Thursday, June 19, 2008

Even Laziness Can Be Surprising...

Been sitting on reviews I need to finally finish up...the "He Said" of Sex and the City, the long-awaited Indy review...and some well-deserved support of some truly great films (Indy and Sex not among them, sadly).

Also went to see the new and "improved" Incredible worst suspicions were confirmed on that one...but again, more on that forthcoming.

I had to just take a minute to write a few words on a really fabulous experience I just had tonight...watching a film I didn't much care for the first time I saw it, over 5 years ago. This is not a formal "video pick"...that will happen tomorrow, and the film is truly wondrous. But I just had to talk about this surprise...

In the course of a conversation I was having with my 11-year-old son about the awfulness of The Happening (he obviously is too young to see it, but was nonetheless fascinated by how I described its badness), he asked about some other films starring Mark Wahlberg. After filtering out the ones I just couldn't show a pre-teen kid (some of the very best ones, unfortunately, like Boogie Nights and Three Kings), it suddenly hit me: we could sit down and watch The Italian Job together. I remembered having lukewarm feelings about the film, but knew it would be appropriate enough and fun enough...and for some reason, I felt like revisiting it.

I don't know exactly what was up my ass when I sat it down to see The Italian Job when it first hit theaters in 2003, but it was something that really clouded my judgment. While I thought way back when that the film was an overrated trifle, one that paled in comparison both to the 1969 original and to great modern heist pictures in general, I sit here now prepared to say that I think the film is vastly underrated. It is, in fact, a near-masterpiece of the heist film genre.

Part of me can't quite say that I would bestow a four-star rating on the film, but damn if it isn't just about perfect as a slick, smart, engrossing, energizing entertainment. F. Gary Gray, a director who has made a handful of strong films and a handful of other shit, completely outdoes himself as a stylish action director. His flair and his pace are what make the film soar, and he picks the perfect pieces to fill in the gaps. The cinematography is lush, the editing is pitch-perfect, the acting (from a stellar cast, including Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Ed Norton, Mos Def, Seth Green, Jason Statham, and Donald Sutherland) is flawless, and the soundtrack makes the film bump with the sort of rollicking glee that only the best music can induce.

I honestly could not turn away from the film once--prompting K and the boys to dub me "stingy" for insisting on pausing the movie every time I had to get up to do something.

What a wonderful surprise...and the perfect way to snap me out of my blogging laziness.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

She Said: Sex and the City

Sex and the City is a mixed Louis Vuitton. I have hesitated reviewing the film version of my beloved television series until I could see it a second time. That second time happened last night, and sadly, it's still a mixed fashion accessory.

It is incredibly difficult for me to say anything negative about a film I was as anxious to see as this one. And, frankly, just seeing Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha one more time was enough to get me in the theater and enough for me to recommend this film to other SATC lovers. The exquisitely spot-on opening montage summary of the television series had fans in the screening room squealing with delight 2 minutes in, and was quite literally one of the movie's highlights. If you love the fabulous four, then you have to see this film, if just to bask in the loveliness and power that is them.

It's hard to complain when we have a film where female friendships mean more than male relationships, where aging is a beautiful sight, and where women's voices are heard. When are movies with these features ever made? Answer: They are not made. And that is one of the most compelling selling points of SATC.

However--and believe me, I am so incredible sorry to say there is a "however"--while SATC starts incredibly strong with a bewitching and dazzling first act, sinks fast and hard with a long, meandering middle act. Moreover, the very people who should see this movie the most--the die-hard fans of the television series--will or should be dissappointed by the unncessary hoops and incredibly wrong-headed decisions writer/director Michael Patrick King creates for the women who would not make said decisions. I am not for spoiling the plot, so I will just hint: there are decisions made by several characters (of both genders) which are not at all in line with their characters.

Simply put, the television series ended magnificiently, with closure that was true to each character. However, in his zeal to bring the show to the big screen, King (also an executive producer on the series) was forced to create tension, stumbling blocks, and outright untrue character "twists" in order to craft a 2-plus-hour narrative. In my mind, the end of the television series IS and will always BE the true ending. It is the most honest representation of who the women were and are. The movie was a dream, with pleasant visions and with sporadic nightmarish spots.

Further, it was disheartening to find the once female-empowering King infusing the screenplay with moments which indict the women for faults which are not theirs to own. To have four such strong characters, and to allow each of them room to breathe (like the series afforded) in a 2-plus-hour feature is a nearly impossible feat. So instead, the women are reduced to their stereotype and worse, some are implicated in the messes that the men create.

Sex and the City: The Movie also becomes more about fashion and the commodity of "stuff" then it is about the women, their relationships, and their power. Sure, as any viewer of the television series knows, fashion and the commodification of women played a monumental role. In fact, the glittery, glamorous, sexy "stuff" is probably what draws in most of the anxious moviegoers. However, in the television series, the accessories, though incredible, were just accessories, accessories which echoed who the women were or wanted to be. A bag, a label, a dress, a shoe would be introduced in order to drive the plot, a plot that the women took over. The film, however, becomes about the "things," and the women are the accessories. Some iconic fashion moments work in the film: the wordless, let-her-clothes speak for themselves; the Vogue shoot because it was an integral element to the Carrie Bradshaw character; and the splendid closet montage homaging trademark outfits of Carrie's past. I have to admit gleefully howling out loud with others at the appearance of her trademark pale pink tu-tu. Elsewhere in the movie, I found myself dumbfounded, marveling at the color of her walls, her plasma tv,  the extended fashion show, the egregious product placements instead of paying attention to the plight of the characters. That is a problem.

The television show was not perfect. First, there are issues I have which Ariel Levy so astutely points out in her marvelous book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, regarding the problem of empowering women through sexualizing and objectifying them, but that issue is seriously complicated and I will take it up soon on my other blog, The iKonoclast. But, the show was also "too white." The idea to introduce a woman of color to the film is admirable and "about time." It's always a delight to see the lovely, real womanly, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, but to an already overwrought plot, it really contributed nothing but extra baggage, even if fine-as-hell baggage.

In short, if you love the series, you have probably already high-tailed it into the theaters and have witnessed what I have said here. If you have not gotten a chance yet, it is worth seeing just to be in the women's company once again. If you have never seen episodes of Sex and the City (and a few from syndication does NOT count), then do not bother with this film. Instead, go out and rent each season of SATC immediately. Then, it will be worth it for you to rent the film, just to re-visit with old friends.

Viva Heigl!

I don't watch Grey's Anatomy. I was an outspoken critic of Knocked Up. And I found 27 Dresses to be downright insufferable at times. But I have to say that I am very impressed with Katherine Heigl's willingness to be outspoken in a Hollywood that is not only run by men who want to put women in their place, but a Hollywood that functions like a mafia of sorts. Heigl is willing to wake up with a horse head in her bed, and I, for one, love it.

She is also willing to speak honestly about the work she chooses to do, and she is willing to do it with the full knowledge that even people on the outer cusp of the industry--like critics, Hollywood gossip journalists, and even AP writers and nameless radio DJs--will sling shit at her for as long as the story stays in the public eye. 

The story as it has unfolded thus far: Heigl, last year's Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, has withdrawn her name from Emmy contention this year. 


According to Heigl, "I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention."

Well said. Why should an actress--or an actor, writer, director, or producer--accept an award or even a nomination for a work she or he is not proud of? I would have felt a gut-level disappointment had Martin Scorsese won his first best director Oscar for Gangs of New York, his weakest film, even though the film received 10 nominations in 2003. And I imagine that Marty himself wouldn't have felt right about it, after the Weinsteins effectively produced the film into something that didn't even come close to resembling Scorsese's original intentions. He then won for The Departed, a film which faced no outside interference and seemed like the film Scorsese was destined to win for. Likewise, if Heigl feels like a win or even a nomination for sub-par material is not something she feels she deserves, then why shouldn't she do something about it? Further, why shouldn't she speak out about it?

More from the actress:"In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials."

Fine. Great. Why throw her under the bus? 

Well, because the media doesn't take kindly to outspoken actors. Apparently since they have already been born with silver spoons in their mouths and because they have already been given Golden Tickets, they have no right to speak...especially if they are women.

Media backlash has followed. Heigl "turned the knife in the gullet of "Grey's" Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes," wrote Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post. "Sorry," wrote David Poland of Movie City News, a guy and a website I usually respect, "but you aren't even Kate Hudson yet, much less a diva of the proportion that you can throw Chim-Chim Cookies around like this and not seem like an arrogant mutt." And hell, at least those people write about Hollywood. Driving down the road Friday afternoon, one of the lame-brained DJs of the local radio station added his two cents, saying something to the effect of, he hates it when "actors have to open up their mouths and share their opinions." Thanks for that bon mot, Mr. About-To-Be-Replaced-By-Automation.

Of course, haters have a bit of history to fall back on. Back in December, Heigl was interviewed by Vanity Fair and said the following about Knocked Up, her first big feature film role: "It was hard for me to love [the film]." She continued by saying that Judd Apatow's film was "a little sexist," and that it "paints women as shrews, as humorless and uptight."

One could--and many have--offer that Heigl is just being a diva bitch, that she is bad-mouthing the material that made her a star. But she is telling the truth! Have you seen Knocked Up lately? It can be funny at times, and it can have its modicum of heart, but it is more than a little sexist, and certainly portrays women as humorless and uptight. In fact, much of it is downright mean. And as far as Grey's Anatomy is concerned, I cannot really add anything to the conversation, as I am not a regular viewer. But if anything TV journalists have been saying for the past several months is true, Heigl was right to say that the latest season's material was less than great. Most critics have been calling recent Grey's episodes crap for quite some time.

Look, I don't know Katherine Heigl any better than I know any of her current detractors. And as I noted before, I am not even necessarily the biggest fan of her work. But I will speak up when something strikes me as wrong, and I feel like the bashing of an outspoken actress--much less one whose claims seem pretty damn honest and accurate--is petty, unfounded, and totally unnecessary. I admire Heigl for her candor, and sincerely hope that this current flare-up doesn't set her back. She has talent and she has guts. I respect that tremendously.

The Continuing "Happening" Discussion

I have an interesting discussion going on in the Comments section about M. Night Shyamalan's "The End of My Career," AKA The Happening. So rather than continue writing my long-winded thoughts within the Comments area, I will air them here in the prime time section. All your comments are continually welcome, of course, and I will probably still pop up in there, too. But what I am writing is getting to be too unwieldy for a simple "comment." Have at it...

Loyal reader the Wizard, fkap mentioned an interesting parallel between The Happening and Hitchcock's The Birds, and wondered why he hadn't heard it mentioned in many reviews.

The Birds parallel was noted on the syndicated Ebert & Roeper show, which now actually barely comes close to resembling the show the great Roger Ebert used to appear on. Now it is Richard Roeper and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips each week...Phillips is quite good, much better than the non-critic Roeper, but anyway...

Anyway, Roeper liked the film, Phillips agreed with me, and he also brought up the similarity to Hitchcock's classic film. And yeah, I guess I could understand that, but in something like The Birds, one of Wizard's points is dead on: Hitch was right not to explain it because the concept was so beautifully, tangibly absurd that it didn't even need explaining. Now, if Shyamalan wanted to do something similar here, I might have been on board. Or on the other hand, if he wanted to make a similar-themed film to the one that now plays in theaters and explain it the way he does, I wanted to be able to feel that dread and feel that "science" a little more. Since this is bordering on revealing too much, let me do this...


...okay. The notion of humans abusing nature and nature turning against us is actually fascinating. But because M. Night is so stuck on doing the film "his way" (therefore resting on his ego, as I referenced in my review), he wants it to seem like a shock. It's not. It is about as lame a "reveal" as I've ever seen, and is handled as badly as a film can handle such a delicate plot point.

What if he actually focused on characters who were actively contributing to the planet's destruction? Instead of the mealy-mouthed Wahlberg character, who doesn't seem to learn anything in the film since he's essentially saintly, and Deschanel, whose biggest flaw is flirting with a guy, maybe this couple could have real problems, character flaws that make sense both for their relationship and the film's eco-subtext. And PLEASE, make the damn horror aspect much more interesting...increase the dread. Wind isn't scary. Audiences need (maybe not Wizard, but I think even he would be effected more by the film if...) something more tangible  at the center of the film's horror. It can be wacky and ridiculous...sort of like The Birds...but can still be eerie and tangible. When the Betty Buckley character becomes scary and suspicious, that is tangible. But when the characters are constantly running away from wind and grass and we have nothing more to get scared about other than the blowing reeds, it is just ludicrous to me. Most of the time, the only way blowing reeds aren't ludicrous is in a Terrence Malick film.

*****SPOILER END******

To the performances...Mark Wahlberg is just awful, though I usually love him. He is lost reciting words from a very mannered script, and taking direction from a guy who likes his shit done a certain way. Interesting that Shyamalan used to favor subtlety in his actors--the work in The Sixth Sense and even Unbreakable was wonderful. But, as I referred to before, when he made Signs (a film I actually really like), Shyamalan transitioned into a director of heightened oddity rather than subtle, dreadful suspense. I'm not sure what the reason for that is. Maybe since it worked as a novelty in Signs he just stuck with it. But his stubborn decision to stick to his over-the-top guns ruins the Wahlberg performance, and for me, the Zooey Deschanel performance as well. The Wizard wrote in his positive take on the film, "I simply love Zooey Deschanel and she could star in the New York Telephone Directory and I'd probably give it five stars."

I used to agree, but this material is so misconceived that Deschanel ends up looking like one of the worst actresses to star in a 2008 film. There are occasional moments when her natural quirks briefly shine through, and in those moments I was reminded that the "bad performance" was not Deschanel's fault: it was Shyamalan's. Ditto that for Wahlberg and John Leguizamo.

The conversation could go on and on with this film. And according to the film's estimated $30.8 million opening weekend, enough people saw it (way more than saw the much better Lady in the Water) to keep talking about it. So let's keep talking...

...if only EVERY one of my reviews spurred as much discussion...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Politics? On a movie blog?

Yeah, because I can.

I wasn't sure where to bring this up, so I'll just do it here:

Has everyone--all six or seven of our readers--heard about the egregious, evil sins FOX News has been comitting lately? I know, I know: "evil sins" and "FOX News" are pretty much synonomous, but even with that fully in mind, they have been ravenous and completely awful lately.

A background...
I don't watch FOX much. I force myself to watch a little here and there just because it is important to keep up with the bullshit the other side is cooking up daily...the same reason I tune into Rush Limbaugh a couple times per week. But for the most part, I can't stomach watching FOX News. I dunno why...maybe just cuz they continually peddle the antithesis of my beliefs on a daily basis and pass it off as "fair and balanced" news. Let's be clear: there is nothing about FOX News that is "news." There is nothing about FOX News that is "journalism," either. It is a right-wing smear machine, a vast conglomerate that essentially is en extension of the Bush White House and, even moreso, of the Bush-supported, Rove-created Radical Neocon Movement in general. The network is shameless beyond all reasonable comprehension. But enough of that, fun as it is...

Lately, however, I have completely missed some of FOX's worst...well, "antics" just doesn't quite say it.

Now that Hillary Clinton has bowed out of the presidential race, Barack Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee. And so, with the standard right-wing punching bag (the Clintons) out of the way, the powers-that-be over at FOX has now taken it upon themselves to throw as many cheap, dirty, outright evil blows to Obama, his campaign, and even his family as they possibly can.

Case-in-point: In an interview with right-wing diva-hack Michelle Malkin, the notorious FOX News ticker at the bottom of the screen read: "Outraged Liberals: Stop Picking on Obama's Baby Mama!"

Watch it here

Okay, so...FOX is not just's racist, too. Forget about the fact that the "clever" blurb-writers were probably taking their cue a day after seeing the film Baby Mama, which stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two very white women. Focus on the fact that the term "Baby Mama" is completely racially charged, a ghetto-slang term for "my baby's mother." Add to that the fact that FOX is using this in reference to potentially the first black president of the U.S., and, well, you have racism in action. If Hillary Clinton had won the nomination and media outlets continued to pick on Bill for his pointed commentary throughout her campaign, would FOX have run a blurb reading, "Stop picking on Hillary's Baby Daddy"?

In a word, no. They'd most assuredly peddle sexism instead, but you get the idea...ghetto slang ain't gonna be used to talk about white people.

Oh, but there's more! In the aftermath of Hillary's much-discussed reference to RFK's assassination happening in June of the primary season, FOX trotted out Liz Trotta, one of their notoriously nasty "contributors" to discuss the potential ramifications of Hillary's comments, as well as the notion that Hillary was vaguely implying that perhaps Obama would be assassinated (bullshit, but anyway...).

After going on and on about how horrible Hillary is, the contributor contributed something unconscionable, even for FOX.

In Trotta's words: "Now we have the suggestion that someone knock off Os...uh, Osama. Er, uh...Obama. Well...(giggle)...both would be good. (Laughs).

Don't believe me? Check this out.

In essence, Trotta effectively killed two birds with one stone: outright stating that Barack Obama should be assassinated, and then couching her "joke" in the construction that Hillary Clinton is responsible. Wow.

The fangs are already out. Republicans are already dutifully smearing every last shred of Barack Obama's existence...and we still have 5 months to go. Some top Democrats are saying that this time the attacks will backfire. And with shots this cheap against a candidate this strong, perhaps they will. But we've heard it all before, and it has worked before. It's a long, tough road ahead. And there's no stopping FOX or any other right-wing smear machine...they keep going and going, and we have to do our best to fight it.

Sports? On a movie blog?

Yeah, because I can.

Had to take time out to nurse the wounds the Boston Celtics have inflicted onto me vicariously through demoralizing my beloved Los Angeles Lakers by falling back on the old standby: analysis.

Phil Jackson is unquestionably a great coach. He can turn any ragtag group of street ballers into title contenders in the course of a season or two. His exit and subsequent return to the Lakers highlights his greatness: once he and Shaq left, the Lakers sort of became a ragtag group of street ballers. There was no shape or form to the team’s once great core of superstars. Kobe Bryant, without Shaquille O’Neal, was exposed as missing two key elements: leadership and maturity. But then Phil returned. and the pieces once again fell into place. Kobe slowly grew into a great standalone player, and the supporting players seemed to form a solid unit. It seemed that everything was back on track in Lakerland.

But in the aftermath of 3-1 series deficit—and even sadder, in the wake of collapsing after building a 24-point lead—I finally understand why the untouchable Phil Jackson won’t—can’t—win the title this year with this team. Phil’s greatness as a coach is dependent upon one thing: player leadership. If there isn’t one unshakable rock holding the team together on the court, then Phil can guide the team to the doorstep, but can’t quite make it across the threshold. It’s why he won 6 titles with Michael Jordan, and 3 more with Shaquille O’Neal (Kobe was the co-leader, but not the sole go-to guy). And if this Finals series has proven anything, it’s that there is no real leadership among his players. Not even Kobe, who can score 30+ every night, but still can’t match Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as a team leader.

Game 5 is Sunday night. Maybe the Lakers will pull out another win. But unless the Zen Master can turn Kobe into the leader he needs to be in less than 48 hours, one more win is just about all the Lakers have left in them.

A tear…and a hope that the Lakers can regroup and get it together for a successful title run…either in the next week, or in the next year.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"What kind of movie is this?"

The title of this post is a direct quote from a fellow innocent bystander who happened to be sitting behind us during The Happening. I don't even know what to say at this point...that quote sort of sums it up.

I find it ironic on a day when I wrote a post discussing The Incredible Hulk that K and I went to see The Happening instead. I find it triply ironic that on the day when I wrote in that Hulk post that Edward Norton was "Hollywood's Biggest Ego," that I was jarred back into reality...I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN! My apologies to Mr. Norton.

"Ego," however, doesn't even begin to describe Shyamalan. I'm not sure what the man is thinking...and I really have no clue what the hell he's smoking. 

I could have renamed the film The Catastrophe, though that would be putting it kindly. Ever since Signs was released in 2002, people have been buzzing about the arrogance and insanity of M. Night Shyamalan, and the buzz has been getting louder and louder, especially after 2004's The Village and 2006's Lady in the Water. But The Happening is something else altogether. We are witnessing the sudden, jarring, awe-inspiring suicide of Shyamalan's career. If anyone at any studio comfortably pays him money to make another film ever again, that person should be fired and that studio should be considered desperate beyond all reason. On the basis of this film, I'm not even sure M. Night even wants to work in the film business ever again. This is like his big, final "fuck you"to the industry, to critics, to audiences, and to the once commonly understood conception that he was a talented filmmaker.

I wasn't even intending to write this much, and yet I haven't even mentioned how this film turns talented, charismatic, sometimes brilliant actors like Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel into B-movie muggers who look like they've never been directed in their lives. There is just too much shit to discuss in a single, off-the-cuff post. But I just wanted to get the word out...there is a plague killing audiences all across the won't stop until your tolerance level has been forcibly lowered and your brain cells have been fried by the sheer, pointless idiocy of its plot, the total ineptitude of its writing, directing, and editing, the shrill, nauseating drone of its vile music score, and the arrogant--nay, mentally deranged--notion that all of it is somehow tense, or funny, or powerful, or campy, or shocking, or enlightening...or any combination thereof.

Make no mistake: we are witnessing history. The Happening is one of the worst films ever made.

Video Pick: I'M NOT THERE

In keeping with the Rendition review I posted for Vigilante, I am offering up what will hopefully become a weekly Video Pick post. I am starting with Todd Haynes' brilliant I'm Not There, a film I just received as a Father's Day gift, and a film that should be seen by everyone. Period. For more words on I'm Not There, check out my post on the best films of 2007...

I'm Not There is stunning, brilliant, and visionary. Todd Haynes--in far and away the best film of his career--has taken a risky high concept and transformed it into a vibrant, radiating piece of filmmaking.

I don't know a whole lot about Bob Dylan, nor is Dylan one of my favorite musicians by any stretch. But this is the definitive Dylan film of our time, and it is not one that is helped by any great knowledge of Dylan or his life. Whether you love Bob Dylan, hate him, or are indifferent, it doesn't matter. If you love FILM, then you must see I'm Not There. It is a perfect example of the ways this wonderful art form can be stretched, twisted, and turned on its ear.

Haynes' central conceit is to use six different actors to play Bob Dylan. Each tackles a different segment of Dylan's personality, and none are actually named Bob Dylan at all. In fact, Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid. If it all sounds fucked up, it is...brilliantly so.

If there has ever been an unknowable public figure, it's Bob Dylan. Haynes' stroke of brilliance is realizing that there is no definitive way to tell the story of Dylan's life, and so he makes a film in the spirit of Dylan--fragmented, brash, deliberately confusing, and fully aware that it is ten steps ahead of everyone in the screening room.

There is no way to fully understand the film's genius without experiencing it. The film makes very little sense, moves with a circular, interconnected logic that you have to work to piece together, and flows about as free as a Dylan song verse. With I'm Not There, Haynes has created and perfected a sort of 'stream of consciousness' cinema that uses pulsating energy and a rainbow of cinematic techniques to communicate what no straight narrative ever could.

Bob Dylan was and is one of the most confounding and contradictory pop culture icons of our time. No one has ever known him, and perhaps no one ever will. I'm Not There will not help anyone get to know Dylan. But it will help one *understand* the enigma a great deal more than expected.

This film is sheer brilliance of the highest order.


I have been sad and angry with myself to let business get in the way of writing a few words on the magnificent Sydney Pollack. Now yet another venerable giant has passed just over two weeks later. And while they worked in completely different forms of media, Pollack and Tim Russert were both instrumental in advancing their passion through the work they did.

Russert's doggedness as a journalist and interviewer will never be matched. Mere months ago, I was sitting in front of the TV, annoyed by the harshness of Russert's questions towards Hillary Clinton. But that was the brilliance of the man--tackling his questions was one of the toughest tasks politicians faced. Modern journalism has softened and sensationalized itself to such a degree that most of it can barely even be classified as "journalism." Russert was a breath of fresh air, a reminder of what journalism really meant.

There is not much more to say. The silence will speak much louder than any words could right now. Tim Russert will certainly be missed...and the upcoming election cycle will not quite be the same.

Hulk has arrived (again) you care?

I will be real honest...I hold a lot of affection for and loyalty to Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk.  It is not a very popular opinion to hold now, when most look back on that film as being "too cerebral" (an actual quote taken from a random Entertainment Weekly article from a year or so ago). What Lee, a very serious-minded, very artistic, very brilliant director did with his version of the now-commonplace "comic book film" was craft a story that probed deep inside the Bruce Banner character to uncover the source of his inner torment, which then translated into the rage that turned Banner into that big, green monster. It was, as EW wrote, very "cerebral," and that was a breath of fresh air when compared to the mindless, soulless, action-laden excuses for entertainment that many comic book adaptations have become. It was a serious film with complex characters and very internal themes. It was also the most interesting visual recreation of a comic book that the cinema has ever seen--Lee shot and (especially) edited the film to resemble the visual palette of comic book frames. It was a bold combination of never-before-seen visuals and very quiet, very audacious story structure that challenged the popcorn audiences in ways they obviously were not ready for. Expected to be a box-office giant, the film opened to $62 million (a very large number, though not the number many exhibitors were betting on) and then slowly chugged to a $132 million total. In comic book blockbuster land, Hulk was a huge disappointment bordering on flop (nowadays, Speed Racer would love to be considered that kind of "flop," but I digress...)

Now, five years later, comes The Incredible Hulk, directed by a guy who has not proven to have enough filmmaking skill to fill Ang Lee's pinky toe, and starring a great talent who also happens to be Hollywood's Greatest Ego, Edward Norton. The intention is obviously to ignore everything about the previous incarnation of the character and to create a new, dumbed-down, action-packed, accessible-villain type of superhero movie that audiences wanted the first time around. For me, this is one of the limpest, lamest, most shameless attempts at money-grubbing to be allowed a spot on the summer docket...and I haven't even seen it yet.

Here's my question: do we care? Have people truly forgotten the first film and expect this to be the idiotic revamp they always dreamed of? Or do most audiences, like me, think it odd to release an identical origin story and expect it to be treated as completely new and original? I tend to think the mood is very lukewarm on this one, that it will be moderately successful and nothing more. It obviously will be more accessible than Lee's film, which is a big positive on the business end and a glaring negative on the substance end. And hell, in today's top-heavy box-office climate, films can shoot for $132 million on their opening weekend, so I'm sure the makers assumed beating the original's total would be smooth sailing. They are probably right, though my assumption is that once the dust settles, The Incredible Hulk will open to around the same amount that Hulk did five years ago, give or take a few million. Its biggest challenge in trying to overcome substance with mindless action will then be legginess: can it outgross $132 million in the coming weeks, as it faces off with Get Smart, The Love Guru, WALL-E, Hancock, and The Dark Knight?

I'm sure it will, which will put another nail in the Ang Lee Hulk's coffin, even though time will certainly reveal it to be a superior film. But my prediction is that it will still fall short of blockbuster expectations simply because it will never be seen as anything more than an also-ran in the year of Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Hancock, and The Dark Knight. That will at least give Ed Norton something else to bitch about in his next battle with the studios on whatever project he next chooses to grace with his wonderful talent...a talent he is all too aware of.

Of course, that is another story for another post. In the meanwhile, I am gonna go plunk down my $10 to help this version outgross my beloved Hulk. Damn...

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Alright, here it is. Loyal reader and esteemed blogger Vigilante blew the whistle on our apparent penchant for reviewing "light, fluffy stuff." I tried at great pains to explain to a grumbling Vigil that this is the summer season, and most of the big releases tend to be big, dumb popcorn flicks. But the ever-persistent Vig would not let up, and insisted that we review something more "substantial." He offered 2007's Rendition as a for-instance.

As luck would have it, I have one such review sitting in the Cinema Squared vault, and will unveil it now.Why did it never appear on Cinema Squared? Well, it was written before the birth of Cinema Squared. But now, for Vig...for humanity...I present to you, my review of Rendition in its entirety, written a day after I viewed the film... 

Watch how the big scenes in Rendition unfold, and tell me this material isn't ripe for a truly powerful film experience. And in the hands of someone like Mike Nichols, I feel confident in saying that it would have been one of the great films of the decade.

As it stands, Gavin Hood, in his first film since the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, can only deliver a mediocre Nichols impression, juggling several intriguing story lines and dropping every ball along the way.

Critics seem to be crowing about Rendition's obvious, overbearing liberal outrage. On the contrary, it is the limp, procedural nature of the narrative that keeps the film from soaring. It is, in fact, not outraged enough. It is really a run-of-the-mill thriller with an overly-complicated structure--all concept and no execution.

There is arguably no greater ensemble on screen this year--but every well-meaning performance is done a disservice by a script that forgets its characters along the way and makes each actor appear in over their heads. Gyllenhaal only speaks about 10 words and broods the rest of the way. Streep and Arkin share a combined 5 minutes of over-the-top screen time. Witherspoon is made to look amateurish by the film's stunted dialogue. And Peter Sarsgaard, as usual, is so good that he would rise above the entire production--if his character weren't completely forgotten about half way through.

Such potential in this film--and it is completely squandered. What might have been the most complex and intriguing film of the year is actually the simplest and most transparent of 2007's many political dramas.

**My exchange with Vigilante got me thinking...does anyone else have a request? Any film you love, hate, or just simply wonder if it's worth your time and money? Let us know. We will be on call, ready to provide a few words. In the meantime, we will continue to review recent releases...both substantial and fluffy...but why limit ourselves to just the here and now? There is some beautiful stuff in cinema's past. Let us know what you want to see reviewed...we will do our best to provide those reviews. (Vig, that includes you...what else ya got??)