Monday, July 14, 2008

Hey, Scaredy Cats--Give The Happening a Break!

I finally saw The Happening over the weekend and it left me wondering: What is all the bitching about? Could it be, gods forbid, that Phil Gramm is right? (Okay, I just slapped myself for that one.)

Seriously, I thought it was a good movie. It’s not a GREAT movie, but it’s good. It’s suitably intense and horrifying. SPOILER ALERT! I’m about to give away the whole movie, so do not read any further unless you REALLY want to know! If you still want to see the movie, I can recommend it with a clear artistic conscience. Just don’t read any further.

I’ve heard people all over the place saying with mock horror things like: “Ooooo . . . it’s the scary plants!” or “Oh my god, the grass is attacking! Run for your life!” Come on, people. No one had a problem with the man-eating vines in The Ruins. There is certainly cinematic historical precedent for plants that kill: When I was a kid, Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) scared the fungus out of me and my little bro! 1963 was clearly a landmark year for killer plants—it also gave us Day of the Triffids, which I still hear people talk about. And how many versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are there? Off the top of my head, I can count four! And when that tree crashed through the window and grabbed up Carol Anne's brother in Poltergeist, don't tell me you didn't scream like a little girl. So, WHY do so many people have a problem with these killer plants? Personally, I think these folks are in denial.

Mushroom people and pods from outer space just aren’t that believable, now, are they? But an ecological event of the type shown in the movie? That’s believable. It or something very similar really could happen. Life forms on this planet do adapt; they evolve in response to their survival instinct, survival being a key word there. Considering how abusive we have been and still are to the planet and its other inhabitants, we probably should be scared. To slightly alter some consumer manipulation from the distant past: “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature!”

Believable stuff is just plain scarier than the unbelievable. Hence the need for mockery. It’s hiding the real fear.

Armchair critics everywhere (except me) are also complaining about Mark Wahlberg’s performance. I thought his performance was more than acceptable. I think the problem is that we’re all used to seeing our Markie Mark as a tough guy, a cool guy, but in this film he’s, dare I say it, a science nerd. The public has apparently typecast Wahlberg and won’t be happy unless he’s shooting someone or blowing up something or doing something with his shirt off. Come on, let the guy stretch a little! He’s probably capable of so much more.

I do have to admit, though, that Zooey Deschanel’s performance was a little on the weird side. I mean more weird than usual.

Anyway, M. Night Shyamalan, I still love you, dude! Don’t mind all the whiners out there. They’re really just scaredy-cats.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Incredible Hulk Is Too Good to Deserve My Immediate Digression

Superhero movies seem to be attracting a higher caliber of actors these days, and my life is all the better for it! First we had Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, and then we had Edward Norton as The Incredible Hulk. And of course, we can’t forget the upcoming Dark Knight which stars Christian Bale as Batman and the late, great Heath Ledger as the Joker in what I’m hearing is an Oscar-worthy performance. Oscars for comic book villains? Cool.

Don’t get me wrong, Christopher Reeve as Superman stole my young collegiate heart at the time and made me want to be Lois Lane. When several people told me I looked like Lois Lane from the Superman movies, I was thrilled. At least until years later when poor Margot Kidder was found wandering, toothless and crazy and dirty, in the shrubbery of Southern California. That was kind of a buzz kill. But I still watch that series of films with a bittersweet thumping of the heart (the second movie was the best—we got a little Superman/Lois Lane action). The other actors who did turns as Batman—Micheal Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer—are all definitely on my personal A list. And those Batman movies started raising the bar on the level of superhero actors, so that we now have the likes of Downey and Norton, two of the best at their craft. I love America.

Well, this was supposed to be a review of The Incredible Hulk, so I guess I’m just a little unfocused today. Kind of like every other day. Anyway, let’s get to it. Just as Iron Man is an exceptional movie for its genre, The Incredible Hulk is likewise a cut above. I have nothing against Eric Bana and I enjoyed the last Hulk film, but this one is just so much better. With Norton and William Hurt and Liv Tyler and Tim Roth, it has an impressive line-up of talent, but it’s also well-written with a plot that is much easier for the audience to connect to. I felt much closer personally to the characters in this Hulk than in the last one. (In fact, on some days at work, I actually feel like I’m becoming the Hulk!) The movie is well-paced and has a nice mix of explosive action and characters connecting. I really enjoyed it. Go see it.

I just hope Ed Norton’s rumored tiff with the fledgling Marvel studio over the final cut of the movie doesn’t keep him from reprising his role in a sequel. I guess that's one of the dangers of having a higher caliber of actors. What’s the male equivalent of “Diva”?

Monday, July 7, 2008

John Hancock and Independence Day

No, not him. I'm talking about the other John Hancock, the one played by Will Smith (who is also of Independence Day fame for that matter).

Hancock ended up being the number one movie for the July 4th weekend which isn't surprising because who doesn't love Will Smith? He's Mr. Everyman. So I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. Apparently I'm in the minority, though, along with most of the REAL critics (the ones who get paid). Five of us went to the movie on the 4th, and four of us walked out loving it. I was the odd man (woman) out.

SPOILER ALERT--I may talk about the big "twist" in the movie and give other things away in the rest of this post.

I loved the way the movie started out. What a great concept--a miserable, alcoholic, rage-filled, amnesiac superhero who doesn't appear to like anyone! And the feeling is mutual--he's almost universally despised. Then along comes professional PR guy Ray Embrey (great performance by Jason Bateman) and gets stuck on a railroad track with a train speeding his way. Hancock rescues Ray, but rather than just lifting Ray and his car off the tracks, Hancock manages to smash up the train's engine and cause a massive derailment. The bystanders react with loud and earnest contempt. In fact, Hancock is so destructive in his heroic endeavors that a warrant is eventually issued for his arrest. In the meantime, Ray has convinced John Hancock to let Ray give him a PR makeover.

So far, so good. The movie flows well, it makes sense, and Smith and Bateman give endearing performances. Ray's wife, played by Charlize Theron, is a bit off-putting toward Hancock, but that's not surprising given his reputation. But then everything changes. The big "surprise" of the movie comes and, yes, it is startling. But the movie loses all cohesion at this point and starts to make less sense out of what was already working well. It kind of makes you want to ask the producers, writers, director, etc.: if it wasn't broke, why did you (try to) fix it?

The entire tone of the movie changes, and it seems to be a totally different story after the big twist. What appear to be attempts to explain who, what, and why Hancock is actually only confuse. Potential explanations are baffling and at times contradictory. We're never told who he is; we only get a vague answer that starts with talk of gods and angels but quickly degenerates into "who knows?" His purpose is even more indiscernable. Is he here to search out his opposite, who happens to be his soulmate/partner, whose presence will turn him human, so that then "they" will go after him to kill him? We're never told who "they" are either, and if his purpose is to become human, then why didn't his creator just make him human in the first place? Or is he here for the usual superhero objectives of saving mankind and teaching people to be better people? Both purposes are suggested at different times in the movie. I still have no clue what the answers to any of the questions are, and I'm usually damn good at figuring out the surprise twists in movies before they happen--movies like The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Village, etc. If I remember correctly, I think I even figured out the truth about Luke's dad before it was revealed. The Usual Suspects got me, though. I love it when one gets me. But I digress (how unusual, huh).

The post-surprise portion of the movie left me dissatisfied and disappointed. I wanted more of the first half of the movie. But in someone's defense, the other four people who went to the movie with me LOVED the twist and LOVED the movie, and apparently most of the viewing public who saw the movie over the weekend LOVED it. I'm clearly in the minority.

Oh, well, I didn't like The English Patient, either, and I think Gone with the Wind is absolutely dreadful. Come on with it; I can take it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday Tiny TV Tidbits

How many Rescue Me fans are out there? I love this show. I love Denis Leary. He and his creative baby Rescue Me are both so politically incorrect that I titter at the thought. Irreverance is my middle name (but I spell it M-a-r-i-e), which makes this show and me kindred spirits. Since last year's painful Hollywood writers' strike pushed the new season of the show all the way out to spring of 2009, Sony Pictures or FX or Dreamworks or someone is throwing fans a bone in the meantime. Starting two Tuesdays ago, FX is airing 10 original, stand-alone "minisodes" (not my word, by the way--I do have some literary dignity left) every Tuesday night at 10 Eastern/9 Central. The first two 5-minute episodes have been great fun and have provided a small fix for fans in withdrawal, but I feel like I'm being toyed with by the dope man. I need more and he's not giving it up. C'mon, C'mon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Robert Downey, Jr. Gets Hard, Kim Catrall Doesn’t Get Laid, and Other News from the Movies

Okay, so it’s been awhile; I’ve seen lots of movies, and you’ve already seen them all, too. Movie reviews aren’t all that much in demand a month or two after movies open. But, then again, I’m not really writing to help people make decisions about movies anyway, am I? Nope. I’m writing for purely narcissistic motives, to show how clever I am, and charming and funny and talented, and did I mention grandiose?

Sorry I’ve been away—life overwhelmed me. It does that from time to time—even to clever, charming, funny and talented people. Even the grandiose. But enough about me . . .

To catch everyone up on some of the theatrical (and one non-theatrical) offerings of the blockbuster season so far, I’ll give you a few little, bitty reviews—let’s call them quickies.

Ironman rocks, and Robert Downey, Jr. is just plain hot.

Nim’s Island is a great movie for little girls (both inner and outer), and Gerard Butler is just plain hot.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers exactly what you’d expect—lots of fun and implausible action sequences, and Harrison Ford is just plain not that hot anymore. Shia LaBeouf is working on it, though.

The Strangers is an unsettling but successful exercise in sustained tension, so if you like riding the edge of your seat, this movie is for you. I’ve seen Scott Speedman hotter.

Uncounted is a fascinating and frightening documentary by David Earnhardt about voting improprieties which focuses mostly but not exclusively on the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The movie is not in theatrical release, but is available at It’s definitely worth getting and watching. You can watch the movie trailer and get more information at the website. It attempts to be nonpartisan, but I don’t. George Bush is oh-so-definitely NOT hot. In fact, I’m not entirely sure he’s even human.

Sex and the City is surprisingly good and true to the feel of the HBO series, although watching Kim Catrall getting chunkier and not getting laid was an unexpected shocker. And, while certainly adorable, Mr. Big aka Chris Noth, has always fallen into the tepid range for me. McDonald’s coffee he ain’t.

And speaking of Sex and the City, I give the TV series the credit or perhaps I should say the responsibility for the obsession with designer purses and shoes in this country. Not that I’m above it, because I’m not. I would probably be willing to go to quite embarrassing lengths to snag a pair of Manolos. And my friends refuse to help me move ever again unless I agree to get rid of some of my many, many shoes. HOWEVER, when I was sitting in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s at lunch today, and I watched a young woman no more than 17 or 18 years old get out of a first degree klunker of a car and put on her McDonald’s employee shirt over her top as she trudged into the restaurant to go to work dropping fries or maybe squirting secret sauce, all while she carried a large Louis Vitton purse on her arm, I just had to ask myself: do we maybe have our priorities all screwed up in this country?


See you next time! I promise to be more diligent in my postings!