Monday, June 16, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Acting:  B
Production Quality:  B
Plot:  B
Positive Elements:  B
Negative Elements: B

GPA:  3.0

Comments:  The Incredible Hulk sort of sat on the line between really good movie and decent movie.   I enjoyed it, but wished I was drawn in a little more.  It was definitely superior to Marvel's earlier effort a few years ago and made a great effort to be consistent with the themes and visuals of the TV series.  For those of us who watched every episode of the Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby when it was on in the late 70's and early 80's, there are many great, nostalgic throwbacks to the series: the theme song, the lab setup, Bruce Banner's lonely mission to rid himself of his alter-ego, "You wouldn't like me when I'm . . . ," and his name change at the end of the movie.

While I am sure the animation is a good as it can be, I kept wishing that I did not constantly think of it as animation.  The best animation was in the scene in which the Hulk is sitting calmy with Betty Ross in a cave.  He looks more real than anywhere else in the film.  Real skin, real size, real massiveness.   I was able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the rest of the film very much, but the technology is not there yet to make the animation totally ignorable.

Also, I thought the much anticipated and built-up introduction of the Abomination was too quick.  It appeared to me like the editors knew they were running out of time and had to rush to get to the action on the other side of his final reveal.

One of the funnest aspects of the film is the hidden easter eggs that show the development of the Marvel Comic universe.  Look for the name of the scientist on the cryo-storage unit that contains the supersoldier serum, the references to the WWII program through which it was first developed, the name of the government agency that General Ross is utilizing to track the Hulk, and Tony Stark at the end of the movie with his not so subtle hint about the future.  I am sure there are many more that I will catch again upon second viewing.  The producers are laying the groundwork for a fully integrated Avengers universe containing the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and others.  I hear that we can expect the Captain America movie next followed by the full Avengers movie.

The movie is worth watching twice--once in the theater and once on DVD.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Happening

Acting:  D
Production Quality:  B
Plot:  D
Positive Elements:  C
Negative Elements:   B          (Violent depictions of suicides)

GPA:  2.0

Comments:  Here is my theory, M. Night Shyamalan, who made his name by surprising his audience with  clever, final twists at the end of his films, is actually taking a meta-cinematic approach to making films.  He is laying the groundwork by intentionally producing a spate of crummy films (The Village, Lady in the Water, and now, The Happening) and will soon cleverly surprise us all with another good film and a return to form.   That is, if the powers that be continue to allow him to make films. 

An additional theory is that he intentionally coaches his actors to give wooden, stilted performances for some reason that I have not yet discerned.  I am sure it is for some stylistic purpose. 

Still another theory is that Shyamalan is far less clever than his early work has led him to believe he is.  Maybe his early work was a fluke.  I hate that, because I really thought he had something at one time.

This was just a bad movie.  Not worth watching once.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Speed Racer

Acting: A
Production Quality: A
Plot: A
Positive Elements: A
Negative Elements: B (Occasional expletives and profanities)

GPA: 3.8

Comments: My boys and I thought this was a wonderful movie. Great action and some really fun humor that my boys would say was the best part of the movie-especially the scene with the poor ninja who tried to attack Speed Racer in the middle of the night but instead found himself facing the entire Racer family. I enjoyed this aspect mostly because my boys enjoyed it. In fact, they consistently cackled and jumped around in their seats with pleasure.

The production quality was unlike anything I have seen before. The Wachowski brothers have once again pushed the cinematic envelope. Since it was based upon a cartoon (that was admittedly before my time), it was appropriate for the directors to produce a movie that was the essence of animation reproduced in live action. The result is fun and mesmerizing. A real treat for the cinematic senses.

However, I was most impressed by two themes that were the centerpiece of the movie. The first was the theme of a family coming together to support each other in spite of and because of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The family's unconditional love was a testimony to an ideal that is built into the consciences of all people. The family is not perfect, but love covers a multitude of sins. Consistent with this was the additional, powerful theme of humble and costly sacrifice that has no need for glory, but instead acts entirely out of love for family and justice. Glory in not a thing to be grasped in order to bring justice and save the lives of many.

I highly recommend this movie to those families with children mature enought to avoid imitating occasional expletives and a few common profanities. We will probably see it again when it comes out on DVD because I think it is worth watching twice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Acting:   B
Plot:   C
Production Quality:  B
Positive Elements:  B
Negative Elements:  A

GPA:  3.0

Comments:  LIke the first movie, Prince Caspian was a disappointment to me.  In contrast, my older boys appeared to enjoy it very much.  My five year old kept asking to leave however. 

The themes of the books just do not seem to be resonating in the movies.  I was a child when i read the books, so they are pictured in my mind through the imagination of a child.  The movies just do not capture what I remember. 

The four main characters seemed pretty useless to me.  I kept wondering why they were necessary for the rebellion to begin.  The movie could just as well have left them out, and we could have had just as much excitement.  But they had to show up in this movie or it could not have been called a sequel.   I guess that summarizes my issue with the movie:  It just did not seem like it had to be a Narnia movie.   It could have been any milktoasty fantasy movie if a few characters were changed or dropped. Aslan was not shown to be intrinsic to the plot.  I was left wondering why he needed or wanted the four kings and queens of the past to show up before doing anything.  That plot point is left totally unanswered.  When he does show up,  there is no doubt who will win, no tension.  He is an epitome of Deus Ex Machina.  He is not a being to be related to personally, but a plot convenience to wrap things up.  There is little or no emotional need for his eventual arrival.  

In the book, Reepicheep and the dwarf with an attitude are an important emotional focus.   The movie does not capture the emotional attachment to these characters that the reader developed in the book.  The result is that the payoff at the end has no impact.  The movie portrays the healing of Reepicheep's tail and the lifting of the dwarf's blindness to see the grandness and reality of Aslan.  However, their characters are not properly interwoven and invested in the plot so that we care as much as we did in the book.  I remember the dwarf's "conversion" in the book as being an emotionally powerful climax. Not here. Here it was an afterthought that seemed thrown in just to wrap up his meager storyline. 

For those who want to see their imagined world of the book portrayed objectively, I would recommend seeing the movie once on DVD.