Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sun Screen

Sun *and* screen, I should say. Or rather, in the absence of the former, we seem to have experienced more of the latter. And what with the summer apparently being over now, it seemed like a good time to reflect back on some of the blockbusters we've seen since we invested in this year's loyalty card at the local cinema. It feels like it's been all superheroes and I can only imagine the general public growing tired of them if this keeps up.

Luckily they're still a welcome (potential) treat for a kid who grew up on Marvel comics - not exclusively: they were like the Milky Way of my reading habits, the stuff you could read between proper books without spoiling your appetite. Of course, when the makers of Milky Way bars make that claim, they're probably envisaging a child consuming perhaps one bar at a time. Entirely possible to have too much of a good thing, guys.

In truth, it wasn't all caped crusaders though. Some of them didn't have capes. But perhaps I'm being unfair: there were other films in the mix. Maybe best to just crack on with the mini-reviews and we can measure the actual superhero tally against the overall impression.

Some of these I've already helped review for my wife's movie review site, so I'll endeavour to be brief here.

First up, Iron Man. Definitely one for the superhero count, and actually weighed in above expectations. Polished (ha) and slick, good sense of humour, all aided and abetted by charismatic performances from Robert Downey Jr (who gives us a Tony Stark living the rock-star lifestyle) and Gwyneth Paltrow. Could have used more in the middle, some more Iron-Man-on-tank action perhaps, but mostly it rocked - and not just in the soundtrack.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was a fun ride, albeit a slightly downhill one, I thought. As mentioned before, admittedly rather strangely, I had a harder time believing in Roswell aliens than the whole Lost Arks or Holy Grails of before and of course in the context of today's blockbusters, the movie has a harder time showing us anything we haven't seen before. But the first half is vintage Indy. And the mere fact that I can say 'vintage Indy' makes me feel far too old.

The Incredible Hulk. Enjoyed this too, almost as much as Iron Man. I (mostly) liked Ang Lee's more pensive version, but this one spends no time contemplating its green belly button and, courtesy of everyone knowing about the Hulk, can dispense with the whole origin story in the space of the opening titles. Brilliant. More superhero movies could do the same. Good action outing, with just enough human story to give a sense of substance and even manages to shoot a chemistry experiment in a tense, exciting way (Doctor Who take note: if you ever want to let the Doctor resolve a plot with some basic science stuff, take a tip from Dr Bruce Banner.)

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian. On the surface, wonderfully colourful escapist fantasy. Beneath the surface, er, nothing much. There are great bits, including a cameo from Tilda Swinton's White Queen - yay! - and Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse is an instant star, but I'm still surprised by how superficial it all feels. Not helped by the inclusion of a really odd romantic thread for Susan, which - despite doubtless being an attempt to lend proceedings some emotional weight - just ends up being odd.

The Forbidden Kingdom. More escapist fantasy adventure, this time for martial arts fans. A fairly ordinary story given life by some great cinematography and a host of affectionate nods to some great martial arts movies, including a liberal sprinkling of "Monkey magic". Frankly, Jet Li and Jackie Chan together was recommendation enough for me, and they didn't disappoint. Great moves, great fun.

Wall-E. Never have so many pixels been invested with such a depth of warmth and enchantment. Refreshingly short on dialogue, high on laughs and, yes, even a few tears, it's also a touching - and lively - homage to Silent Running. The scenes with the humans are less successful, especially when the imagination is asked to bridge the gap between live-action footage of people and big blobby CGI dollops. Still, wonderful stuff and a clear warning of the horrors of what can best be summed up by the label 'Wall-Mart'. What more could you want.

The Dark Knight. On the long side, but for the most part I didn't notice as this gripped the attention and didn't let go. Somehow, they took the outlandish and ludicrous character of the Joker and made him chillingly real: probably something to do with Heath Ledger's brilliantly sadistic performance. The tale of Harvey Dent's downfall is skilfully threaded through proceedings and it's only a little odd that, in a world where Batman and the Joker have been rendered realistically, they opt for the so-obviously CGI 'make-up' job on Two-Face. No stranger than there being Batman toys tied to such a non kid-friendly franchise, I suppose, and
takes little away from the fact that this was compelling stuff.

Mamma Mia! Yeah, it really warrants the exclamation mark. A truly unbelievable movie. Don't get me wrong, I like Abba. But of the two ways of experiencing their music, staying at home and listening to a CD would have been my preferred option. However, I did promise my wife to take her out to a chick-flick (on our anniversary, no less) and I stand by the decision, albeit shaking my head. Mostly at the memory of Pierce Brosnan crooning his way painfully through at least three numbers and actually making Meryl Streep sound good. Julie Walters and Christine Baranski were fun, and perhaps the movie could have been saved if everything was as over-the-top as they were, but that would have depended on free handouts of alcohol at the door.

For me, the name calls to mind Hancock's Half Hour and you'd be better off watching or listening to some of those. One of those cases where, once you've seen the trailer, you've definitely seen it all. Dispenses with the superhero origin story by giving its hero a dose of amnesia and by curious twist of fate ends up being remarkably forgettable.

The Happening. Oh dear. If as I suggested previously Steven Moffat really is the M Night Shyamalan of Doctor Who, this doesn't bode well for future Moffat offerings. Interesting idea, feebly told, with almost every little nuance you imagine might later reveal itself as having some fiendishly clever significance... being of no consequence to the story whatsoever. Between this and Lady In The Water, M Night is getting dangerously past his bedtime. Fingers crossed, he'll get back on form before too long.

The Mummy 3: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor. When you have the Rock (as in The Mummy Returns) as your bad guy, you might be forgiven for thinking it's a good idea to transform him into a badly CGI-ed creature from an arcade game boss battle. When you have Jet Li as your main villain (as in this one), there's really no need to transform him into anything at all. Just let him be impressive and kick your hero's butt. That aside though, this was fun by and large and a bit of a step up from the disappointing second movie in the series, although the absence of Rachel Weisz - despite the fact that Maria Bello (good actress, but curious choice as a Weisztitute) does a fair job in the same role - is very much a step down. Also, saddling your hero and heroine with offspring is a tricky business and the movie feels a bit saddled with him too. But what the heck, we don't care, because as well as the legendary Jet Li, this has the legendary-ess Michelle Yeoh and thankfully they refrain from morphing her into anything unnecessary.

The X Files: I Want To Believe. And I wanted to like this, and - in the main, once I'd given up waiting for the extraterrestrial connection to emerge - did. It's hard to not expect aliens in an X Files movie, but to be fair we've only had two of them now and I thought it was brave of them not to go down that route. What you're left with is in danger of being dismissed as a pedestrian serial killer outing, and it didn't have enough of Mulder and Scully actually working together for my liking, but it did have strong echoes of my favourite X Files episode, Beyond The Sea, and for that it earns points here. To say nothing of the points it scores just for featuring Gillian Anderson. Billy Connolly is exceptional as the psychic paedo, and that's not something you get to say very often and one X Files regulars who's not Mulder or Scully makes a welcome surprise appearance. And, for my own reasons, I liked the snowy setting.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. Impressive visuals and a wealth of creativity in the creature design department, as you'd anticipate from the director of Pan's Labyrinth. And it all sits comfortably alongside the established Hellboy imagery, but I fear that images are all I'll ultimately take away from the experience. Just as the terrifically creepy concept of the Tooth Fairies is lost in the apparent need to have thousands of the little buggers swarming around, if there is any substance to the story I couldn't find it in all the visual splendour. There's humour and some nice moments, but like a lot of those proton torpedoes in the attack on the original Death Star, this movie only "impacted on the surface".

So, that's what, thirteen movies - apologies to the triskadecaphobics out there - and the truth is there are only five that qualify as actual superhero material. Not even half. Not nearly as bad as our impressions made out. Most of them worth the trip to see on the big screen (especially at the reduced price offered by our loyalty cards!), with a few real standouts, so all in all not a bad summer of movies.

Now if only the sun could manage a few showings of at least average quality...


Stevyn Colgan said...

I'd pretty much agree with most of that. I liked Hellboy II a bit more than you did (probably because I'm such a huge fan of Mignola's comic and because I've had a pretty close connection with it this year). But I am 100% with you on Iron Man and Dark Knight - both great films. Indy 4 was a disappointment for me and Hancock had promise but the first half of the film was thoroughly let down by the utterly shoddy second half.

Roll on Tropic Thunder (even if it does appear to be a remake of 'The Three Amigos' in the jungle)!

Stuart Douglas said...

If anything brings home the fact that I prefer telly to movies, it's the fact that I've only seen 3 of those movies, briefly fell asleep in one of those, and am unlikely to watch any of the others (except 'Mummy 3' which I'll definitely get on dvd).

Also, like you I think 'Tony' automatically when I see the name 'Hancock'...

SAF said...

Stuart: "it's the fact that I've only seen 3 of those movies, briefly fell asleep in one of those"

Oh go on, which one was the soporific?

But yeah, I hear you: as much a movie person as I am, we fell out of the cinema-going habit once we upgraded our TV to a larger screen. And it's only since our local cinema came up with this good deal on their 'loyalty card' system that we decided we ought to take advantage of it. Hence, we've seen more movies at the cinema in the last, what, three months than we probably did in the previous couple of years. Up to that point, we were content to wait for the DVD rental.

Stevyn: "Roll on Tropic Thunder (even if it does appear to be a remake of 'The Three Amigos' in the jungle)!"

Ha, yeah, it does, doesn't it. But it does look like fun.

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "Oh go on, which one was the soporific?"

Indy, though I blame it on a very hot cinema, as I did enjoy the movie a lot.

SAF said...

Stuart: "Indy, though I blame it on a very hot cinema, as I did enjoy the movie a lot."

Yeah, it was mostly good. And far too loud, I would have thought, to allow even a brief nap. :)

SK said...

Was incredibly disappointed that Hellboy didn't actually visit the Giant's Causeway -- probably something to do with it being filmed in Hungary, though at least they pasted in some of that instantly-recognisable north coast sky.

I also liked The X Files: I Want To Believe; I'm very glad Carter went for the introspective, meaningful route this time, instead of bigger and more aliens (basically, he avoided the temptation that undid Indy).

I just wish the execution had been slightly better, because then I could point it out to those who complained about the lack of aliens or monsters and say 'look, it was an exploration of faith and rationality, like The X Files always used to do, and it was brilliant!'. As it is I can just go 'look, it was etc and it had some good bits' which isn't as clinching an argument (I know, I've tried it).

SAF said...

SK: "I just wish the execution had been slightly better, because then I could..."

Ha! Strangely, I know exactly what you mean. :)