getting is good. These movies are a graphics expert's dream come true and the effects have largely been a disappointment.

These characters are mutants and super heroes. They have special powers that can only be apparent on the big screen through special effects. People today love special effects and comic book hero films. Strike while the iron is hot. With so many spin off series being made, I cannot see the hesitancy behind this idea.

Do not tell me I am the first person to think of this. Who knows, maybe one already exists that I just do not know about.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand

July 13th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0376994/

The FDA has found a "cure" to the common "disease" shared by mutants. It is up to Magneto's Brotherhood to stop the drug from being used to eradicate the population of mutants. The drug will allegedly be used on a voluntary basis only so the X-Men would like to help keep the peace. The Brotherhood is more skeptical and anticipates it being used with malicious intent. It is war the ensues.

Well at least war was what the trailer and previews lead you to believe. My thoughts on the movie ahead of time were simple: the plot will be severely lacking, but with a mutant war I will be able to sit there in my geeky glory and try to pick out which mutants I recognize from the TV series and the old comic books. That which was delivered fell well short of that which was promised/expected.

The actual "war" scene was only cool because Wolverine and Beast went crazy. Their choreographed fight scenes were fun to watch. Beyond that, there was nothing. The "war" scene lasted only a few minutes and it consisted of Magneto and Pyro sending Juggernaut into the building and unleashing an infantry of lesser mutants against the opposition while they stood back lobbed exploding cars.

Before I go on with my analysis, I really need the answer to a question. Are they making another X-Men movie? There has been speculation in both directions. Yes, there will be a fourth installment; we're not done yet. No, the X-Men group movies are over, make way for solo stories (it was called The LAST Stand for a reason...).

If there will be no fourth movie, then I think the ending and much of the story throughout X-Men 3 was incredibly pointless. You will have to ask me separately for my more pointed spoiler complaints.

They took such care in introducing Warren Worthington A/K/A Archangel, yet he was very under-used and remained entirely excluded from the action.

There was talk about a reduced budget for X-Men 3, and yet we see so much time and money wasted on a prolonged scene where Magneto uproots half of the Golden Gate Bridge and flies it across the water... Just take a boat. Or rewrite the script to Worthington labs is on the mainland so they can walk.

Why did they get our geek hopes up with a teaser fight scene with a Sentinal...only to dash said hopes because it was just a fight simulation in the Danger Room?

The fun of the books and TV show for me is that they were basically like a Street Fighter video game where each cut scene would pit two mutants with comparable powers against each other and they would fight. The movies really try to add a real world element that takes the fun away. The creators have hundreds of mutants at their disposal and they opt against introducing so many of them. The story could write itself if someone would just do a little research into characters.

The movie was decent enough. I can say that I have seen it and participate in the angst-filled discussions going forward. That is about all I took away from X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

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Top 5 Movies: Gangster Flicks/Organized Crime Movies

July 13th, 2006

July 12th, 2006
InstinctEthan Powell: We have only one thing to give up. Our dominion. We don't own the world. We're not kings yet. Not gods. Can we give that up? Too precious, all that control? Too tempting, being a god?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

July 11th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0383574/

I was entertained. That said, there was a lot that was left to be desired from this film. I would not try to dissuade anyone from seeing this movie, but I would add the simple advisement that this falls under the sweeping generalization that the sequel is almost never as good as the original.

It always amazes me when a sequel falls short, not just of the expectations of greatness after such a good original film (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl), but of the level of the first film. I figure they should at least be able to make it as good as the first, if not better.

"Black Pearl" was so visually awe-inspiring. The moon-light effects, which should have earned the film an Oscar if not for the Lord of the Rings conspiracy, were vastly superior to the effects in "2." The effects in "2" were basically limited to Davy Jones's crew and those scenes were too dark to appreciate the level of detail. It was as if the mentality was to steal a character from Star Wars, call him Davy Jones and spend all of the time and money making him look real, which they did. It was just not enough to impress me.

What worked in "Black Pearl"?
Johnny Depp was flawless as the charismatic, smooth-talking Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow.

What was changed in "2"?
Depp was still flawless, but he had much less camera time. He did not have many, if any, chances to talk himself out of anything or others into anything. His logic, though perfect in his own eyes, is a little skewed. This leads to confusion in other characters, and laughs for the audience.

They also added too many sweeping panoramic views. Yes, you are filming the Caribbean, we know. And yes, we would all like to go there someday. It is some of the most blatant product placement I have ever seen. I just hope the Caribbean tourism authority paid a pretty penny for those scenes.

The movie was 2.5 hours long and in that time, officially, nothing happens. The story goes nowhere. There were many things built in to simply make the movie drag on and on without progressing the plot. Davy Jones grants Captain Jack 3 days to get him 100 souls in exchange for his own, why? So Jack can actually provide him with 100 souls? No, just to add a few extra scenes that are completely inconsequential to the plot, though they make the movie longer. What about the sword fight scene on the mill's water wheel? Did it look cool? Sure, it looked cool. But did it need to go for so long? No, it did not. The fight between Norrington and Will Turner has absolutely nothing to do with the storyline, yet we must endure a drawn-out fencing sequence between them.

I understand the lack of closure from the standpoint that "2" and "3" are two parts of the same movie, but I think they left a few too many loose ends. Wait, another comparison to Lord of the Rings? I think they are leaving too much for the third and final installment. There will just be too much to cover. What is the main plot in "3" going to be? Is it to help Jack? Or is it to still rid the sea of Davy Jones? And what about that annoying little British fellow? I'm sure he'll have a hand in the last movie as well...

I know I did not take it easy on the movie and you may be having a hard time believing that it is actually worth seeing, but like I said it is entertaining. Especially if you have a longer attention span than I.

Oh, did I forget to mention how absolutely amazing Keira Knightley looked? Weird. KeiraJokr. It has a nice ring to it.

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Match Point

July 6th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0416320/

Match PointMatch Point is "a winning combination of sex, mystery, brilliant writing and first-rate acting that all adds up to one of the most erotic and exhilarating movies in years." (Maxim).

Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is being torn apart by his desire for two very different women. Marrying Chloe (Emily Mortimer) will bring him a life of wealth and success, but his true passion lies with his brother-in-law's fiancée, the stunningly sensuous but unpredictable Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Pulsing with tension, Match Point rides the dangerous line between ambition and obsession to an ending as surprising as it is chilling.

I do not know exactly what I had expected the title to mean, but whatever it was, I was wrong. I think I had imagined something having to do with matches and fire. The title, I thought, was perfect for the film. It is a reference to the game of tennis where either in your favor or against you, the fate of the match potentially rests in the outcome of this one point. It could go either way. The theme from the movie that each situation, each conversation, could go either way depending on nothing more than a whim, was pulled together with those two words which combine as figurehead for the movie. I liked that a lot. And over the 2 hours and 4 minutes at which Match Point weighs in, I liked almost nothing else.

I did like the performance by Matthew Goode who played Tom Hewett. He is sort of...if Hugh Grant and Tom Cavanagh had a baby. Charming, British and yet gangly and awkward.

I was not at all impressed with Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Though as I recall, the good things I had heard from my sister-in-law may not have mentioned anything beyond his good looks. I thought his acting was forced and choppy. As the movie began I thought his acting would ruin the movie. Then I remembered that Scarlett Johansson was in it, too. (That means it would be her acting that would stand out as the low-point.) He seemed overly dramatic at times as if his talent may be more fitting for on-stage rather than on-screen. Besides, he looks and sounds a little too much like Joaquin Phoenix (think about it).

Just as she does in all of her movies, Ms. Johansson underwhelmed me yet again. Her delivery seems completely devoid of emotion and a passion for her craft. It is probably best noted from her performance in In Good Company, but it surfaced again here. I have seen the same lists as you, where she is listed near the top of the hottest and the sexiest actors. I have read the same articles as you, where she is touted as the first and only actress to define our generation with her grace and natural ability while the camera rolls. I just have not seen it for myself. To me she is best suited for awkward, angsty teen roles like the one she played in Ghost World.

I was just reading an IMDb forum spoiler discussion on the movie and someone pointed out an interesting parallel between one of the characters in the film and a book read by one of the characters. I love subtle references like this, even when, like this one, I have not read the book. Kudos to Woody Allen for that.

I wish I could give Mr. Allen more credit in my thoughts on his work. I have not seen what many consider his best films, but of the others I have seen I have not been a fan. To that point, however, some have gone so far as to call Match Point his crowning achievement. I guess I just do not understand his genius. So many people talk about what the man is able to do and it must be entirely over my head.

The synopsis provided with the DVD mentions mystery where the only real mystery was when was the movie going to finally end. It also includes a quote that refers to Match Point as one of the most erotic movies in years. The most erotic point was when Rhys-Meyers was saturating Ms. Johansson with massage oil. She's completely covered from the viewer's standpoint and looks like she needs a magazine to cure her boredom. It looked like the cover from a cheap steamy-romance novel. I say cheap because I bet Rhys-Meyers's scrawny frame doesn't tip the scales at more than 160 pounds.

Regardless of lofty promises and salesmanship on behalf of the promoters of the DVD, the movie was a disappointment. I cannot remember a time when I have had such an urge to get up and turn off a movie. And I probably would have had I not been entertaining guests. Match Point, or as I affectionately refer to it: "The Movie That Never Ends," seemed to really drag on and on.

For more specific conversation related to spoiler information, please see the forum topic on the subject.

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Top 5 Movies: Animated Disney Masterpieces

June 29th, 2006