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Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (***1/2)

November 21, 2005

Another year at Hogwarts and a one hundred million dollar opening weekend. They've got the magic, all right. Everyone involved with the Harry Potter movie franchise deserves every penny and much more. In no particular order, here’s everything I liked, a few things I disliked, and most everything that crossed my mind as I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 

I look forward to every visit to the Harry Potter cinematic universe. It’s such a richly realized world, so textured, interesting and inviting. With each movie, everything gets richer and deeper. This is the rarest of movie franchises where things just get better and more involving with each chapter. It’s a joy to spend time at Hogwarts every year or so.

I’m glad the filmmakers chose not to omit the opening scene of the book (and now of the movie) where the old caretaker of the Riddle house discovers and is murdered by Voldemort and his giant snake. It’s probably the most frightening and interesting of any of the opening scenes of the Harry Potter novels and was the first big moment that opened up the greater Harry Potter universe outside of Hogwarts, the Burrow, the Dursleys and Diagon Alley.

The Quidditch World Cup was an awesome spectacle. The Quidditch arena as a concave dish dug miles deep underground is fantastic production design. It’s as amazing to look at as anything George Lucas’s people designed for Star Wars, in some ways even better since it's believably a magical part of our world.

The Death Eaters’ hoods and robes maybe not so accidentally invoke the Ku Klux Klan as they marched into the screaming hordes of Wizards. Ah, it warmed my Slytherin heart to see the followers of Lord Voldemort assembled once more. Er, I mean, those Death Eaters were horrible, weren't they?

Nothing against Michael Gambon’s fine work as Dumbledore, but I miss Richard Harris.

After four years together, the equivalent in time of a high school career, you can see the young actors have all bonded from the shared experience of bringing Harry Potter to cinematic life. All of them have been there since the first movie, from the three main kids to the actors who play their supporting classmates and their chemistry and ease with each other is evident. It adds to the realism that they are indeed students at a boarding school. They’re the longest running class of students in movies. I hope all of them, including the actors who play Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, and all of the Weasleys, stick around for the completion of the entire saga.

All of the romantic and sexual tension is great. It’s probably even more interesting than all the magic and dragons and Voldemort. Like any high school, there are a number of attractive young people at Hogwarts and they’re all discovering attractions to each other. It’s really about time. As Cowboy Bill Watts used to say in the old UWF, “Let’s hook ‘em up!” One thing that occurred to me though is that Hogwarts must be the most inconvenient place imaginable for two teenagers who wanted to steal away and have sex. Every room has sentient portraits and there are always ghosts or other beings fiddling about. Where can two young, horny Wizards get some privacy in that castle?

Fred and George Weasley are the two unsung heroes of the Harry Potter series. They’re terrific supporting characters who need more attention than they get. I always enjoy all the scenes with the Weasley twins, both in the books and in the movies. As troublemakers, they create mayhem and chaos in a world already brimming with it. They’re a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see them to declare war on Delores Umbridge and quit Hogwarts in a blaze of glory in the next movie.

Ginny Weasley is also coming along nicely. She isn’t as prominent as she will be in the next two movies, but the filmmakers found ways to put her in scenes and give her some bits of business. She ought to be very interesting to watch in the coming movies, as she’s the only major young female character to rival and compliment Hermione.

Cho Chang was always a favorite of mine from the books but it sure is jarring to hear a thick Scottish accent coming out of a pretty Asian girl’s mouth.

I always thought Fleur Delacour was more ethereral, and by that I mean hotter. That goes for all the female French witches. I liked the gratuitous ass shot of the Beauxbaton girls arriving at the Hogwarts assembly hall and only the Hogwarts boys applauding them.

Loved the way Hermione said, “It’s not going to wo-ork!” when George and Fred Weasley tried to trick the Goblet of Fire into accepting their names. Cute. I think the actors need to play with the dialogue a bit more like Emma Watson did there, find different nuances and ways to interpret their characters.

The Triwizard Tournament was fantastically realized and executed. The Potter films have long needed an injection of action and visceral thrills. Harry’s headlong battle with the dragon and with the mer-people (which was a visual delight – there’s your Aquaman movie) were amazing, amazing sequences. However, and this was a weakness of the book as well, after the dragons and the mer-people, the evil hedge maze as the third challenge was a bit of a letdown that failed to up the ante.

Harry and Ron fighting with each other was long overdue. I liked Harry calling Ron a git and Ron telling Harry to piss off. Again, it’s realistic for even two best friends to have at it now and then. The movie did not really explore the source of Ron’s anger with Harry, his secret jealousy of him that came bubbling to the surface when Harry was entered in the Triwizard Tournament, but the two best friends going at each other was interesting while it lasted. I also liked Hermione’s exasperation at how Ron and Harry eventually made peace.

The entire extended sequence leading up to and through the Yule Ball was worth the price of admission by itself. Halfway in the movie all thoughts of magic and the Triwizard Tournament and Voldemort stop so that the kids could face something truly terrifying: asking each other to a dance. Here’s stuff everyone can relate to. Everything was priceless, from Harry and Ron stressing over not having dates, Harry ignoring the Patel girls constantly right there trying to get his attention, Harry finally bucking up, and asking Cho Chang, and getting shot down, and the ball itself, with everyone’s reactions to Hermione being Viktor Krum’s date. This sequence was the equivalent of Prisoner of Azkaban’s time-traveling third act and was a breath of comedic and teen soap operatic fresh air to the Harry Potter movies. All of the stuff where the kids acted like kids in love or with crushes was gold.

Harry and Ron being such total assholes to the Patel girls at the Yule Ball is funny because it’s true. At fourteen, when you’ve got a crush you can’t be with, that’s really all you think about and you disregard whomever you happen to be with.

Hermione angrily ordering Ron and Harry to go to bed after the Yule Ball and Harry’s reaction to her were hilarious. I like how Harry just rolls her eyes at Hermione sometimes, but he also knows deep down that she’s probably his greatest ally of his friends when it comes to all the people trying to kill him.

I like Harry more in the movies than in the books. He seems smarter and more heroic in the movies, not as stubborn and dumb as he’s written sometimes. Harry is more of a superhero in Goblet of Fire than in any other, especially when he chooses to save both Ron and Fleur Delacour’s sister from the mer-people. And his sucking it up and turning to face Voldemort in a duel at the end, then beating him and bringing back Cedric’s body to Hogwarts was bad ass. I believe in the movie Harry Potter more than I do the Harry in the books.

Some scenes in Goblet of Fire fell flat or ended poorly. Some transitions were awkward and the entire movie did not quite flow together as Prisoner of Azkaban did.

However, there’s still so much good stuff in this movie. If it’s a notch below Azkaban, that still makes Goblet the second best so far, a remarkable achievement for the fourth film of a franchise.

Mad-Eye Moody was a bit of a disappointment. I envisioned the character in the book as more frightening and dangerous, not nearly as comical as he was portrayed in the film. Some of that was the makeup and his googly eye getting laughs that may have been intended but weren’t beneficial. His drinking polyjuice potion from his flask was a runner that made him seem like a goofy drunk, but when if you think about it, a teacher constantly drinking on the job should be seen as dangerous.

Needs more Severus Snape. He had one of the best comedy scenes in slapping Harry and Ron’s heads in study hall, but it wasn’t nearly enough business for the most interesting of Harry’s teachers.
Ralph Fiennes played a good, scary Voldemort. He was still recognizable under the snake’s head makeup and was generally the villain we were expecting to meet after four movies. While Fiennes spoke all his dialogue in a sinister whisper with a snake’s lisp, I did think maybe digitally enhancing his voice somehow might have made him more menacing. He came dangerously close to a Darth Vader “Nooooooo!” when Harry escaped his clutches.

Whenever Cedric Diggory was on the screen, I kept hearing Dr. Zoidberg in my head: “Such a man he is!” Diggory’s father wailing in anguish over his son’s dead body was heartbreaking and haunting.

While the visual ending of the Bulgarian ship submerging in the black lake and the French carriage soaring in the air was beautiful, Goblet kind of limped to a finish. It certainly lacked the exhilaration of Azkaban’s ending, with Harry’s closing line “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.” The final exchange between Ron, Hermione, and Harry about writing letters over the summer was clumsy, when the last lines should probably have been Hermione asking, “Everything’s going to change now isn’t it?” and Harry responding, “Yes.” I did like how Daniel Radcliffe said “Yes,” without an ounce of trepidation, understanding full well what lies ahead for him. This Harry is much more heroic than in the books.

Emma Watson feels differently, but I couldn’t be happier there are no house elves in the movie, sorry.

I can’t wait to see Delores Umbridge take over Hogwarts and Harry lead the D.A. against her. How long until the next movie? Too damn long.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pride and Prejudice (***1/2)

November 13, 2005
I’m gonna put this is the most macho, manly way possible: I thought Pride and Prejudice was really good. At about 135 minutes, the movie is a bit overlong and the pace flagged as the movie zeroed in on its second hour, but it’s pretty fucking romantic at the end. I see a lot of movies that want to be romantic or claim to be romantic but have no idea that they aren’t. Pride and Prejudice is romantic. There are three scenes that were total knockouts: Early on when Keira Knightley had her first dance with Darcy, when Darcy and Keira argued in the rain, and a fantastic scene where Keira was in Darcy’s house looking at his marble statues at there wasn’t a single piece of artwork in that room more beautiful than she is. Three great scenes, no bad scenes, and Keira Knightley = really good movie in my book.  I’ve never read Jane Austen and I never will, so it took me a little while to understand who everyone was, why Mrs. Bennett was so eager for her daughters to get married; how to women in that time period, marrying for money and security was more important than marrying for love and it was assumed love would follow when money and security were found. What won me over was Keira Knightley’s performance as Elizabeth Bennett. Everything about her was dreamy; her beauty, her intelligence, her wit. She’s just fucking gorgeous. With today’s abundance of hot actresses in movies and TV, it’s very easy to fall in lust with whoever the piece of ass of the moment is, but you don’t come across too many mergers of actor, character and performance that just captures your heart like Keira did mine.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Into the Blue (**)


Into the Blue is the Aquaman movie that will never be made. The season-long running gag in Entourage involves James Cameron directing Adrian Grenier as Aquaman, but if there’s one thing Into the Blue made clear, it’s that Paul Walker is the best man for the role. Not only does the blonde-haired, blue eyed, and chiseled Walker look the part, he practically portrayed Aquaman; he could hold his breath underwater practically indefinitely and found himself fighting drug dealers and salvage pirates 60 feet below sea level. Walker even had finny friends; the sharks in the movie don’t attack Paul Walker, but they will attack Walker’s enemies when he needs them to. Jessica Alba also makes a much better Aquagirl than Mandy Moore would. Director John Stockwell has made two of the better pop movies in the last five years dealing with young female characters, crazy/beautiful and Blue Crush, the latter being a well-crafted and underrated pop movie about female surfers. Into the Blue is comparatively a disappointment, with a bad script that dived headlong into the waters of absurdity without an oxygen tank. Acting-wise, Scott Caan and Ashley Scott were smarmy and terrible, mostly terrible. Walker was exactly what he always is. The best performance of the leads came from Jessica Alba, with a big assist coming from her bikinis. No, seriously, this is probably the smoothest and most balanced performance Alba has given in any of the movies she’s done to date. When the question of whether Jessica Alba can act is raised, I'll defend that I watched her grow into the role of Max Guevara and she did some layered and subtle work on her two seasons on Dark Angel. I'm not saying Alba turned into Meryl Streep by any means, but she was better here than she has been in her last few movies. Compared to her performances in Honey, Sin City, and Fantastic Four, Into the Blue is her cinematic coming out party.

MirrorMask (****)

 October 9, 2005
One of the best movies of the year. A lovingly-crafted, sumptuously-designed work of staggering imagination, centered around the tale of a 15 year old girl entering her own dream world, learning about the darkness within herself, and choosing which path her life will lead. MirrorMask is adapted by Neil Gaiman, writer, and Dave McKean, director and artist, from their graphic novel, which I haven’t read. I was rather surprised after I saw it and loved it that the reviews were more than a little unkind. My feeling on the matter is if you enjoyed Gaiman’s The Sandman, which McKean did all the covers for, then you have a leg up on everyone else for seeing MirrorMask for the joy that it is. MirrorMask shares much of The Sandman’s sensibilities when it comes to visuals and storytelling. Furthermore, when compared to similar movies involving all-CGI environments like Sin City and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, MirrorMask is superior. Sin City may be “cooler” with its gigantic cast and its hip director, but the main difference is I cared a hell of a lot more about MirrorMask’s main character Helena (Stephanie Leonidas in a dreamy performance) than I did about anyone in Sin City. MirrorMask is a touching and haunting jaunt into the magical dream world of a whip-smart, conflicted, but bright and charming girl. It reaffirms the importance of family, the thrill of imagination, and redemptive qualities of the goodness in a person’s heart. MirrorMask has its slow sections and its flaws, quirks, and eccentricities but it’s honest and true. A great dream movie.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Great Raid (**1/2)

August 16, 2005
Rallying the Peeps
Directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction, Rounders, Joy Ride), The Great Raid is about the combined US/Filipino effort to liberate 500 American POWs from Japanese forces in the Phillippines in 1945. It's based on an actual historical event. It's shot in the Philippines and uses local Filipino actors. Given my family’s history - my late grandfather, Col. Andres P. Orquiola, was a decorated WWII veteran and founder of the Philippine Air Force - I felt compelled to see it and have spread the word to the other members of my family.
The title is a little misleading; the raid may be great, but The Great Raid not a great movie. Its first half drags quite a bit, splintered into three subplots involving a fictional American POW (Joseph Fiennes in a rare performance where I didn’t want him dead on sight), a real-life crusading nurse (Connie Nielsen) working with the Filipino underground against the Japanese, and the real-life Army Rangers (Benjamin Bratt, James Franco) who plotted and lead the raid to liberate the American POWs. It’s a long slog until the raid actually begins, then the movie gets good. Good, but not great.
The stuff that really stood out to me, besides the history of it, is that the Filipino actors totally blew the American and British actors away. They were far more charismatic and interesting, it’s kind of a shame the movie didn’t focus on them instead of the American characters. The Great Raid is not a "Hollywoodized" depiction of World War II and for once, it was nice to see a WWII movie that isn't about Europe, Hitler, Nazis or the Jews. If all you know about World War II is what you learned from Senor Spielbergo’s movies, it's as if there wasn't a Pacific theatre of World War II at all.
Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the Japanese occupied the Philippines, General Douglas McArthur was forced to retreat to Australia (my grandfather was part of his entourage and escorted McArthur during the retreat) and a Filipino underground resistance comprised of both military and civilians rose up to oppose the Japanese. I thought it was a cool change of pace to see a WWII movie about the Pacific theatre in general and about Filipinos specfically for once. (I think the last major Hollywood release dealing with the Pacific theatre of World War II was Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.) The Great Raid gives full credit to the Filipinos for their role in the raid the movie depicts and in fighting the Japanese during the war.
Something that amused me is that the Filipinos in the movie speak tagalog throughout, and sometimes they translate into English and other times they use subtitles. The funny part is that the subtitles at best overly simplified or at worst wrong. Like a woman will say, "That's all the money I have" in tagalog and the subtitle reads, "The money is coming tomorrow." What? That's not what that Pinoy said!
The closing credits run over actual newsreel footage from 1945 of the people and places depicted in the movie and that's fascinating to look at. Again, while not a great movie, there's a lot to appreciate about The Great Raid and you'll learn a little something about Filipino history. I've never been one to rah-rah about the Philippines, but I enjoyed this history lesson about the old homeland. Gave me a little bit of pride in my peeps.
Hell, when was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie where a) there are real Filipinos b) you hear them speak tagalog c) you see them fight a war and d) you see them win a war?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Stealth (*1/2)


July 20, 2005

Last night, I checked out a free screening of Stealth, the new action movie that’s Top Gun meets Top Gun meets a mental patient who stays up all night watching Cinemax but doesn't understand the complicated plots.

Stealth opens up with a long series of place cards which helpfully inform the audience that “to combat terrorism” the U.S. Navy created three super duper advanced stealth fighters. Holy shit, no wonder we haven’t won the war on terror yet! We haven’t done what Stealth suggests is the solution to the complicated matter of international terrorism: send stealth fighters to shoot missiles at terrorists and blow them the fuck up. G.I. Joe had a more realistic approach to fighting terrorists and they had ninjas, pirates and dogs on their payroll. These stealth fighters are not only super fast and stocked with lots of missiles but they come equipped with female computer guidance voices, like the woman’s voice on the Star Trek computers except proficient in phone sex.

The opening crawl goes on to say that over 4,000 pilots were tested to fly the new stealth fighters and only three were chosen. Why only 3? Why didn’t they build 4,000 stealth fighters? Isn’t 4,000 better than 3? Think of how many missiles you can fire at terrorists if you had 4,000 stealth fighters. 

To further illustrate how unimaginative Stealth is, the three chosen pilots are given the following call signs: One, Two, and Three. Jesus, can’t they even try to come up with something more creative? I’ll do it for them them. The pilots chosen to fly the most advanced stealth fighters in the world are Josh Lucas (call sign: Sweet Home Alabama), Jessica Biel (call sign: 7th Heaven), and Jamie Foxx (call sign: Ray Charles.) They live their lives 1,000 miles at a time.

Lucas has the hots for Biel and shows it by banging floozies not half as hot as Biel and telling her about it instead of just asking Biel out. Foxx is in the movie, but not really. In every scene Foxx is in he’s practically rehearsing for Ray and Collateral instead of paying attention to how he’s supposed to act in Stealth. There are moments he’s sitting in his stealth fighter and he’s wondering why his taxi has wings and why Tom Cruise with a blond wig isn’t sitting in the back seat. Then he starts playing piano on the dashboard.

One day, a bomb of a different sort is dropped: The three stealth fighters have a new wingman. 

Jessica Biel: A fourth wingman?

Let’s see, there’s one, two, three of you already – that’s right, Jessie, four comes right after three. The fourth wingman is an artificially intelligent robot stealth fighter called E.D.I. (call sign: Skynet.) It’s a learning computer and the three heroes are supposed to fly with it on missions, at which point it will learn everything they know and then at a later point replace them. Lucas is not keen on the idea.

Josh Lucas: War isn’t supposed to be some kind of video game!

Neither are movies, but shit, look what I’m watching you act in. They do as ordered and take the robot on a mission where terrorists are hanging out in an office building in the middle of Rangoon. How do they have this intel? Because from their stealth fighters in the sky thousands of miles away, they can perform retinal scans and finger print analyses of the terrorists in question and confirm their identities as enemies of the freedom-loving peoples of the West. Now, how the fuck can they confirm the IDs of a bunch of terrorists by finger prints and retinal scans? How did they have their finger prints and retinal data already on file? When did the terrorists submit to having that data filed by American computers? Whatever, idiots.

Their mission is to shoot missiles at the terrorists and blow up the building – but blow it up with a missile without killing any innocent people. It’s an impossible mission, not in terms of the logic but because according to the movie, the only way to shoot the missile properly is to bank the stealth plane at an angle and speed that would cause a human to black out. They are ordered to let the robot handle it - that's what it was built for. Lucas disobeys orders because ain’t no robot gonna blow up a terrorist when he’s on the job. He pulls off the impossible maneuver, doesn’t black out, and fires the missile so that the office building implodes, killing all the terrorists (apparently only terrorists are in the high-rise building – no one else is, no janitors, night watchmen, etc.) but heroically not harming any innocent civilians. Lucas flies home, a job well done. 

Lucas’s commander Sam Shepard is pissed that Lucas disobeyed orders but then again, he killed some terrorists, so the commander gives all three of them a free vacation in Thailand. But not the robot, it has to stay on board the aircraft carrier, so the robot doesn’t get to hang out on the waterfall and watch Jessica Biel prance around in her bikini. 

Okay, stop here because this needs to be addressed clearly and in all honesty: Jessica Biel’s ass deserves its own paycheck for this movie. That ass is absolutely magnificent, a thing of heart stopping beauty. The rest of her is pretty fantastic too. Jesus. Would ya look at her? She’s unbelievable. For my money, Jessica Biel is far and away the hottest woman in movies today. Jessica Alba gets a lot of press and there is no questioning Alba’s hotness, but I’ll take Biel’s taut, athletic body and sweet, girl next door beauty over Alba. Biel is also probably a better actor although you’d never know it from Stealth. What Biel does do well is being physical and making you believe she’s in mortal jeopardy, more on that later.

Turns out the Thailand scenes really had no purpose other than to show off Jessica Biel’s body. There was some goofy comedy involving Foxx sleeping with some Thai woman he picked up at a temple and there was the important character building scene where Foxx reminded Lucas that Biel is the Navy’s supergirl pilot because she went to all the best schools (which ones? The movie don’t know) and if he sleeps with her, he’ll inevitably ruin her career. Wait, aren’t they all going to lose their jobs anyway when the robot planes replace them all? Sleep with her anyway, Lucas. She even blatantly asks him to over dinner and he walks out on her. Some hero.

Meanwhile, there are problems with the robot plane. When attempting to land on the aircraft carrier after the Rangoon mission, the robot is struck by lightning. Its circuits get fried and it starts acting funny. “Destroy all humans” funny. The first thing it does is download songs from the Internet, the joke is it downloaded every song from the Internet. Yet for some reason, it only wants to listen to songs from the Stealth soundtrack, imagine that. It would have been great if it also started downloading movies from the Internet.

Robot Plane: I downloaded this really shitty movie called Stealth. It was almost unwatchable but the robot plane in it was really good. Also, holy shit, Jessica Biel has an incredible ass. Why? Why was I programmed to feel aroused?

Anyway, despite noticeable problems developing with the malfunctioning robot plane, Commander Shepard, who is also growing noticeably more evil by the scene, sends it up with the three pilots on their new mission: a bunch of terrorists are transporting nuclear warheads on the backs of cows to some mountain castle in Pakistan. Their job is to shoot missiles at the warheads and blow them up. Biel accurately points out something her commander would have thought of before greenlighting the mission if he weren’t evil, that shooting missiles at live nuclear warheads would end up killing a lot of innocent people and create a poisonous radiation cloud. They can’t do that, she’d feel bad. Lucas concurs and calls for an abort. The robot plane says fuck that, disobeys orders and blows the terrorists to Kingdom Come, killing all those innocent farmers and creating that poisonous radiation cloud Biel was just talking about. As a result, it started an international incident, but there’ll be more where that came from.

By now, the Stealth fighters have noticed that the robot plane is messed up. The robot plane no longer listens to orders, goes rogue, and decides that its primary function is to destroy all enemy targets. Their evil commander, whose entire career is staked on that robot plane, orders them to bring it back to the aircraft carrier in one piece. How’re they gonna do that? Well, there’s no way to except to reason with it. The robot won’t listen to reason so Jamie Foxx decides he’ll bring him down the way they do everything else in the movie, with missiles. Missiles solve every problem. The robot figures out that Foxx is about to pop a cap in its ass and does the first and only neat and surprising thing in the whole movie. If you’ve read this far, you already know I’m giving everything away so you don’t care I’m dropping this bomb:

The robot plane kills Jamie Foxx, blows him straight to an Academy Award in a more prestigious movie. 

That was a pretty nice swerve and earned Stealth the one star rating I was contemplating giving it. (Ultimately, I’m awarding Stealth one and a half stars, one for the movie and another half a star for Jessica Biel’s ass. But I'm thinking it should be the other way around.) In the explosion caused by Foxx’s plane going boom, shrapnel fragged Biel’s plane, causing it self-destruct. Biel has to eject, and the movie does a second interesting thing: it forces the hot girl from 7th Heaven to parachute into North Korea. The evil commander points out “we have no diplomatic relations with that country!” and hangs Biel out to dry.

Stealth then eases off stealing from Top Gun and starts riffing on Behind Enemy Lines. Biel is shot at by the North Korean Army as she desperately tries to cross the forests and mountains into the DMZ and friendly South Korea. Unfortunately, opportunities were missed left and right here as Biel manages to evade her pursuers. What should have happened is Biel gets captured, locked in a gulag, stripped down, tortured, gets her head shoved in a bucket of water, and gets poisoned by scorpions, all while shitty Madonna music plays. 

James Bond: Been there, done that, not pleasant.

And then Biel should have been brought before Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Il: I’m so ronery…

Unfortunately, except for her getting clipped in the arm with a sniper bullet, Stealth pussies out when it could have gone for the gusto, mostly keeping Biel out of harm’s way. Biel is good in these scenes, though. As in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the athletic Biel can convincingly be chased by people out to kill her and make you care for her peril. Neither a damsel in distress nor a tiny waif, Biel can run, evade and fight more believably than most other actresses her age.

Meanwhile, in the skies above the world, Lucas is still chasing the crazy robot plane. They dog fight each other, take time out to refuel in mid-air, dog fight some more, end up in Russian air space, team up against Russian planes, and then start fighting each other again. By this point, I’m pretty bored. This movie just keeps going and going. I think it’s about two hours but it feels like seven. Instead of destroying the robot, Lucas comes up with an idea so brilliant it can’t possibly work and makes no sense. He launches his last missile into the sea as the robot chases him and creates a giant water explosion. The robot plane, which had holes shot into its hull by the Russians, flies through the water and miraculously, its fried circuits are rewired or whatever and it turns babyface. Holy shit, all the evil robot needed was a bath and it turns good again. 

Mr. Burns: I’ve had one of my unpredictable changes of heart.

Lucas and the robot plane are pals once more, but the movie keeps going on and on as the evil commander Shepard, realizing he’s gonna be court marshaled for all the shit he’s done, such as sending three pilots on a hot, sexy Thailand vacation with taxpayer money – and also that nuclear cloud over Pakistan the evil robot plane he built caused – arranges to have Lucas killed and the robot’s memory wiped in a super secret base in Alaska only the evil commander knows about, stocked with a bunch of bumbling idiots.

Lucas finally figures out that he’s been sold out. He steals the robot plane and uses all the songs from the Stealth soundtrack the robot plane illegally downloaded to distract the enemy soldiers while he launches missiles and blows up the secret base, killing them all. Wait, the robot plane has exterior speakers? Why the fuck would exterior speakers be built in a robot stealth fighter

Lucas steals the robot plane to go on one last mission: fly into North Korea and save Jessica Biel. Meanwhile, Biel does the only stealthy thing in the entire movie by making it undetected to the North Korean border but she is located before she can hop the fence into the DMZ. Just when she’s about to go on a one-way trip to (7th) Heaven, Lucas and the robot show up, kill every North Korean in sight and blow a lot of shit up with missiles. Lucas leaves the plane and runs with Biel to the DMZ and to safety. Just then, a helicopter gunship with more North Koreans arrive to kill Lucas and Biel. The robot plane takes off and makes a curious decision not to fire missiles. Instead, it inexplicably makes the ultimate sacrifice to save its human friends; colliding with the gunship, killing itself along with the North Koreans so that Biel and Lucas can make it to the warm, glowing, warming glow of the Demilitarized Zone. 

Captain Kirk: Of all the robot planes I’ve ever known, he was the most …human!

Finally the fucking movie is over. I didn’t even get to mention what happens to the evil commander (it’s sort of implied he commits suicide but the movie completely forgets about him). There was all this other crap going on with the billionaire software developer in Seattle who built the robot plane, the senator who for no reason whatsoever is only shot with cameras that are outside his office window, and Joe Morton (call sign: Miles Bennett Dyson) as the captain of the aircraft carrier who went to arrest the evil commander.

And for a movie called Stealth, they didn't do anything stealthy. What's so fucking stealthy about flying into a country at supersonic speeds and then shooting missiles at everything?

Despite the fact that they killed a lot of innocent people in Pakistan and Lucas illegally flew into North Korea, killed a lot of soldiers and basically started a war, no mention is made of the consequences of any of it. Instead, Biel and Lucas are instantly back on the aircraft carrier, all cleaned up for Jamie Foxx’s funeral at sea. No mention is made of what happens to them because of all the shit they did and all the people they killed. And even after flying to North Korea to rescue Biel, Lucas still doesn’t even kiss her. Biel ends the movie by calling him a pussy. Quite right.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Fantastic Four (*1/2)

Fantastic Four is like a bunch of six year olds trying to cook themselves breakfast. They have the basic idea of what they want to do, their hearts are in the right place, but they don’t have the skills to do it right, they make a big fucking mess, and the breakfast ends up looking and tasting like shit. Fortunately they manage not to start a fire and burn the whole house down.

Sometime during the interminable middle act of Fantastic Four, Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl/Woman/Jessica Alba scolds her hotheaded younger brother Johnny Storm/The Human Torch/Chris Evans.

Sue Storm: What's wrong with you? Why don’t you think?!

Great take. Cut and print that. Now, Jessica, do me a favor: why don’t you turn around and with the same tone of disappointment, say that exact line to your director Tim Story, your writers, your producers and whoever else makes the decisions around here.

Scene after scene until the movie grinds to a halt there is constant, illogical bone headedness. Take the first major action set piece in the movie… Wait, before I can get to that, I have to mention this: All right, so Ben Grimm/Michael Chiklis is transformed into The Thing and escapes the quarantine the Fantastic Four and Victor Von Doom/(Dr.) Doom/Julian McMahon were placed in after their whatever-they-were-doing in space went wrong ---

Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic/Ioan Gruffudd: We were trying to help mankind’s DNA by studying a magnetic cloud in space that accelerated, bombarded us with cosmic rays and fundamentally altered our DNA.

I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and neither do you. And I’m not the one who claims to be a genetic scientist so what’s Reed’s excuse? Jesus, where was I? Right, the Thing.

The Thing escaped the quarantine lab in the middle of the night and ran through the woods of wherever the lab is. He’s heading home to Yancy Street in New York City to see his wife. Whereever the lab surrounded by forest is, it’s easy enough distance for the Thing to make it into Manhattan without anyone noticing him; he makes it home before his wife has gone to bed. The Thing calls her from a payphone after some goofy comedy about how his orange rock fingers are too big to press the buttons on the payphone. He tells her to come outside.

Despite the fact that her husband was in outer space, was in an accident, has been quarantined for days and this is the first she’s heard from him, the fact that he happens to suddenly be outside, his voice is gravely, and he wants her to mysteriously go outside in the middle of the night when he could just come through the door of his own apartment doesn’t concern her in the least. Instead, she says she has “a surprise” for him and then runs out the door of their apartment in the middle of the night, onto a New York City street, in her negligee. What kind of idiot does that? Then she sees that her husband has turned into an orange rock man, screams and runs off.

The next day, the Thing is sitting on the Brooklyn Bridge feeling sorry for himself. At that exact spot, in that exact moment, someone shows up next to him planning on committing suicide. He freaks out when he sees the Thing, falls into traffic and the Thing heroically rams a semi-truck to stop it from colliding into the man. A neat little comic book moment.

Okay, but then, coincidentally, at that exact moment, the rest of the Fantastic Four happen to be on the Brooklyn Bridge looking for the Thing. By the time they get out of their car (not the Fantasticar), a traffic jam has piled up on the Bridge and there are dozens of gawkers separating the FF from the Thing. Reed Richards, who is supposed to be a genius, tells Susan Storm that she’s the only one who can get them to the Thing. Huh? Howzat? Reed can stretch and the Human Torch can fly so they could reach the Thing a lot easier than the Invisible Girl/Woman can. But okay, at this point the FF don’t want to attract attention (even though that’s exactly what they’ll get anyway once they reach the Thing. If we’re thinking.)

Reed, the genius’s plan: “Sue get naked and turn invisible, then get us past all these people.” Okay, naked Jessica Alba jostling past people, invisible or not, is a pretty hot idea. Despite the fact that there are people all around the FF, behind and beside them as well as in front, Sue Storm complies, turns invisible and strips off all her clothes right there in front of everyone. So much for not attracting attention.. But she can’t control her powers yet, turns visible again and then yells at Reed. Then she tries it again and somehow gets past some of the people blocking the way, but by the time she reaches the Thing, the cops have agitated him and the Thing goes berserk, knocking a fire truck halfway over the bridge. The Fantastic Four make their move and get in the middle of the action, so all that stuff about Sue needing to get naked and invisible didn’t need to happen since the crowd parted for the FF anyway. The only reason to even do any of that is to tease Jessica Alba getting naked, which they can’t deliver and have no intention of delivering.

The Thing pulls the fire truck back onto the bridge, Mr. Fantastic stretches and saves a falling fireman. More nice comic book moments. The crowd applauds them and hails them as heroes for saving the fire fighters. Apparently no one stopped to think that none of this would have happened if the Thing didn’t ram a semi-truck, then go berserk and almost send a fire truck flying off the bridge.

The clincher is the Thing’s wife suddenly appears through the same crowd the Fantastic Four couldn’t get through five minutes ago. She sees the Thing in broad daylight, takes off her wedding ring, leaves it on the ground and runs off. The Thing’s enormous fingers can’t pick the ring up (a runner they beat to death – he can’t pick up tiny objects or hold a glass without smashing it) and it’s supposed to be sad. The wife is never seen or mentioned again. That’s it? The wife leaves the ring on the ground and then it’s over? No divorce papers to sign, no lawyers. Who keeps the apartment? The money in the joint back account? And happened to the guy who tried to commit suicide, the catalyst for the entire sequence to even happen? Is he grateful? Frightened? Angry? Under arrest? I dunno. He just disappeared.

The entire movie is like this, ideas set up and not followed through, half-assed characters, no logic, no story. That last thing didn’t really hit me until about half way through the movie – there is nothing going on. This movie has no spine. Ostensibly, Reed is building a machine in his lab atop the Baxter Building to recreate the accident in space so he can return everyone to normal out of guilt for what happened to Ben. For this, cue the music from South Park – we need a montage! A genetic research montage!

Meanwhile Victor Von Doom is discovering he’s slowly turning metallic and can absorb and conduct electricity. He is completely oblivious to the fact that for a billionaire who runs a multi-national conglomerate, he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t go to meetings, make telephone calls, host a reality show or anything famous high-powered billionaire businessmen do. He just sits around frowning and gets more metallic.

Unfortunately for Von Doom, his board of directors noticed he doesn’t do anything and they take his company away from him. They apparently never watched Spider-Man, but Von Doom has so he does what Green Goblin did and kills his board members, only Doom does it in a parking lot and not in the middle of Times Square while Macy Gray is performing. After that, Doom decides he wants to kill the Fantastic Four. How does killing them help him? It doesn’t really, but it couldn’t hurt.

Doom decides the best way to go about this is to somehow off screen plant cameras all around the FF’s headquarters so he can watch them on TV. (He doesn’t seem to put a camera in the only place I would: Sue Storm’s bedroom and shower. Who gives a shit what the Thing is doing?) Doom then sits around his headquarters and watches his hated arch-enemies on his TV screens, which takes on the same basic tone as when The Simpsons had satellite TV installed and Homer could watch Bart and Lisa at Springfield Elementary.

Homer: (gasps) Bart and Lisa in the same grade?! (changes channel – gasps) An old army buddy is visiting Mannix?!

It’s just non-stop, how retarded this stuff is. Early in the movie, Johnny Storm breaks quarantine and gets his hot nurse Maria Menounos to go skiing with him. (This quarantine lab is located next to mountains and forests and is within running distance from Manhattan.) While skiing, Johnny bursts into flame, flies for a moment and crashes into the snow, his heat burning off his clothes and melting the ice around him so that he’s sitting naked in a wading pool, bewildered at what just happened. Maria Menounos shows up. He’s horny and invites her into the pool.

It’s suggested she consented and had sex with him because he shows up at the lab later completely naked with only her ski jacket wrapped around his crotch. What kind of a woman, a medical nurse no less, watches her patient suddenly burst into flame and then immediately consents to have sex with him? She’s not at all alarmed or frightened that he might burst into flame again, God forbid while they’re fucking, and he’ll burn her to death? Apparently not. And maybe the Human Torch did kill her and buried her body in the snow – he has her jacket and she’s never, ever seen or mentioned again. Fucking stupid.

Now, it’s not all bad. I liked the swaggering Johnny Storm character and his desire to use his powers to impress women and make money. The Thing came off effectively on screen and they competently touched on his pathos at being turned into a monster. The display of the Fantastic Four’s powers were done pretty well, especially Mr. Fantastic’s fighting style when he stretches, fully utilizing the variables of his powers. I liked when the Thing went berserk (for the 14th time) and Mr. Fantastic stretched around him to subdue him, placing the Thing in the Masterlock. (The Thing failed the Masterlock Challenge.) There were fleeting moments that worked, mostly involving the practical jokes the Human Torch played on the Thing, the physical confrontations between the two, and Sue mediating them.

There is a point in the third act when the Fantastic Four come together to face off against Dr. Doom and my pulse quickened somewhat in anticipation of the big showdown we sat through this entire movie to see. But instead of a knockdown, drag-out fight with the fate of the world at stake, it’s over in a couple of minutes with not a scratch on any of the heroes, and the fight wasn't really about anything.

Those are the good parts, the stuff I liked. Then there’s all the other the bad stuff:

The lack of chemistry between Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd. They’re not believable together as lovers, or even as acquaintances who chat when they run into each other at the bus stop.

The lack of genuine tension in the rivalry turned hatred between Reed Richards and Dr. Doom.

The blind black girl who sometimes forgets to act blind that gets crammed into the story as the Thing’s love interest, which begs all sorts of explanations that are never given.

The fact that three out of the five characters (Reed, Sue, and Doom) are introduced in the first scene as brilliant genetic scientists and not one of them acts like it, speaks like it, or is convincing in any way shape or form. What is it about Marvel when they make their movies that they refuse to hire technical consultants? The Fantastic Four writers know as much about genetic science (even fake comic book genetic science) as Daredevil writer-director Mark Steven Johnson knows about how a trial works.

All of the terrible sitcom dialogue and situations slapped together instead of real character moments that could deepen who these people are and what they feel about what’s happened to them beyond what’s superficial.

The wildly inconsistent tone of the movie, which is also reflected by the wildly inconsistent soundtrack, veering from lousy pop rock to a lousy score to soul music(!) with no rhyme or reason. 

Stan Lee, who makes his most obnoxious cameo in a Marvel movie yet.

This material has potential and Fantastic Four should have been a lot better than it turned out. The movie isn’t as terrible as the worst of its critics are suggesting. Fantastic Four is not worthless, but it’s not good, either. At its best, it’s pleasant. Every now and then it hits a funny or exciting note, but not nearly often enough. Most of all, it’s just really dumb and a waste of the material. You can see a better movie in the corners of this one, and it wouldn’t have been so hard to make it with just a few minor changes: Rewrite it, reshoot it, and hire a better director.

The first time Reed stretches his video game quality CGI arm under a doorway, a very dumb girl two seats from me who talked through the entire movie complained, “Ew, that’s nasty.” Seconds later, Johnny Storm delivers the punchline to Reed’s feat: “That’s gross.” Big laugh, especially from the dumb girl who was proud of herself because she broke the joke first. Congratulations, Tim Story, you’ve directed the movie to the remedial level of audience comprehension. Care to try for the next level up or even higher, for those of us watching who aren’t complete morons? No, you didn’t. What a fucking shame.

To bring all this to full circle, the scene I referenced at the start where Sue scolds Johnny comes about because he has disobeyed the team’s instructions to remain out of the public eye. Instead he has turned himself into a teen idol, soaking up the fame and the adoration of hot women. Sue tells him that he’s just a fad to them, but he scoffs, “These people love me!”

In a better movie, or even a sitcom like The Brady Bunch or Growing Pains, Johnny would then learn that he is just an amusing sideshow to the masses and the people that truly care about him are his invisible sister, the elastic guy who’s in love with his sister, and that orange rock man, no relation. Fantastic Four failed to even follow up on that subplot. It gets dropped entirely. If the filmmakers are expecting to pick that story thread up in a sequel, they just might be the most deluded of true believers.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Serenity (***1/2)

June 24, 2005

You Can't Stop The Signal

When Serenity started, I tried to put aside all of my previous knowledge about Firefly and mentally approach the material as if I were seeing it for the first time. If this thing can’t stand on its on as a movie, it’s dead on arrival. I liked the opening scenes – the voice over narration establishing the futuristic concept, and I really liked the Alice in Wonderland reality within reality of opening in a flashback, which was a dream of River’s, which was then revealed as a hologram recording of how Simon freed River from the Alliance. That was a question I never really thought about before – how did Simon free her? – but I was pleasantly surprised we got the answer.

I really liked the Assassin (there were no credits at this advanced free screening so I don’t know his character name, if any.) I expected that the concept of Blue Sun and the hands of blue would be swept aside and it was the right move since there’s already more than enough to explain to a general audience. But in this opening we ran into my first complaint, which is I can’t understand why that girl who played young River was cast. She looks nothing like Summer Glau and her performance and that entire scene were overly contrived. Bad casting that took me right out of the movie moments after it started.

The first act felt like another episode but that’s not a negative comment. It was clear from the very beginning that this was Joss Whedon writing and directing, that the characters were indeed back, that this was Firefly. It seemed like there was never a 3 year gap from when we saw them last. It’s rare to see such a pure recreation of something thought to be lost for good, but unlike say, the ECW One Night Stand pay per view, which was purely a recreation, this was much more of an organic continuation.

The character reveals, the arcs established, the interpersonal conflicts were generally clear and well done, as were the simultaneous camera reveals of the layout and rooms of Serenity herself, which is also a character and as important as the human characters. There was a lot of dialogue here and all throughout the picture, which is Whedon’s greatest strength and one of the biggest drawbacks in finding a mass audience. There are few movies in the action or sci-fi genre where characters talk as much as they do here. For those not familiar or fond of Whedon’s style, it will be a lot to process. But fuck them for now; for me, it was great to see everyone again. The desire to see these characters we love as we remember them was instantly met and that was the first gratification of the movie. The early set up of Simon’s Dramatic Need, to keep River out of harm’s way, was prominent and worked very well. His desire to keep his sister safe is the strongest idea in this part and the one easiest to relate to.

Seeing the dreaded, cannibalistic Reavers at long last didn’t disappoint, nor did the first major action sequence involving Mal, Zoe, Jayne and River escaping from the Reavers. Jayne’s leg being speared also worked as the litmus test for the level of violence Joss was going for, which would be considerable and quite shocking in volume and veracity as the movie continued. Once we got to the planet where River and Simon were supposed to leave the ship, we hit my second major complaint: Kung Fu River.

See, I never equated River Tam with Buffy Summers. River is River, she has next to nothing in common with Buffy, and she shouldn’t be Buffy. River is a tortured genius psychic and while she has displayed amazing acrobatic prowess, turning her into a kung fu fighting machine was not something I necessarily wanted to see out of her character. To me, Kung Fu River was more disappointing than exciting because while I understand the need from a conceptual and an action viewpoint for her to fight, River doing acrobatic martial arts is too derivative. A young girl with superpowered kung fu has been done, by Whedon on TV, and by many others in movies. It’s not unique and it’s not new.

I also don’t like the circumstances for River’s first fight scene. River wanders into the bar, is drawn by the subliminal message cartoon the Alliance planted and is triggered to reveal herself and her fighting prowess is activated. I got that. What I didn’t understand is why the people River was fighting were suddenly doing so. What was the motivation of all those people to attack River one-by-one black ninja style? When she walked into the bar, they were all sitting, drinking, and minding their own business. Suddenly, they were all on their feet attacking her.

The fact that River is psychic and a mind reader was what made her a threat to the Alliance. Her telepathy was used early when she, Mal, Jayne and Zoe broke into the cash vault before the Reavers arrived, but it was never used effectively again. When River turned into Bruce Lee, that became the focus of why she was dangerous. While there is a level of coolness to River being a fighting machine, it doesn’t make sense. She’s a tiny, skinny girl. How strong could she be? How does her psychic power translate into her being able to hit men twice her size hard enough to knock them out? Sarah Michelle Gellar is also tiny but Buffy has magical super strength so there is an outlet to explain how she can fight. It doesn’t make as much sense for River, although Summer Glau, who was a prima ballerina in real life, moves more fluidly and gracefully than Sarah Gellar ever could. River’s fight scenes have an appropriate ballet quality, but vicious and intense.

When Inara sent Mal a wave and Mal decided to take Serenity and come get her, I immediately cried a mental foul since Inara would never betray Mal and the others, even if an eloquent black space assassin was leaning on her. I was enormously pleased when Mal and the entire crew clearly saw it was a trap – that’s smart writing and it makes the audience and the characters share in being equally smart. I did note that only a fleeting reference was made to Inara being a Companion, and what that is, and whatnot was assiduously avoided. I can understand that – the concept of legal and respectable prostitution, even in deep space in the future, is a hard sell to the general public. Establishing Inara as a prostitute would instantly turn a mass audience against her. As such, she was just a woman who used to be on the ship and Mal and Inara clearly love each other, but there’s too much going on already so it’s right the Companion stuff had to go. Still, it reduces Inara to just being a beautiful woman who lacks a function and reason for being beyond a love interest for Mal that’s never consummated.

I really liked the visit with Shepherd Book on Haven where the last word was spoken on whether we’ll ever find out what Book’s mysterious secret past is: No. We’ll never find out. And that’s okay with me, I understand why and it’ll be more fun to imagine the answer from here on in. (Just like how I never, ever want to know what became of Angel in that alley - unless there is an Angel movie.) I didn’t like how Mal told Book he always sought counsel from him; that’s not quite the way it went. Mal never wanted to hear Book’s advice, so that rang a bit false.

The big mystery solved, what River knew that the Alliance wanted silenced, and the secret origin of the Reavers was just terrific. Again, like how Simon saved River, a question I never even knew I wanted answered was, and that was awesome. I thought it was a really good pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it was different, and it was a big deal given what was established throughout the movie.

The villainous Assassin hunting River was a tremendous character. I also liked the clear philosophical differences established between Mal and the Assassin. All that stuff that they talked about in between and during their slugfests: faith, loyalty, love, what kind of world is ideal and what the costs and worth of creating such a world would be. Genuine ideas that drive the characters’ motivations, complicates them, challenges them, forces them to question themselves and reaffirm who they are. We just don’t see such things in today’s genre movies. To its credit, Serenity had a lot more on its mind.

The third act was shockingly violent. Again, I draw parallels to the ECW pay per view, the unlikeliest thing Serenity could be related to but they have more in common than it seems. Both Serenity and ECW are led by charismatic, balding geniuses within their entertainment genres (Whedon and Paul Heyman) who are indebted to multi-million-dollar mega conglomerates. Both had their pet franchise projects, which in their own ways turned their genres on their sides, ended before their time. Both have legions of loyal, cult followers who bemoan the state of their genres and cry out for a return of the brand of their genre they love. Both are comprised of performers who feel passionately about their characters, product, and the fans, and yearned to return. Both Serenity and ECW received phoenix-like resurrections this year to reward all those loyal, emotional, grateful fans, with the possibility of a continuation based on the performance of the resurrected franchise.

Given the stakes established and the dangers they faced, the third act was more violent than I could have imagined. The last sci-fi movie I can remember that was as bloody and unrelentingly, unapologetically violent was Robocop. There hasn’t been any sci-fi at this level of violence in many years, and because the characters are so talkative and funny, the violence blindsides you because you never expect it, even though the rules of the universe are plainly established. The desperation and the ferocity of the fighting for survival by every character was palpable. It’s funny that Joss may never be known as an action director, because he’s a very good one and he plays for keeps with his characters. They are never safe, there is no feeling that everything will turn out all right in the end, that only the bad people will be punished and perish. He pushed this as far as I think he can push and I admire his resolve. Mal getting skewered in the gut, Simon getting shot and Zoe getting her back sliced open were effective red herrings.

The deus ex machina of River killing the Reavers was held off a bit too long when it was apparent from her first kung fu fight scene that killing those monster men was what she was made for. It brings her fighting ability into justification – she’s a weapon, so of course, what else but the Reavers could River have been made a weapon to fight against? It worked overall and River looked cool fighting and posed in victory over the Reavers’ corpses, but again, it’s derivative and obvious. A more interesting resolution would be her psychic ability coming into play somehow – I don’t know how but it's too Buffyesque that a young girl kung fu fighting can solve all your monster problems. Joss has mined that to death already.

Wash and Book dying. Book’s death was not unexpected and it was sad but he went out in a brave, heroic way. No one could have expected he wouldn’t be the only one to go. Book’s death was the right move; on an ongoing series he has a place as a moral center, but in the movie he was an extraneous character. Book’s death was more than enough sadness but it was only a decoy. The death of Wash was one of the ballsiest moves I’ve ever seen from something in this genre. The fact that it comes out of nowhere, the speed, impact and the permanence of it, the fact that there is no resuscitation, no magical coming back to life, not even any parting words as he died was unbelievable. I'm not sure if I like that it was done but Joss killing Wash off was a hell of a move. Overall, I think it was a good move because of all of the Serenity crewmembers, he was always the one least cut out for a life of crime (one can argue Simon is as well, but Simon is still learning and growing while Wash was set and stagnant). Wash was the funny comic relief, everyone loved him and he served a specific purpose as the pilot. With his sudden death the perception that because Wash was the pilot and he usually doesn't leave Serenity that he’s “safe” was instantly shattered.

Another problem created by Wash's death is Zoe's behavior. Zoe’s lack of any reaction to her husband dying was awkward at best. I understand she is a soldier, they had a job to do and odds are they were all moments away from joining Wash in death when the Reavers arrive, but she took Wash’s death far better than anyone in the audience did. Some sort of reaction, of release, would have been more appropriate, at least from the standpoint of emotional completeness. Charging headlong at the Reavers and nearly getting her back sliced in half isn't enough. However, I did note that the movie did not clearly define that they were in fact husband and wife – obviously as fans of the show we know but the general audience may not have been significantly clued in, and thus Joss has some wriggle room to explain Zoe’s lack of emotion to her husband dying.

One of the major storylines, carried over from Firefly and re-established by Kaylee in act one when she admonished Mal for never making Simon and River feel like a part of the family, came full circle. In Serenity, Simon and River finally and truly became part of Mal's crew, the family, but room had to be made for them and Wash had to be the one to go. Simon as the doctor had a function on the ship, but River needed one. Taking Wash’s role as the person who flies Serenity was the logical choice. It was established in “Objects In Space” and fleetingly touched upon in scenes where River would be intimately pressed against parts of the ship that she has a tactile relationship with Serenity. With Wash gone and Serenity finally truly becoming her home, it’s fitting that River becomes the one to fly her.

My issues aside, I loved Serenity. It was a joy being with these characters again and going on one more ride with them. When the screening let out, I wanted to turn around, buy another ticket and immediately see it again, if only that were possible. It is instantly one of my favorite movies. Not “of the year”. I mean period. I have no idea how it will do theatrically upon its release. I just can’t conjecture. There is more than enough action, humor and fun that a general audience might enjoy the movie. It has many unique yet familiar qualities and it has the benefit of being quite unlike anything else out there. On the other hand, there are so many things that could turn off a general audience.

My feeling is if you have an affinity for science fiction action movies, there is enough here to engage you even if you’ve never heard of Firefly. But it’s also very easy to anticipate people being turned off or uninterested. It will be interesting to see how Universal markets it at the end of the summer. The ball is really in their court to get asses into the seats and sell this thing to the general audience. I can’t wait to see it again, especially when the effects are done, the final sound is mixed, and the picture is cut down a bit and tightened. I didn’t have any issues with the sound, edits and effects as they were – it was enough to convey what was needed, but I’ll be very excited to see Serenity’s final cut. Whether or not the box office exceeds $40 million domestically, which is a reasonable estimate, Serenity will do gangbuster DVD business. It will ultimately be determined more by the DVD sales than by its theatrical numbers whether Serenity will ever fly again.

I can’t hope for more, especially since we never should have had this movie to begin with, but as a final chapter, it’s a beautiful way to go out. And if by some second stroke of unbelievable fate there is another movie or something else that brings Joss and these actors back together, Serenity is still the last time we will ever see Firefly again as we knew it and loved it from the show. Firefly-That-Was will never be again. Anything more will be very different by design.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Top 25 Batman Movie Quotes

June 22, 2005

"Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in when a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press?" - The Joker

The American Film Institute released their list of the Top 100 Movie Quotes. It's a pretty good list, I guess, but there's a big problem: There's nothing from any of the Batman movies. Six movies over 31 years and you're telling me the high-falootin' AFI 100 couldn't give any love to Batman?

I decided to compile my own list of the Top 25 movie quotes from the five Batman movies spanning Adam West's camp classic in 1966 to George Clooney's 1997 atrocity. Why did I pass over Batman Begins? It's too new. It's still in theatres. It needs some time to resonate and become part of the culture.

In truth, 25 quotes isn't nearly enough. I could probably have compiled a Top 100 lines from Batman: The Movie, Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin given enough time, but that probably would have been going overboard. Also, I would have needed to consult my DVDs of the five movies or the IMDB and I didn't want to do that. The challenge was to compile this list entirely from memory. It wasn't easy choosing which dialogue to leave out. A lot of good Batlines were kicked to the curb.

It's fun to try to incorporate these quotes in everyday life. Try it sometime. 

Top 25 Batman Movie Quotes (1966 - 1997) 

25) "All right, everyone. Chill." - Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin, 1997)
Marginally better than Mr. Freeze's first line of dialogue in Batman and Robin: "The Iceman cometh!", which he yells at the top of his lungs. You can say this line while trying to approximate Schwarzenegger's accent and you might get a chuckle out of someone, if they don't glare at you like you're an asshole and stomp away.

24) "It's the car, right? Chicks love the car." - Batman (Batman Forever, 1995)
Batman Forever is surprisingly lacking in iconic, quotable dialogue. The most memorable lines come from this rooftop scene as Dr. Chase Meridian summons Batman via the Batsignal. She comes onto him, prompting Batman to scoff. Note Val Kilmer's smirk as he delivers the line. He's almost disgusted that this woman wants to have sex with him. What does she think he is, heterosexual? Batman has a couple of more zingers here:
"You summoned me here for this? The Batsignal is not a beeper."
"You trying to get under my cape, doctor?"
The car line is the one that lasts, though. It's condescending and sexist as only a man wearing a rubber codpiece who's never had a steady girlfriend can utter.

23) "You are not sending me to the cooler!" - Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin, 1997)
The second of my Mr. Freeze trifecta. Freeze mines every possible cold pun there is, then salts the earth so nothing further can grow.

22) "Power surplus? Bruce, shame on you. No such thing. One can never have too much power. If my life has a meaning, that's the meaning." - Max Shreck (Batman Returns, 1992)
The greatest and most overlooked addition to the Batman mythology is billionaire industrialist Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken. In a movie that had Batman, Catwoman and Penguin, Shreck, a character no one had ever heard of before, ran away with Batman Returns. He had all the good dialogue and was the real villain of the piece, revealing the three characters named after animals as the fractured, sad little lost souls they were. Bruce Wayne has a business meeting with Shreck and points out the major flaw in Shreck's plan to build a power plant for Gotham. If Shreck could have dealt Wayne some defenestration like he did his secretary, he sure would have. Little does he know Wayne falls off of buildings every night and likes it.

Incidentally, if you have Facebook, you should Like Max Shreck.

21) "Wow. The Batman! Or, is it just 'Batman'?" - Selina Kyle (Batman Returns, 1992)
Selina's comment to Batman after he saves her life from evil circus people. Finally, this question that has baffled 6 decades of Batman fans is posed cinematically. Which is it? Instead of answering, Batman glares at her and stalks away, leaving us all hanging. The lesson? Some questions are just not meant to be answered.

20) "A laundry service that delivers! Wow!" - Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin, 1997)
My jaw drops every time I hear this line. What the fuck? To set the scene, Mr. Freeze has been imprisoned in Arkham Asylum. Poison Ivy and Bane arrive to break him out and bring him his ice armor in a shopping cart, which prompts Freeze to delightedly exclaim the line. Seriously, what the fuck?

19) "Goodbye, my unintended. Go to Heaven." - The Penguin (Batman Returns, 1992)
Penguin horny. The Penguin was trying to get some Catwoman tail and framed Batman for throwing the ice princess off a building (this happened a lot in Batman Returns. It was the means of choice for disposing of women.) When Catwoman retched at the thought of sex with a deformed bird midget, Penguin strapped her neck to a helicopter umbrella and uttered this poetic farewell as he sent her to her death. It's kind of a sweet thing to say to a woman you're about to kill.

18) "Oh God. Does this mean we have to start fighting?" - Selina Kyle (Batman Returns, 1992)
This line actually comes right after number 6 on the list, after Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle realized who the other person really was at the Maxquerade Ball. Then Penguin blew a hole through the floor and rode up in a giant rubber duckie, so everything turned out all right for Bruce and Selina. At least for about 20 more minutes. Then she got shot six times and electrocuted herself.

17) "Well, come what may, Merry Christmas, Mr. Wayne." - Alfred
"Merry Christmas, Alfred. Good will towards men. And women." - Bruce Wayne (Batman Returns, 1992)
Batman Returns has two unique distinctions: it's the only Batman Christmas movie and the only Batman movie that ends in slit-your-wrists sadness. Poor Bruce thinks Selina Kyle is dead and sits in the back of his limousine with her cat as Alfred drives him home. No girlfriend for Bruce Wayne, no happiness; another lonely Christmas, just him and his butler sitting in a dank, sinister cave. He doesn't suspect that Catwoman's giant head is watching from above. There was supposed to be a spin off with Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead, 12 years later, we get Halle Berry's Catwoman. What a gyp.

16) "Women. Nothing surprises me, Chip. Except your late mother. Who woulda thought Selina had a brain to damage? Bottom line is, if she tries to blackmail me, I'll drop her out a higher window. 'Til then, I got bigger fish to fry." - Max Shreck (Batman Returns, 1992)
Sage fatherly wisdom from Max Shreck to his son Chip.

15) "Security? Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I'm sitting there working, I turn around, there she is. 'Oh hey, Vick. C'mon in!'" - Bruce Wayne (Batman Returns, 1992)
By far my favorite dialogue uttered by Michael Keaton's Batman, addressing the most jarring, out of place moment from the previous Batman movie. It's also the only time Bruce Wayne admonishes Alfred, but seriously, what was he thinking letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave? In Alfred's defense, he was only trying to get his master laid so his heart was in the right place.

14) "What do you want?" - Batman
"Ah, the direct approach. I admire that from a man in a mask." - The Penguin (Batman Returns, 1992)
Penguin scored quite a bit off of Batman in Batman Returns. Later on, he and his circus folk sabotaged the Batmobile and turned it into an H-bomb on wheels. As much as Penguin wrecking his car must have pissed Batman off, Penguin coolly dissing him when they had their first face-to-face confrontation must have stung Batman mighty fierce. He got Penguin back before the confrontation was ended by Catwoman doing cartwheels and blowing up Shreck's department store.

13) "Nice outfit." - Jack Napier (Batman, 1989)
Seriously, what would you say if you were trying to rob a chemical factory in the middle of the night and a guy in a rubber bat costume showed up out of nowhere? And it is a nice outfit. The first Batsuit is still the best.

12) "You - you've got kind of a dark side, don't you?" - Bruce Wayne
"No darker than yours, Bruce." - Selina Kyle (Batman Returns, 1992)
Bruce Wayne wasn't quite sure why he was so attracted to Max Shreck's secretary until he ran into her on the street and she started waxing insanely. Her being hot got Bruce's attention. Her being crazy got her a dinner invite to Wayne Manor.

11) "I am the light of this city, and I'm its mean, twisted soul." - Max Shreck (Batman Returns, 1992)
Probably the coolest sinister words to escape from Max Shreck's mouth. Donald Trump wishes he were half the industrial tyrant Shreck is. Also, Shreck had better hair.

10) "Just the pussy I was looking for!" - The Penguin (Batman Returns, 1992)
Penguin horny. Dude, seriously, there are kids watching this. There's innuendo and then there's outright naughty words. You wanna fuck Catwoman. We get it. Tone it down, Oswald.

9) "And where is the Batman? He's at home washing his tights!" - The Joker (Batman, 1989)
A low blow from the Joker as he addresses the people of Gotham on television and promises to dump $20-million in cash on them. Joker knows damn well Batman doesn't wear tights, but I suppose "he's at home washing his rubber" brings forth a whole different set of nasty connotations.

8) "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!" - Batman (Batman: The Movie, 1966)
Ah, the greatest, most memorable line from Adam West's Batman. Batman literally had to dispose of one of those round, black spherical bombs that only exist otherwise in Bugs Bunny cartoons. No matter where he went on the Gotham waterfront, there was a parade, children playing, nuns passing by, or baby ducks swimming.

8) "This town needs an enema!" - The Joker (Batman, 1989)
When I was a kid, I had no idea what an enema was or what Joker was talking about. Then I looked up what an 'enema' is. Now I want to know how Joker was planning on giving Gotham one.

7) "Eat floor. High fiber." - Batman (Batman Returns, 1992)
Michael Keaton's Batman didn't quip much, or say much of anything, really. But when rooftop kung fu fighting with Catwoman, Batman loosened up and started cracking wise. This was his best zinger as he drove Catwoman's face into the ground.

6) "Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it." - Batman
"But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it." - Catwoman (Batman Returns, 1992)
You say strange things to each other if you're wearing a costume and you're intensely attracted to your arch enemy who is also wearing a costume. Bruce Wayne went to Max Shreck's ball to see Selina Kyle and she started having another of those emotional breakdowns that really get Bruce's engine running. Then she fired off the mistletoe line, Bruce automatically offered the retort, and the jig was up.

5) "This evidence is purely circumstantial!" - Commissioner Gordon (Batman Returns, 1992)
The greatest day of fat old Commissioner Gordon's life was when Batman showed up and started doing his job for him. Now, instead of catching criminals himself, he just had to turn a searchlight on, sit back, and unlock his jail for the incoming. But when Batman was framed by Penguin and Catwoman for killing the ice princess with Batman's own stolen Batarang, Gordon went to embarrassing lengths on TV to proclaim his meal ticket's innocence.

4) "'Winged freak terrorizes?' Wait'll they get a load of me!" - The Joker (Batman, 1989)
Awesome line from the Joker after quoting the headline of the newspaper: Winged Freak Terrorizes Gotham. By the way, as far as Batman movies go, the greatest headline in the history of Batman movies is in Batman Begins: Drunken Billionaire Burns Down Home. If they made a T-shirt of that, I'd buy it in a second.

3) "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" - The Joker (Batman, 1989)
Turns out, he gets them from Morgan Freeman. The Joker always felt a little inadequate when Batman would come after him with his Batarangs, Batmobile and Batwing. So he handled it in a logical fashion: he got himself a big gun with a ten foot barrel and he hid it in his pants. Yes, that is a ten foot barreled gun in his pants and the Joker is always happy to see you.

2) "I'm Batman!" - Batman (Batman, 1989)
In the original script, the line is "Tell your friends, tell all your friends - I am the night!" That's stupid and they were wise to change it. How is exactly is Batman the night? Instead of that comic booky gibberish, we get the crowd-pleasing, defining moment that instantly and forever sold Michael Keaton as Batman. A moment so pivotal, Christian Bale also said it in Batman Begins. Keaton's was still better.

1) "Have you ever danced with the Devil by the pale moonlight?" - The Joker (Batman, 1989)
The best line in Batman movie history. Quote it to nearly anyone, and if they saw Batman when they were a kid, they'll remember it. They'll smirk or roll their eyes or grimace, but damn sure, they'll remember it. It's as purely a construction of the Batman movies as it is to have the Joker as the man who killed Bruce Wayne's parents.

By my reckoning, I have 14 quotes from Batman Returns. It's far and away the most quotable of the Batman movies if you like nasty, cruel, misogynistic dialogue. And who doesn't?

Tim Burton's first Batman (1989) commands the top four and The Joker boasts three of the top four quotes. The Joker/Jack Napier could potentially have fielded the entire Top 25 all by himself. Screenwriter Sam Hamm gave him all the best dialogue. Only Max Schrek in Batman Returns has dialogue that competes with The Joker in quantity, quality, and quotability. There are lots of good Joker lines I had to omit, such as:

"Never rub another man's rhubarb." - The Joker

That's good advice.