Sunday, June 29, 2008


When it comes to Super Hero movies I don't need much in the way of a plot. Throw in the barest thread to keep me interested...Lex Luthor trying to create new real estate, the Green Goblin seeking revenge, the Joker robbing a bank...let's face it, the storylines are pedestrian at best but we don't care because the action is HUGE and, more It is a release from the every day.

When we talk about Hellboy (2004), those elements come into play. The basic plot is simple: Nazis trying to touch the occult summon a demon who is raised by the good guys and turns good himself. He fights various "things that go bump in the night" because he is equipped to handle them. Eventually, however, the people guiding the Nazis will return to bring forth the Apocalypse at which time Hellboy (Ron Perlman) will have to choose; is he a man or a demon?

Along the way we get some pretty cool fight scenes such as the slaying of 6 guards by Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Ladislav Beren), some sort of undead surgically created/maintained creature with no verbal skills but lots of combat abilities. He has a bizarre fascination with long bladed knives. It would seem "Hitler's top assassin" would have more lethal weapons...but then again, that would not have been nearly as cool, would it?

But of course there is the subplot surrounding the relationship of Hellboy with Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). It is obvious the two of them
It is obvious the two of them share a past together. Her firestarting abilities would be troubling for most people but for Hellboy...well, a running gag is "fire doesn't hurt me!"
He has a mighty stone fist and a gun that has a seemingly endlessly array of bullets. He seems to enjoy combat and wants to do it alone. This leads to some highly entertaining scenes as he battles the resurrecting and replicating Sammael (Brian Steele) across 2 continents. And that is the most satisfying thing about the movie...the combat scenes are entertaining. They are not much more than mindless hack and slash...but in a Super Hero movie, mindless hack & slash can work very well.

He inquires of Abe Sapien (Doug Jones...who sounds a LOT like David Hyde Pierce whom you remember as Niles Crane on Frasier) on how to slay Sammael. Later Abe is injured and taken out of the equation...but I suspect he will have a larger role in the upcoming sequel.
The plot has a fairly standard ending but the journey to get there is just so much fun that you don't really care. It delivered what I, at least, want from a Super Hero movie; lots of fun, a lot of over the top combat and a satisfying conclusion.

The Bee Movie

The Bee Movie (2007) was the "next big thing" for Jerry Seinfeld after his classic television series. As a result it is possible expectations were a bit unreasonable. When I first saw it I was not overly impressed. However, circumstances developed in such a way that I saw it again.

Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) is a student come hippie bee who, in the middle of his strenuous 9 day school career, took a day off to walk around the hive and discover himself.

His best friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) is a more typical bee. He is excited about the possibility of spending his life working on the Krelman, a device in which he puts a large finger on his head to catch drips of honey before they fall to the ground and are wasted. He never really "gets' the "perverse" desire of Barry to see the outside world, to think about his choices in life, to talk to humans, to sue them for stealing the honey from the bees...he just wants to go to work every day and do the best job he can on the Krelman.

It does prove possible for Barry to get out of the hive. In what starts as a joke he is allowed to join the mighty "pollen jocks".
The pollen jocks are usually the only bees allowed outside the hive...and bees like Barry are a primary reason why.

Here he is flying with the pollen jocks...before he gets stuck to a tennis ball and launched into the atmosphere.

Separated from the other bees, he makes a bizarre cross city flight

It ends when he gets plastered on the windshield of a fast moving truck.

There he encounters Mooseblood (Chris Rock) in one of the all-time wastes of vocal talent. Chris Rock is a great voice talent and his voice is very recognizable.

This is about the only time we see him, though, other than a throw-away gag at the end about being a lawyer because "I was already a bloodsucker. All I needed was a briefcase."

The villain of the piece is Layton T. Montgomery, the lawyer for the honey corporations. He is a parody of people who believe humans are more important than animals and they do not have equality. One can only assume Seinfeld and his co-writers are major PETA sponsors for how they present Montgomery during the trial. It still strikes me as a cheap swipe at Williams Jenning Bryan, the (ironically) Democrat "home spun" Great Commoner who prosecuted the case against John Scopes at the famous "Monkey Trial" with the obvious difference that Bryan won the case in court but lost in the court of public opinion whereas Montgomery loses in court...and the result, much like the Monkey Trial, is a disaster.

The sub-story has to do with the pseudo-

The other storyline has to do with the pseudo-romance of Barry and Vanessa Bloome (Rene Zellwegger), a human who first talks to Barry, later helps him file the lawsuit, and eventually helps land the plane in the grand finale after they steal the last float just in time to re pollinate the flowers and save the world.

The movie is working on a variety of levels. It is making a social statement about the relative values of human and bee lives (though not other animals...when Vanessa kills a mosquito during Barry's dream they find it hilarious and a bear helping them win the case is nothing but a captive prop they critique for its habits), about people who use the resources available in the world and so forth. However, it ends up contradicting itself and as a result the message is pretty garbled.

Fortunately, along the way there are a lot of great jokes, both verbal and visual and the story resolves in the classic happy ending we all expect. And on further review...I liked it a lot better the second time. Worth seeing and, past the might even start thinking about a few things.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Get Smart

I loved the old '60s show Get Smart. It was funny without being pandering, had slapstick without being over the top stupid, had incompetence that was still somehow believable within the internal world...furthermore, according to Peter Wright, former assistant director of MI6, in his autobiography Spycatcher: The Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, 1987, it also gave MI6 ideas for some spy gadgets!
So when I heard the opening lines in the trailer, "Since time began there has been a struggle between Kaos and Control" I had plans to see the movie. As I saw more trailers I got less excited as it seemed to have gotten less and less of the series right. is Get Smart (2008) and missing it would be letting Kaos win. We can't have that.
The opening was classic in that the entrance followed the old series in form and feel. As Maxwell Smart (Steve Carrell) passed through
a series of modernized doors that closed in a variety of ways, he then approached a telephone booth to match the old entrance. As he entered, he passed a museum of Control items...all of which belonged to the Maxwell Smart played by Don Adams. This was a very nice touch and a nod to people who were seeing the movie because of Don Adams as opposed to some of the younger audience who might be drawn to the movie by Steve Carrell...or, truth be told, that certain percentage who might be drawn to the theatre not so much for nostalgia but rather to check out the new Agent 99, Anne Hathaway. As you can tell, she is not hard on the eyes...

"Agent 99" of course was one of the long-running jokes in the classic tv series as somehow, nobody ever realized someone who went by the name Agent 99 might be a spy.

As the movie develops it turns out the modern day Maxwell Smart is a frustrated field agent...despite having excellent field agent scores he is denied the promotion because he is such a good analyst. His competence in that field is all but irreplaceable. Meanwhile, rock star Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as 'the Rock') is out in the field kicking butt along with numerous other agents.

When virtually all Control agents are compromised Smart is finally promoted and given to Agent 99 as her partner, a move that frustrates her. The story moves along with Smart alternately committing incompetent bits of mayhem and brilliant bits of espionage. Along the way there are a hilarious dance off, numerous callbacks to the old show with lines like, "Missed it by....that much" and a great sequence where he tries to convince the Kaos agents they are surrounded by anything from an army regiment on down to his close-out line, "Would you believe Chuck Norris and a BB Gun?", an obvious reference to the ongoing cultural meme about Chuck Norris Facts.

Perhaps the best reference is his use of

the shoe phone. He had already done that earlier in the movie but after being arrested as a double agent, he made his escape. As part of his escape he stole the items from the Don Adams museum, including the old shoe phone. It was a very funny bit.
The story is surprisingly good. Though unquestionably it is primarily a Steve Carrell vehicle (a thankful choice after rumors that Jim Carrey had been tabbed back in '98...he would have wrecked it with horrific overacting and exaggerated facial expressions and vocal tics), it still brings us a nice story with a couple nice twists, though nothing too surprising, and there are numerous great jokes. The Kaos plot is bizarre and involved enough yet with silly enough elements to remind us of what made Get Smart great. The Cone of Silence makes and appearance, there are great action sequences, and at the end of the day we all walked out laughing and smiling.
I went in with low expectations and came out loving it. They nailed it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia:Prince Caspian

Growing up I absolutely loved the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The sequels, however, never really appealed to me. I don't think I was ever even able to finish Prince Caspian...and I have read some real garbage. I fought my way through the entire The Circle of Light series under the faint hope it would, at some point, have a payoff. I was wrong, it sucked beginning to end.
Anyhow, when The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) was released I was very excited. That excitement faded an hour into the movie as the realization crept over me; I HATED this movie. It lacked the charm and touch of the book.
As a result when Prince Caspian (2008) rolled into theatres...I didn't. I heard a lot of people who loved it and a few who hated it but it never captured my attention. Amazing what happens when you have a free movie ticket in your pocket that doesn't apply to new releases and have sat in traffic for an hour without accomplishing anything. So off to the Lloyd Cinema I went.

Unlike Lion, Caspian starts out pretty quickly with some action sequences. When a baby boy is born to Lord Protector Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), he orders Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) executed. However, Doctor Cornelius (Vincent Grass) comes to the rescue. In the ensuing chase Caspian encounters Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) and Trufflehunter the badger.
They save him from the pursuing minions though they argue about what to do; wants to kill Caspian but Trufflehunter wants to help him. Nikabrik (Warwick Davis), the soon to be fallen dwarf, wants to kill him but Trufflehunter wants to help him. Meanwhile, the stereotypical dour, cynical dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage)

is captured by Miraz's men. Using him as a tool, Miraz goes to start a war with Narnians to commit genocide on them and legitimize his own ascension to the throne. The Pevensie children rescue him and we start to get into the real meat of the movie. Each Pevensie child reveals character flaws.
For High King Peter the Magnificent (William Moseley)
the issue was his self-centeredness and unwillingness to listen to others. His headstrong ways will get numerous members of Narnia slain and lead to great strife between he and Prince Caspian until at last he learns others have valuable advice to administer.
For Susan (Anna Popplewell)
it is her sense of not belonging. She is never comfortable with having contact with other people and does not know what she wants. Her lesson is to gain self-confidence.
Edmund (Skandar Keynes)

is deemed to have learned his lessons in the first movie. Finally, it is left to young Lucy (Georgie Henley) to learn the lesson that if she believes, she must not let others stop her from "coming to Aslan".

Along the way they meet denizens of Narnia, some of whom are there to fill body count roles and some of whom need to learn their own lessons such as Reepicheep (Eddie Izzard)

Reepicheep needs to learn that he does not need to counteract his size with an outside sense of honor.

Unlike the Lion, the battle scenes in Caspian are quite impressive and enjoyable. The story is actually pretty solid with a few surprises. The primary problem it has is...well, frankly, the movie is derivative.

Example: In the climactic battle the river comes into play in a way that had me screaming Fellowship of the Rings: a giant figure forms in the foam of the river and wipes out the bad guys. Griffins carry heroes in ways that were a call back to Return of the King. There was more...but that gives you a rough idea.

There was also, in the interest of full disclosure, a very heavy dose of religious commentary for those alert to it. Peter has come to rely on himself instead of Aslan (a very clear Jesus character). Susan doesn't want to see him (Him?) because she was hesitant to come back to Narnia and does not want to give him credence. Lucy wants him to act as she wants instead of how he sees best and does not go to him because nobody else is going to him. Trumpkin does not believe in him so can not see him. To those not well versed in religious lore it quite possibly passed right over their heads...or perhaps not. I would be interested to hear thoughts on that.

Overall, it was well paced, had interesting and engaging story lines, was well-filmed with gorgeous scenery, and I am disappointed I waited so long to see it.

Hulk (2003)

The first attempt at Hulk (2003) was anything but a smashing success. With the release of The Incredible Hulk (2008) it was playing on the Sci-Fi channel so I elected to watch it.

Roundly panned as too slow-paced, this movie was only improved by the frequent commercial interruptions. How anyone stomached sitting through this in the theatre is beyond me. Director Ang Lee is very technically proficient...and he got so lost in showing that fact the movie suffered for it.

Regular use is made of sophisticated editing techniques...picture within picture within picture within picture, for example. His framing is excellent, his use of pans and tilts unquestionably solid.

He also makes a point of using wipes and fades. His hand is felt in virtually every second of the film. In no instance was he willing to allow a good story to get in the way of his editing thrills. This distracts horribly from what would have been a pretty good story.

The Hulk himself is horribly CGId. It looks cheesy and like what it is...a highly technical bit of green screen action. He does not fit with the otherwise gorgeous visuals.

The story would actually be very solid and enjoyable if not for one humongous flaw. It is full of characters drawn into conflict with each other because they each have their own private motivations. Some of the conflicts are shallow, some run pretty deep.

However, this is a Superhero movie. When most people go to a big budget Super Hero movie they are expecting action...fights, violence, etc., not scene after scene after scene after scene of characters struggling with internal issues.

Hulk had the wrong characters to carry that story. There should have been more scenes of him pounding on the villain his dad David Banner (Nick Nolte) or fighting the Gamma Dogs...though that battle got old as there are only so many times the battle can be over only to have yet one more surprise attack...that was kind of lame.

The fight scenes other than the one with the Gamma Dogs were pretty disappointing as well. This was not the movie that should have been made. After waiting this long to see it, I can only say...I did not wait long enough.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

It was not critics that kept me away from Hulk (2003) was normal people who saw it and hated it. There are not many super hero movies I have missed...counting that one, I believe the number is 2, the other being the finale of the X-Men trilogy. Conversely, I had been hearing great things about The Incredible Hulk (2008) which allegedly ignored the first debacle and was a complete reset. So off I went to check it out.

It is a bit disappointing in that it is not, in fact, a reset. The movie assumes the viewer is familiar with the origins of the Hulk and has flashbacks that are incomplete and hard to distinguish where they are from or why they are important...or what happened in them. We only know they give Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) nightmares and haunt his existence.

The Hulk has ever been a tortured soul...a man who draws conflict to himself, cannot control his anger, and then goes about smashing things. This movie is no different as Banner runs into conflicts at work, has problems containing his anger, and, in a call back to the old television show, the army shows up.

Now, if I were a social critic I would take this moment to comment on the inherent critique on US Military arrogance. Their little mission to capture Banner compromises Portugal's boundaries, apparently without clearance from the appropriate authorities. This is an act of war according to every accepted convention. Whether it is "black ops" or not it is a violation of sovereign space and something that should be done 2 ways: with great care and never.

Furthermore, the equally arrogant comment by General Ross (William Hurt) when he says, "As far as I'm concerned, that man's entire body is US Army property" adds to the idea that the U.S., under the current administration, does what it wants and abrogates to itself dominion over people, places and things that do not belong. It could be construed as a sharp social commentary by those paying attention, particularly since this was produced by Marvel Comics.

Marvel has long been a passive advocate for some aspects of social justice. The entire X-Men franchise is largely predicated on treatment of those who are "different", what has come to be defined as "the Other", as just one example. The Hulk franchise was never any different. So were these just for the purpose of the movie or were they a comment on U.S. interaction with Hugo and the Middle East?

Anyhow, Banner ends up turning into the Hulk, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) gets jealous of his power, and the wheels are set in motion. Ross retries the experiments that turned Banner into the Hulk and Blonsky gets stronger and faster.

When Banner tries to recover key files from Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), the army catches up to him. There is a spectacular Hulk versus Army battle on the grounds of the college, at the end of which Hulk rescues Betty. Betty and Bruce go on the lam while the Army chases them.

Everyone converges in New York. Bruce meets up with Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who may or may not be able to cure Bruce. They try some experiments, but as they do the Army catches up and captures Bruce and Betty.

After everyone leaves, Blonsky forces the rather willing Sterns to inject him with Banner's blood.
He becomes the Abomination, a Hulk-like villain who apparently is always in beast form. During the post-transformation, Sterns gets some of the blood in himself which leaves him with a maniacal smile the last time we see him, setting up an obvious sequel. They end up having an awesome Superhero/Supervillain battle through the streets of New York. Minor spoiler here: Hulk wins. Ironically, this is the least favorite part of the movie for the Hollywood writer subculture as evidenced by their complaints about Iron Man (2008); yes, obviously CGI. Your point? If I want to see deep character studies, I will go watch those movies. In a Superhero movie I want to see stuff that is NOT realistic; throwing forklifts is fine with me whether it is CGI or not. That is the best part of a Superhero movie.

I hate to say it, but there were large segments of this movie where I was...wait for it...bored. I am not as enamored of Norton's acting as many of my contemporaries are. Furthermore, the frequent angst of Marvel characters does not resonate well with me. Conversely, the action sequences were very fun to watch and I liked how the movie was put together overall. It would not be first on my list to see again but I might watch it.

The best moment in the movie was perhaps unintentional, however. We had, at that point, seen the Hulk withstand thousands of 9mm bullets, a machine gun, a .50 cal from a helicopter, 2 sonic cannons, and even have an exploding helicopter bounce over him, all without even a drop of blood. Then he bumps his head in a cave and it causes him great pain. Hilarious. Nonsensical, but a great moment nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Today, I am shamed. Last year I averaged a movie a week in the theatres and this year that number is up a little bit. On top of that, I see another 1 -3 movies a week. Lets say then I average 3 movies a week. I got a late start in life but did lots of catching up so I may have averaged that over the course of my life. So if I have averaged 3 movies a week for my life, next month would make 5,928 movies I have seen. Not bad.

Not 28,000 about your basic couch potato!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

When I saw the first preview for Kung Fu Panda (2008) I about laughed my a double money sign off. It was awesome. It showed the various forms of Kung Fu:Tiger, Monkey, Viper, Mantis, and...Panda? As it showed the first it showed animals of the mentioned names performing high-speed, intricate moves except Panda...who was sitting in a corner eating cookies. I was hooked. I love animation, I love kung-fu cheese movies, and combining the 2? I am so there!

Now, I know I am not the target audience for these...I am a thirty-something, not a kid. But money is as good as theirs, right? So off to the theatre we went.

The opening sequence was a bit disappointing...I was expecting some fun animation, not this sharp-angled 2 dimensional impressionist crap. I mean, I figured it for a flashback...but still, not what I wanted. A disappointed frown creasing my face, I plunged my hand deep into the popcorn just in time to figure was a dream sequence. And after a minute or two it plunged into the animation we had seen in the previews...smooth, fun, easy on the eyes.

Po (Jack Black) is a heavy-set panda who works in a noodle shop with his dad...a gander. Yes, the obvious joke comes into play later when his dad tells him, "Po, there is something I should have told you a long time ago" at a moment of self-doubt in which Po has just said something along the lines of, "Sometimes I wonder if I am really your son". Fortunately, the "Your adopted" setup is not ended with that predictable gag and the ensuing joke is at the heart of the movie.

Po knows everything about Kung Fu having studied the history of lieu of actually performing any of it. He is so out of shape that when his heroes, the Furious Five, are to give a demonstration and the Dragon Warrior is to be chosen, he takes so long climbing the stairs that he is shut out. Numerous comedic attempts to enter the arena follow.

Naturally, through a series of flukes he is "accidentally" chosen the Dragon Warrior. Furious that none of his prize students were selected, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) attempts to drive Po to quit instead of teaching him. Po is too awestruck (and stupid, truth be told) to quit. Finally Shifu is convinced his need to control is an illusion and he decides to figure out how to train Po to be the Dragon Warrior.

In the training sequence that ensues there are numerous jokes. It actually managed something shocking. As a general rule, I HATE the training sequences in all the martial arts/boxing type movies. Yes, I recognize the iconic moment when Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) masters the steps in Philadelphia or when Jean Claude Van Damme does the splits or when Ralph Macchio does the Crane on the log over the ocean...doesn't mean I enjoy the sequences to get to that point. Kung Fu Panda is an exception to that rule. Very enjoyable (and unique) training...

And of course the epic final battle with the villainous (?) Snow Leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) is quite enjoyable. As these movies must, it has a happy ending.

Kung Fu Panda is not going to dazzle you with brilliant dialogue or a deep, engaging story-line. It is a basic, ABC story that is quite predictable. It is also very entertaining. The characters are likable, the story engaging even if you have seen it before dozens of times, which you probably have. That is okay. This movie is meant to entertain and just plain be fun...and it does that very, very well.

The Goose loved the way I walked out smiling. This is a movie that, once the initial dream sequence ended, fulfilled every expectation I had and entertained me beginning to end, providing numerous laughs and very satisfying action scenes.