Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Summer Catch-Up #2: Hollywood Goes Bananas

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 21, 2006

Oh, those wacky Weinsteins! Yes, they’ve moved Pulse (starring the lovely and talented Kristen Bell, and by the way, Emmy voters, you suck) back to the crowded summer season, specifically Aug. 11. This would normally be OK with me, since August has proved to be a decent time to release this kind of PG-13 horror flick (The Sixth Sense, The Others). But now it’s going to have to compete with no less than 4 other major films that weekend, including Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, which any intelligent moviegoer is going to feel guilt-tripped into seeing. Then again, in all fairness, there’s virtually no weekend left this year where there aren’t already 3 or 4 other movies opening wide. So I guess K-Bell is just going to have to duke it out with the big boys, something she should be used to by now as the star of the hugely underappreciated Veronica Mars (yes, I will keep mentioning it until you start watching. Yes, you). Oh well, why am I so worried? It’s not like I have money invested in her career or anything (just HSX money). She’ll be fine. Talent will win out. I’ll find something else to obsess over eventually. I promise.

Anyway, we’re now past summer’s halfway mark, and things are finally looking up at the local cineplexes. This tends to happen every year – once the super-mega-gigantic blockbusters have blown over (or just blown), the really interesting stuff starts to come out. It’s always around July or so that I actually start enjoying going to the movies again, instead of the early-summer experience of general malaise and despair. Seriously, does anyone even remember Mission-Impossible 3 at this point? I barely do myself, and I kinda liked the damn thing. Yet it seems about as far away now as the last Francis Ford Coppola film. I’m surprised it isn’t already out on DVD with an Extended Director’s Cut and a special hidden easter egg about the benefits of Scientology.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I’m looking forward to the late-July and August releases much more than most of what’s already come out. I mean, sitting through The DaVinci Code, X-Men: The Last Stand or The Omen will make anybody gaze longingly at a new Michael Mann or M. Night Shyamalan or Kevin Smith or even Snakes on a Plane. Even if all of those movies are total train wrecks, at least they’ll be interesting, for god’s sake. Hell, How to Eat Fried Worms is actually looking pretty good right now, and it’s a movie about kids eating worms. Until this summer, I didn’t think one could actually literally starve for entertainment. I was mistaken.

The past month or so hasn’t been so bad, however. Assuming one was smart enough to avoid the likes of Little Man and Garfield 2 (and thank Christ for that modicum of intelligence), that is. You can check out my full-length review of the new Monster House above, but let’s play catch-up on a few noteworthy movies I haven’t had time to review.

Nacho Libre – OK, I can’t figure out why so many people hate this movie. They saw a movie about a Mexican wrestler, but apparently they didn’t want it to feel like a movie about a Mexican wrestler. Something’s wrong with that scenario. Coming from the director of low-key cult sensation Napoleon Dynamite, there’s no way this was going to appeal to the Farrelly Brothers crowd. It’s not a belly-laughs, rubber-chicken-up-a-guy’s-ass type of comedy. And I say, thank Christ for that. This is a sweet, goofy little movie with its own peculiar charm and a wonderfully subdued performance by Jack Black. The biggest laughs come from Black’s idiosyncratic speech patterns and modern dialogue that you wouldn’t expect from a monk (“so…anyways…”) rather than the wrestling scenes. I have a feeling the fart noises were added later in post though, possibly to keep the kids awake. And those half-hearted cries of racism over Black’s casting? Give me a break. They explain during the movie that Nacho is half-Mexican, so get over it already. No, it’s not a great comedy or an instant classic like School of Rock, but it’s a quirky little treat in a summer full of generic clones. ***

Superman Returns – wow, I really wanted to like this movie much more than I did. I can understand why some people love it, and I can understand why some people hate it. I’m kind of in the middle. Parts of it work really well, and other parts make you scratch your head and wonder what they were thinking.

I can understand Singer’s wanting to make a legitimate sequel to Superman I & II, considering how badly the last two sequels dropped the ball (I actually watched parts of III recently – good god, what an abomination). But the timeline just doesn’t work in any logical way (is it 25 years later or not? If so, why is everyone younger?), and they pick and choose what parts of the story they want to use and throw away others, based on what fits in their convoluted plotline. Not to mention the fact that Singer’s movie bears so many parallels to the original, it’s a wonder Richard Donner didn’t get story credit. Superman comes/returns to Earth in the pod. He enters/reenters public life by rescuing Lois from a helicopter/airplane crash. He meets/returns to Lois on her balcony. Lex’s big plan involves “real estate” and altering land masses for financial gain. Lex uses his female sidekick, Miss Tessmacher/Kitty as a distraction to put his plan in motion. And so on. There’s so many of these similarities that they can’t possibly be a coincidence. It’s like Singer and crew are trying to make a remake, a sequel and an original film all at the same time. Since they obviously had to recast the entire film out of necessity, why not just start over (like Batman Begins) with a new storyline, while keeping the visual style and iconography of the Donner films? Why bend over backwards when it simply isn’t necessary?

What’s worse is that the basic idea (Superman returns after leaving Earth for five years) simply makes no sense. Let me get this straight – scientists thought they had found Krypton, and Supes just had to go check it out? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Krypton blown to smithereens in the original film? Even if they had found parts of it, there wouldn’t be anything living left on it anyway. What’s the point? And why does he travel in the pod again? We know he can breathe in outer space. He’s not a baby anymore, he doesn’t need Jor-El’s pod to guide him there and back again. Why aren’t people more pissed off at him for leaving? “Gee Superman, great to have you back even though the world has gone straight to Hell since you’ve been gone?” Is this the same Superman who gave up his powers in II, then got them back because he couldn’t let people suffer without doing something about it? Why would that Superman basically abandon the entire planet for five years? None of it makes any sense at all, and it certainly doesn’t line up ideologically with the original films.

But what I really don’t get is why Singer and his writers went with such an awkward, contrived story when it doesn’t pay off in any way. What’s the purpose in taking out Lois Lane as a potential romantic interest for Superman, and basically turning him into Super-Stalker? Yes, it provides conflict – which is never resolved. Giving him an illegitimate son is a bit of a soap-opera move, but it doesn’t really give the character anywhere to go. He’s become a Superman who can’t do anything about the circumstances he’s in – can’t make a move on Lois, can’t claim the kid as his own (other than visiting him in the middle of the night while he’s sleeping, another slightly creepy stalker move), can’t go back in time and fix everything that happened while he was gone. What exactly is he supposed to accomplish in this movie (other than foiling Luthor’s evil plan)? He doesn’t really have any options for possible course of action. They’ve essentially written him into a corner here, for no apparent reason other than to “try something new”. How is that any different from the proposed Jon Peters version, where he’d have a different costume and fight polar bears? Oh, and Superman kills in this version too. Is that the Superman we remember? He might have the same costume (pretty much), but it’s a reinvention of the character all the same, and not for the better.

Yet there are things to like about Returns. I enjoyed the style of the film (even though much of it is cribbed from Donner), laughed at some of the jokes, and admired some of the action scenes (though I was ready to doze off towards the end). I mostly liked the cast – Brandon Routh is a more than passable Man of Steel, even if he looks more like Jason Schwartzman to me than Chris Reeve. I’m one of the few who didn’t hate Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane (watch her in Wonderland and then try to dismiss her as “lightweight”) and especially found James Marsden to be a revelation (where was this guy during the making of the X-Men films? Where was that Cyclops?). But overall, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the movie was just an unrepentant downer, for no apparent reason that I could fathom. Roger Ebert complained that Superman “wasn’t having any fun”, to which my response is – screw him, what about the audience? This is Superman, not Shakespeare, for cryin’ out loud. Superman is supposed to give us hope, lift us up and deliver us from tragedy, not wallow in it. Singer had an opportunity here – to give us a Superman that transcends the bleakness and despair of our era to provide a feeling (however temporary) of triumph and even, possibly, hope for mankind. He blew it. As much as he desperately wants his film to be just like Donner’s, it’s missing something crucial at its core. The tagline should’ve been “You will believe a man can cry”. **1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – leave it to Jerry Bruckheimer to pull off the first truly fun blockbuster of the summer. Finally, a piece of old-fashioned summer escapism that feels like exactly what it’s meant to be. Love it or hate it, this is a movie that delivers exactly what it promises, and that’s a rarity these days. Screw the highbrow critics – this is pure action-adventure cinema for its own glorious sake, and it’s too much of a kick to be dismissed.

You want to know why Pirates is doing so well? It’s easy – audiences love pure escapism. Always have, always will. There’s absolutely nothing “real” about this movie, any more than there was in the old swashbucklers of the ‘30’s, ‘40’s and ‘50’s. It’s not political. It’s not hip. It’s not “about” anything. It’s simply a rip-roaring adventure for the sake of adventure. That’s the kind of pure pleasure that Hollywood used to deliver on a regular basis, and which has been sorely missed for the past couple of decades. Movie audiences have become so splintered that it’s rare that something aims for everyone and actually hits the mark. Kids, adults, grandparents, farm animals – people of all races, creeds and persuasions can go to these movies and be entertained by them. That’s no small accomplishment. In fact, it’s what summer movies used to be all about. How is it that we’ve forgotten that?

Look, I don’t know if I’ll even remember this movie 6 months from now. I may never watch it again (I haven’t watched the original Pirates since it first came out), and I probably won’t buy it on DVD. But I do know I had a great time watching it, and that’s all that counts. I could probably go into more detail about its merits, but really, you all pretty much know what these movies are like. Johnny Depp acting like a fey drunk and whooping it up like a madman. Orlando Bloom playing the stoic, upright hero type. Keira Knightley acting spunky and looking hot. Lots of expertly staged action. Cool monster effects (I particularly liked the guy with a starfish on his face). Some funny scenes and a few funny lines. The thing just works, and there’s no arguing with that. If you want deep, meaningful stuff, go see the Al Gore movie. If you want a kick-ass adventure movie, this is your ticket. It’s a rollicking good time. What more can I say?

Sadly, there are some people out there who just don’t know when they’ve got it good. When the movie ended, I heard this woman talking about how disappointed she was by it, saying she preferred the original because this one was “too fantastical”. Say what? Isn’t that the whole point? Let’s see, the original had ghost pirates with skeleton-like bodies, but this is too much for you to buy into? Give me a break. Then she went into the “it’s too long” argument, which I’m frankly really, really sick of by now. If you don’t like watching movies over two hours long, don’t fucking go already. Honestly, how difficult is it to look up a movie’s running time on the Net? Not difficult at all. So please, honestly, give the rest of us a break with that stupid, whiny argument. It was lame when you used it on King Kong, and it’s even lamer now. You know, some of us actually like getting something for our ticket price. You’d prefer to be less entertained for the same amount of money? That’s ridiculous. Are you the same people who go to a concert and leave before the encore? There’s nothing set in stone that a movie has to be less than 120 minutes long. If your big fat asses can’t handle sitting in the chair for that long, by all means, stay home. Honestly, some people are just so fucking ungrateful. ***1/2

So that covers the middle of summer. Hopefully there will be some interesting surprises in the weeks ahead. I’ll be checking back in soon with more reviews and (no doubt) rants. Talk to you later!

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