Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It has been a while since I have done one of these. There have been some fantastic movies in the last few years and some horrible ones. For the most part I have concurred with the assessments of "regular fans" such as Rotten Tomatoes.

This is one they have gotten wrong, however. With a current tomatometer of 20% (despite 64% audience approval rating) it is way down the list.

When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were first being drawn in black and white for a one-issue semi-joke under their self-started Mirage Studios banner, the turtles were much different than the iterations we have seen in the various movies, cartoons, and comics of more recent vintage.

In the same way Nolan turned Batman somewhat more back towards his "darker" routes, the original Turtles had a lot more darkness. Killing was not a hobby, but neither was it taboo. They were gritty, violent, and edgy.

As that single issue became a series, then expanded into the mainstream they were cartooned up to appease the parents until we had the rather odd juxtaposition of the swords of Leonardo going up against bare-handed, faceless enemies and never so much as nicking one.

By the time the second live-action Turtles movie came along, schlockmaster rapper wannabe Vanilla Ice fit right in with his goofy Ninja Rap travesty of justive (which he still defends as awesome, by the way, thus proving some people never learn).

Meanwhile, Shredder had degenerated from a true, dangerous villain into a weak parody of the incompetent Dr Claw who consistently threatened Inspector Gadget despite such demonstrated incompetence that he could not defeat the numbskull Gadget...but he could have beat Shredder without trying.

The animated TMNT (2007) went a bit darker but was still relatively harmless fare with villains who at least had some intimidation factor going for them.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) director Jonathan Liebesman (Bay PRODUCED, not directed, which people seem to miss with regularity) demonstrates a familiarity with the entirety of the Turtles history.

With the exception of one 30 second, regrettable allusion to the incredibly cheesy "rapid growth" scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2006) where it looks like one of those storyboard sequences you often see on DVD extras, the animation and cgi is pretty cool. The turtles look like they fit and belong in the world they inhabit.

The action is watchable without the herky-jerky "make a thousand jump cuts in lieu of actually choreographing fights" that more favored franchises such as Transformers, the Bourne movies, and most other action movies have gone to. Here you actually get to see them run, jump, punch, kick, block, swing and whatever else they do, thus automatically moving it up the ladder of watchability.

The storyline itself is nothing special. We have all heard the basic turtle legend of an evil Foot Clan operating in New York and the 4 Turtles under the tutelage of Splinter fighting back using their ninja skills to secretly protect the city.

This time the stakes are a bit higher as instead of stealing the Foot is trying to seize power over the city. Then again, the Foot is a bit deadlier this time, carrying automatic rifles and showing a willingness to maim and kill should it advance their cause.

Along the way we get to see Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub) go at it with Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) in a very entertaining battle sequence. Later the Turtles take turns battling Shredder in a scene reminiscent of the denouement of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2006). 

We also get to see the Turtles battle each other, salivate over pizza, demonstrate their respective personalities, references to TCRI, memorable moments from other movies, and even allusions to the catch-phrase forced on the TMNT franchise.

If you are looking for classic story-telling like A Tale of Two Cities or Pride and Prejudice, this movie is not for you. But if you want a rollicking good time with improbable action sequences, weapons that vary between stopping a turtle cold and having no impact on him, turtles that one moment are getting injured by kicks but the next moment are immune to bullets, a lot of laughs, a lot of high-octane set pieces and just a plain old good time, this movie will do that.

The plot holes in this are no worse than the ones in much more highly esteeemed Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and despite the massive villain risk of his own plan flaw, it is not as bad as the same issue in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).

The movie starts off a bit slow but in just a few minutes it turns into a highly entertaining ride with a good mix of laughs and action with a satisfying payoff. It was well worth the time.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Movie Review: Safe House

Safe House is the story of Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a low level CIA guy stuck in a nowhere job and desperately wanting to get more involved. His chance comes when notorious traitor and expert spy Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is forced to surrender to the US Embassy in South Africa to elude being killed by a large, well-trained army of henchmen.

Taken to the safe house ran by Weston for safe-keeping, Frost proves to be highly sought-after. The well-trained CIA team finds itself under a well-co-ordinated attack. During the assault Frost convinces Weston that he will be killed while Frost is kept alive so Weston elects to try to take Frost back to the embassy.

Power plays in the CIA headquarters result in him being told to stay away from the embassy until a specified time. As he wheels around the city trying to keep Frost both under arrest and safe, it becomes obvious somebody within the CIA is leaking information.

As a side note, I had the who pegged within the first 10 minutes of the film, I thought it was that obvious...though later they throw some red herrings out that might let the unwary viewer begin to suspect someone else. It is a minor quibble...writing a solid Benedict Arnold into a story like this with concealed motivations and actions is very difficult.

By the time the final showdown is reached Weston has changed his goals completely. His use of a key phrase in the movie to respond to the CIA chief in his exit interview is pitch perfect.

The things I love about this movie are multitude. The villains are solid and believable. Unlike some action-adventure movies where the villains are incompetent buffoons who would seem incapable of defeating a well armed termite, these are very are the CIA team they take out at the safe house.

This matters. All too often, in order to make the ultimate hero of the piece seem stronger their allies are imbeciles who would be defeated in a battle versus snowmen in Death Valley in July. In this case they are quite talented, put up an expert defense and are overcome, thus leading to the villains being a credible threat.

Second, the characters of Frost and Weston are done well enough to draw you in. Though entertaining movies like this one are never hailed on Oscar night, the acting in it is excellent; you do not see Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington, you actually see Weston and Frost.

Third, the camera work was mostly well done. While there were moments of jump-cuts, close ups during fights, etc., for the most part we were actually allowed to see what was happening. When you go to an action movie and actually get to SEE the action it makes it much better.

I also liked the synergy of the name Weston. I instantly tagged it as being a reference to the titular star of Burn Notice, Michael Westen (Jefferey Donovan). It lent a certain fictional credibility to the idea a guy like Weston who had spent his entire CIA career in a low-profile, action less safe house could run, drive, shoot, and miracle his way to getting the bad guy, recovering the information, and surviving.

Of course, there also must be quibbles, so in the interest of fairness, there were a couple things I did not like about the movie. First of course would be those moments when they failed to let us see the action. Fewer than in many movies, they were still there.

Second would be a rather major one; the difference between the movie as previewed and the movie as executed.

In the scene in question Weston is on the ground as a train roars by. Frost holds a gun to his head as he cringes in fear. Each time Weston spouts a line, then fires the gun right next to his head, the concussive blast then disorienting Weston. The problem is the line in the previews and the line in the movie are so different it completely changes the focus of the movie.

In the movie Frost says, "I only kill professionals." Fair enough. Good reason for letting Weston off the hook in their world.

The problem lies here; in the preview the line is, "I WANT you to take me in." The clear inference is there is some reason Frost needs to be taken into secure intelligence community quarters. It implies he fires the shot to show Weston it is for his own purpose. This is reinforced by a moment in the previews where two CIA honchos are talking and one says, "A guy like Frost doesn't just walk into an American Embassy".*

Therefore, the expectation set by the previews of Frost having some ingenious purpose for willingly and intentionally being captured by the CIA is never fulfilled; it is a false premise and unfair to those paying attention.

Third, watching Weston go from never having fired a weapon to out-shooting crack commando teams was a bit of a jolt that threatened to pull me out of the moment, though ultimately the story was fun enough to make that no big deal and, after all, we do want our heroes to be capable as well.

With that aside, it was still a very entertaining, pretty action-packed, layered bit of film-making that was worth the price of admission. Hopefully I was able to give the gist of the story without giving away any of the spoilers.

*Not a direct quote, but pretty close

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie Review: Chronicle

Lets start from the top; I am not the target audience for this movie. I am not an angst-ridden, troubled teen with parent issues, social withdrawal, and a constant need to video-document my every move.

At the same time, I truly like a good action-adventure yarn and, since I number among my favorite movies many other yarns aimed at a younger set (Despicable Me, How to Train your Dragon) I elected to see this one anyway.

The movie tells the story of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a young man who has few friends and a bad home life, and his growing interaction with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and new-found friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) as his separation grows with his parents.

When the movie begins we see Andrew having a tough home life. His mom is deathly ill and his dad is a broke, disabled former fire fighter. Meanwhile, only his cousin Matt speaks to him in any other way than bullying.

Unpopular at school, miserable at home, Andrew begins videotaping everything that happens.

Matt, trying to get him to become more personable, convinces him to go to a party where they meet Steve, popular soon-to-be class president, top athlete, smart guy and popular student. Andrew's video camera is needed, so Matt and Steve convince him to go down a hole with them where they tough a McGuffin and develop super powers.

At first they just play around with their powers, doing Jackass-like stunts, but soon their powers begin to grow.

As Andrew's home life gets worse, his friendship with Steve and Matt grows. In an attempt to help him become more popular, Steve convinces him to perform at a talent show which indeed increases his popularity...until he makes an embarrassing social gaffe at a party.

The difficult parts of his life overwhelm Andrew and, as he continues to videotape everything, his life spirals out of control. People begin dying and ultimately Matt and Andrew have a confrontation; can Andrew find friendship with his cousin or will the pressures on his young life lead to ultimate separation from family, friends and life itself?

Ultimately it is Matt who must make a fateful decision; can Andrew be allowed to continue to spiral out of control or, if not, can he be stopped by any means short of death?

The movie uses its platform to preach on several issues. Among these are the growing publicity as video blogs, you tube, and so forth make more and more portions of previously private life public and bullying.

This is a tragic tale of a young man who runs into too many pressures and ultimately documents his downward spiral and rejection of those who try to keep him away from it.

From a technical standpoint, the movie made a choice to shift back and forth between steady cameras and the shaky, cannot really track what is going on "real feel" made popular by The Blair Witch Project".

I understand why they did it. There are parts of the movie where it works. But there are parts of the movie where it does not. Allegory for public violence done to inner turmoil or not, action scenes should not be shot that way. It turns what might be a well-choreographed bit of entertainment into a cringe inducing, "what just happened?" bit of nonsense.

Ultimately, this story fell short. The focus changed too bizarrely, the resolution was unsatisfying, and the action not enough to make up for the various weaknesses. It has a few cheap laughs, a few pathetic moments, and an overall dreary feel that takes it out of the realm of entertainment without really doing a good job of addressing the potential issues.

Save your coin, watch it on Red Box...or not at all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Movie Review: UnKnown

Recently I was offered a free ticket to a pre-screening of Unknown (2011). being a known movie buff to the point it is almost degenerate, I snapped at the opportunity.

I like Liam Neeson. Despite some horrific choices like Clash of the Titans (2010), he more regularly turns in fun, entertaining stuff like the ridiculous A-Team (2010), Taken (2008), and so forth.
So I was excited to see this one. He proved capable of an action role in Taken so at least had some credibility.

The movie starts a bit slowly with the arrival in Berlin of Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth Harris (January Jones). They get separated at the hotel when he realizes his briefcase is still in the taxi.
He hails another taxi to retrieve the briefcase, gets into an accident that creates gaps in his memory, and then the movie really begins.
When he remembers he is supposed to be at a conference and shows up, he encounters various problems. Having lost his wallet in the accident and having his passport in the lost briefcase, he cannot prove who he is.

The situation is exacerbated when his wife turns out to be married to someone else and both of them claim to have no idea who he is. A professor at the conference who invited him has never met him in person.
He begins to doubt who he is until, during an MRI, someone attempts to assassinate him.

The mystery of who he is and why his wife claims not to know him gets deeper as assassins begin seeking to kill him. Who is Martin Harris and why does nobody know who he is?
The movie moves along at a stiff pace, revealing bits and pieces and keeping you intrigued right up until the end. All the clues to the mystery are there if you know what to look for, though of course the real motives of a few key players are only revealed in hindsight.

There are a couple turns that you may or may not see coming, but it is a great ride getting there.
Along the way there are some fun performances, including the delightful Herr Ernst J├╝rgen (Bruno Ganz).
There is a major quibble with this movie, however. Director Jaume Collet-Serra fell prey to the idea that the best way to present action scenes is numerous tight cuts that make it impossible to tell what is happening.

You can tell someone hit someone, but not who did the hitting and who the grunting in pain. Cars appear from nowhere, there is no point of reference in chase scenes, and thus the action in an action movie is replaced by blank stares at other patrons and wondering who is winning the fight and how.
This is a trend that needs to stop. A chase scene where you cannot tell if the pursuer is 2" or 2 miles behind is a horrible scene. Stop it. Just...stop.
That aside, it is an enjoyable journey getting to the pleasing finale. This movie probably would be good to re-watch once knowing the ending to see all the little hints, but would probably lose its charm after that as the very things that make it entertaining would then be gone.

The slow reveal of why people do not know Smith is the story and very enjoyable at that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Modern Themes: The Redemptive narrative in the 21st Millennium

From time to time, movie critics will look back at certain movie genres and extrapolate great movements in the volksgeist of the time demonstrated by that particular genre.

One example would be how the science fiction B movies of the 1950s and 1960s have sometimes been viewed as parables for fears of Nuclear War and/or "the other".

It is in this tradition that I would look at a recent trend to be found in movies as disparate as Inception (2010) and Despicable Me (2010).

First we should preface this with a certain belief that has overtaken much of modern society. The United States has engaged in a series of behaviors that many people oft referred to as "left-leaning" believe to range from immoral to illegal.

These things range from the rejection of populist causes such as the Kyoto Accords to the invasions and/or continued occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The U.S. is oft viewed in this light as somewhat of a rogue nation, a modern Rome throwing its weight around and forcing other nations to accept wrongs forced upon them because they do not have the might to resist.

As the last surviving "super power" and sometimes considered imperialist nation, the United States then must assume the role of villain and, as they are a super power, they must therefore be super villains.

Yet juxtaposed with this must be the vestiges of national pride and patriotism, they almost ingrained belief that "we", the citizens of the United States, are still somehow better than the mysterious "they"...those people not of the United States.

That includes the movers and shakers in Hollywood who are oft believed to be extremely far left-leaning.

Thus we have the recipe for their political views to inform the subtext of many movies.

At times it is overt, explicit, and preachy. One example would be the environmental aspect of Wall-E (2008), a movie so explicit about the damage people are inflicting on the environment it actually experienced a minor backlash. At times the message replaced the story.

Another less obnoxious example would be the more recent Avatar (2009) where the sought-after pointless rock is actually named "Unobtainium" and the references to Native American beliefs regarding the sanctity and mystical God-like powers and knowledge of the earth are the entire underpinning of the movie.

Other times, that message is more subtle. In Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006) the results of environmental devastation are shown without allusion to how they came to be...until the Noah's Ark reference. The message that environmental disaster is looming is there, though not nearly as explicit.

Many people do not see or notice these themes, and I would expressly state this; there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Movies, to get their message across, must first entertain. If the experience is not enjoyable, the message will not get passed.

But that does not invalidate the indisputable fact that while much of the audience neither looks for nor notices the message, the filmmakers themselves are very much trying to impart their message throughout their work.

Which brings us to the central point of this piece. There is a theme that is becoming more and more prevalent in movies today which attempts to resolve the inherent tension between believing in your own superiority while behaving as a super villain.

Let's start with an explicit example. In Despicable Me Gru (Steve Carrell) is not simply a super villain, he is the greatest super villain in the world. He takes great pride in his dastardly deeds and is unrepentant about it.

Compare that with the view of the United States as rogue nation. The invasion of Iraq is believed by some to have been an illegal act perpetrated through a web of deception, forgery, and other acts that reek of almost cartoonish super-villainy.

The invasion was very public, done with tremendous fanfare and pride in the accomplishments, an attitude that lingers on through expressions of approval recently released in the press in regard to the interrogation methods which are widely believed to also be illegal...the acts of a villainous nation proud of its villainy.

Gru finds, however, that when he attempts to further his nefarious plot through adopting three girls, his evil suddenly loses its point. Instead, he seeks to protect and defend the girls, even at risk of his life.

In the end, the super villain finds redemption and rejoins society as a bit of a hero, completely redeemed by noble self-sacrifice and by taking on the role of parent and protector.

Compare that to the platform that brought President Barack Obama whose campaign slogans included "Change We Can Believe In".

Indeed, that was the belief of many who voted for him, that he would withdraw US forces from the Middle East, enforce the cessation of Guantanamo Bay type prisons and interrogation techniques, bring the US fully in line with the provisions of the Kyoto Accords and so forth.

He would move the US from super powered villainous nation to heroic fount of purity and justice. In short, he would be a return to the uniquely American narrative of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way". the United States would exemplify the crystal pure motives of the Lone Ranger and once more be a beacon of greatness, a verifiable super hero of how the world should be.

Just as Gru found redemption, so would the United States. Or vice versa.

Of course, the narrative of villain finding redemption is hardly new. In Aladdin (1992), Aladdin (Scott Weinger) is a "street rat:, a thief who survives through theft. It is notable in two things, however; first, unlike more recent villains such as Gru, Megamind of Megamind, and other examples we will look at, he was forced into his villainous ways by circumstances, not choice.

Gru is proudly, stridently villainous, as is Megamind, who even has as his best friend the aptly named Minion (David Cross).

The common thread to both movies is they are villains who end up reformed and set about to make restitution for their formerly nefarious ways, giving up the ways of villainy.

Nor is the theme found only in "children's fare" such as these two animated features.

Let us briefly look at Inception (2010). Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCapricio) is a thief, and proud to be one. It is his expertise in illegal intrusion, theft of corporate secrets, and potential to do even more that brings the job to him that will ultimately be the focus of the movie.

Yet as we go deeper into his dream world, we learn he has committed a crime so heinous it cost him that he loved most and may yet cost him his very sanity. In the end he finds his redemption, once again through self-sacrifice, a sacrifice so enduring it turns someone who violates every sense of rightness or decency, who crosses every social boundary, into a sympathetic character.

If Cobb's invasion of other people's minds, that most sacred place that designates what separates one person from another, is not heinous enough, he also corrupts the formerly innocent Ariadne (Ellen Page), lies to people who trust him, withholds key information, and risks all their lives unnecessarily.

Yet by the end of the movie, this super villain is redeemed.

The thing that separates Cobb, Megamind, and Gru from redeemed super villains like Spiderman 2 (2004)'s Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), who finds redemption in death, is they are the centerpiece of the movie.

Each movie is about their journey from super villain to super hero. The same could particularly be said for the first Shrek (2001) with a slight but noticeable difference. Shrek (Mike Myers) is again proud of his villainous ways. Yet by the end, the redemptive love for Fiona (Cameron Diaz) makes him heroic, albeit with an edge and the twist that she turns to the APPEARANCE of villainy in being an Ogre.

Certainly Shrek fits other narratives, most obviously that of "the others" being acceptable despite their differences, but the thread of villain finding redemption he did not even know he sought is nevertheless there and, in fact, finds itself expressed in Shrek Forever After (2010).

The reason Shrek is willing to sign the deal with Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn) is because he wants to his days of "being an Ogre", of proudly, loudly and often engaging in anti-social, villainous behavior and, in fact, we are treated to several scenes of him doing just that.

The tension between his past as a super villain and present as super hero even works its way into the movie in the "Do the roar" scene where he strives to keep his villainous side in check and, when it finally evidences itself, is rewarded with treatment as a hero.

These are noticeable and important changes. The traditional story arc has had the HERO find unsought for redemption. Take for example The Searchers (1956) where the iconic Western hero Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) does not seem to need redemption, yet by the end of the movie both his need for and redemption have been evidenced.

Edwards is everything a hero should be. He is strong, more capable than the average man, with knowledge of how to get things done. Yet his blinding hatred for "the other" leads him into wasting his life in a long, fruitless chase to rescue someone who neither wants nor needs rescuing and, along the way, costs him years of his life, family, and friends.

When he ultimately finds redemption, the cost has been high but the narrative is complete. The hero inadvertently became a villain and returned to his heroic ways only when redemption was accomplished.

So why the switch in narrative? More and more often we have movies where traditional heroes are eschewed in favor of stories of those who traditionally have been the villains but now are the hero of the story?

The examples are numerous and wide ranging. The Harry Potter franchise often blurs the line, making you wonder if characters such as Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) are good or evil...and, in fact, he sometimes hops back and forth across that line.

In the Twilight tales, much as in the Underworld series, we have traditional baddies in the form of Vampires and Werewolves taking the roles of heroes. Igor (2008) is an assistant trying to move up to head evil, only to turn into a hero.

Which brings us back to that same question; why the switch in narrative?

For many people, the years of the George W. Bush administrations were years in which the United States took on the role of super villain. We became the evil empire, the locus of all evil in the modern world.

Yet that is not who we wish to be. It does not fit the American myth, the narrative of being the fount of justice and righteousness in the world today. We need to believe that we can come back from the precipice, that we can move from nation of super villainy to nation of super hero.

But part of that process is believing it is possible So long as the Berlin Wall existed, it was not possible to view even a diminished, borderline impotent, obviously rotted and decayed Soviet Union as anything other than THE villain in the world. Only when the story of that symbol of evil being destroyed was accomplished could we view them as potential friends and cautious allies.

Thus a narrative needs to be created that it is possible for super villains to find redemption, face no repercussions for past actions (let us not forget Megamind avoids his last 88 life sentences once he becomes the protector of Metro City), and become the leaders in the world today.

It can be argued that certain elements responsible for bringing Hollywood entertainment to the screen see a need to create that narrative so the United States can take that same journey. The means to that is seen as being the election of Obama and the actions anticipated to come from that.

Thus the time is here to call for the changes that are desired. Much as the Gangster movies of the 1930s were sometimes seen as a call for social change, just as the screwball comedies of the same and succeeding time period were a challenge to wealth differentiations and elitism, the modern super villain as hero narrative is presenting a hope for where our country can go.

Great social movements, for good or ill, oft are predated by pop culture. It might be Upton Sinclair's The Jungle or the calls for prison reform of Dickens and Dostoevsky, or something else, but there are always references.

In past centuries print was the primary means of communicating calls for change. In the modern era there are other avenues. Protest songs were a hallmark of the 1960s. Movies engaging in social critiques have been a major mover almost since the first reel was rolled.

It remains to be seen how this one plays out, but the theme of the villain finding redemption and becoming a hero will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Other movies to take into account (and I stress this is a brief, very incomplete list) where the villain is a centerpiece to the movie and is a hero by the end of the movie or series;
Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wolverine
Area 51
Iron Man, Tony Stark
Jonah Hex
Ninja Assassin
Fast and the Furious
the Bourne franchise

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Movie Review: Megamind

It is not a big secret that I am a fan of both animated movies and super hero movies. Combine them, a la The Incredibles (2004) and I am up for it.

Also not a secret is my tendency to root for the likable villain...and key in on the likable. Syndrome (Jason Lee) in The Incredibles, absolutely. Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Batman and Robin (1997)...not so much.

Of course, with the advent of the Shrek franchise, the "twist" of starring the villain has really taken off with mixed results. The first, second and fourth Shreks were pretty good...Shrek the Third closely resembles its name if you simply drop the "h" sound from the title.

Happily N'evr After (2007) was so abominably bad I should ban it ever being mentioned on this website again on pain of being forced to watch it three weeks straight.

Of more recent vintage, Despicable Me (2010) was very good.

But with that background, I anxiously awaited the release of Megamind wherein Megamind (Will Ferrell) tires of his villainous battles with the heroic Superman clone Metro Man (Brad Pitt) and tries to become a hero.

Brief outline; Megamind and Metro Man have battled so often their battles have become predictable cliches, the outcome known to both of them.

When Megamind inadvertently discovers Metro man's secret weakness and defeats him, he is able to run amok in the city with the help of his faithful Minion (David Cross) and his Brainbots.

Success is not all it is cracked up to be, however, so he sets out to create a new enemy to face. But the new enemy foils his plans by turning into a villain. Can Megamind mend his ways, defeat the new villain, and get the girl?

So synopsis out of the way, lets get to the good and bad of this movie.

First, the good. There are some great moments of humor, the action is entertaining, the dialogue pretty good too. They take some well-aimed potshots at trite, predictable Super hero conventions but do it in such a light-hearted, entertaining manner that it does not feel pretentious.

They also take a tired old story line, punch it up and let you enjoy the tale of redemption embarked on by the titular hero of the piece.

Now the bad. There is not much. I was entertained from beginning to end. The extended flashback felt like it fit, as each piece fell into place it made sense, and the resolution was creative, entertaining and satisfying. So the bad part would be...I wish this was out on DVD now so I could watch it again.

If you enjoy light-hearted animated romps with a delightful sense of humor, go see this movie.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: Jonah Hex

I have been preparing to hate this movie for a long time. See, while it was in development, they reputedly completely dumped the "real" Jonah Hex in favor of a story involving voodoo, zombies, and mass quantities of supernatural oddity.

Let me back up.

Sometime in the early 80's, I was at a friends' house and saw this magnificent cover.
He was done reading it so he gave it to me and I about wore that thing out with numerous re-readings of it.

Here was a magnificent anti-hero. To this day I can quote the tag line, He Was a Hero to Some, a Villain to Others, and Wherever He Rode People Spoke His Name in Whispers. He Had No Friends, This Jonah Hex, But He Did Have Two Companions: One Was Death itself...the Other, The Acrid Smell of Gunsmoke...

As an avowed Western and comedy lover, here was the guy I loved to read about. Fast with his gun and his mouth, he toured the West shooting up mass quantities of people (467 by the count of this Hex-a-holic...and if you have read many of his comics, that seems low for 101 issues..."ONLY" 4.67 kills for hex per issue? Seems low...)

And while he was racking up the body count, he was keeping a running commentary in his head replete with wise-cracks, one liners, and testosterone dismissals of the most trying circumstances. I had read other comics before...but this was the first one I truly loved.

I scrimped, saved, collected bottles and cans to purchase the next issue. When he was thrown into the future for the ill-starred Hex series, I was devastated....until it proved to be actually pretty entertaining, though having just a short run (18 issues) before being canceled.

Later, I went on a buying spree and purchased about 70% of the entire run of Jonah Hex. He became an old friend, and one I very much wanted to see brought to the big screen...just not in some ridiculous zombie-battle.*

So when the trailers showed him "resurrecting" a bad guy, blowing out "spirit smoke" from his mouth and them referring repeatedly to his supernatural powers, yet also demonstrating the penchant for violent gun-based retribution and snarky one-liners, I was in a quandary.
Do I go see a movie bound to disappoint me and thus encourage crap....or do I pass up on seeing some version, any version, of one of my all-time favorite fictional characters on the big screen?

I had a free movie ticket and a desire to avoid traffic, to the theatre I went.

The movie starts in classic fashion...Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) dragging multiple bodies behind his horse, on his way to collect a reward. He is a fine bounty hunter.

Soon the situation degenerates into another shoot out, this one a bit more atypical of the classic Hex comic but that is is a forgivable nod to the brainless summer blockbuster action-blow-em-up adventure genre.

It also showed somewhat of the different direction director Jimmy Hayward was going to take it. Hex does some pointless, over-the-top destruction that even for the calloused Hex is exceptionally violent.

There are two reviews of this movie. First, the lover of classic Hex.

I am burned that they took Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) from the debonair, refined, politician behind the scenes mysterious enemy and moved him clearly into the cheesy villain with decent plans but too ready to do his own dirty work and thus be eliminated reminiscent of the Joker (Heath Ledger) in the Dark Knight movie.

Gone were the deep, rich characterizations that would take dozens of issues to bring to enemy who spanned every issue from Weird Western Tales #22 and he was still a major force when the aforementioned issue 77.

Also gone were Jonah's troubled childhood with an alcoholic father and prostitute mother, his adoption in and expulsion from the Apache tribe...and how he got his star.

Still there were his ability to out shoot, out think, out-skulk, and out-track anybody while popping off sarcastic and witty one-liners.

Added were a malicious streak...such as his gunning down of a guy for asking how he got his scar and his blowing up of the town where he had already killed 8/10ths of the population.

Also added were his supernatural powers and apparent inability to be killed by gunfire.

There were also some nice nods to classic Hex the callback to the half-wolf Iron Jaws that was with Hex for a few issues, Turnbull carrying an eagle-top cane, the appearance of an Indian Wife recalling White Fawn, and even the pit-fighting.

It made for a Hex that was interesting and intriguing but just barely lacking.

Now for the movie review from the guy who wanted to see Hex on the big screen and was willing to compromise.

This is not a movie for those who want hole-less plots, who want to think, or who want reality.

But if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and watch an adrenaline fueled duel of wills between the bad guy (Jonah Hex) and the worse guy (Turnbull) duke it out, you have come to the right place.

Burke (Michael Fassbender) is an outstanding villain. He is fearless, intelligent, and a worthy foe for Hex.

Lilah Tallulah Black (Megan Fox) is exactly the type of girl that a man like Hex would be expected to associate with.

And the story proceeds along at a good clip with some metaphysical meanderings taking place along the way. It is a good, entertaining, quick-moving yarn that sticks to what it is good at....high-octane action interspersed with build-ups to the next high-octane set piece with occasional pseudo-dramatic moments...will Turnbull and his men blow up Washington? Or will Hex stop them in time?
In the end, it is a basic revenge for revenge tale that is pretty entertaining along the way.
Hayward shows a good eye for the camera, with some nice framing and interesting point of view shots. He can also show the panorama when necessary.

Other than Malkovich, the acting is pretty solid. You are seldom pulled out of the movie and reminded these are not real people, they are actors playing created people.
Unfortunately, this is not true with Malkovich. He tries to be smooth but comes off cheesy and over acting. He is like a serious version of Jim Carrey...and that is not meant to be a compliment.
Brolin, on the other hand, brings a nice presence to the Hex role and there are some great supporting actors such as Will Arnett in a serious roll as Lieutenant Grass and Tom Wopat as Slocum.
Ultimately, I enjoyed myself enough that a movie I was prepared to hate I walked away from having had a good time.

* It is only fair to note that under the Vertigo banner, Hex DID in fact engage in stories of this nature. And, in this writer's humble yet accurate opinion...they sucked so bad I have not read his new series, either.

The Weasel is (strongly) satisfied.