I very much enjoyed Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I enjoyed it so much that I want to discuss the plot in a way that will quickly get in to spoiler territory. If this bothers you please leave now and come back later. (more…)
Category: Box Office Democracy
I suppose you can’t make a movie about a global flood and a man building an ark to store all of the animals of the world without people drawing the comparison to the story of Noah from the bible. That’s a shame though because there’s an interesting movie in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah that might never get it’s due because it is so divorced from the story we’ve all heard a million times that I fear it’ll never get a chance. This is a story everyone knows and changing the answer to questions like “Why did God flood the earth?” or “How many people were on the ark?” or even “How many rock monsters are in this story?”
This is a dark unpleasant movie Aronofsky has made. This sentence could also be run in a review of [[[Black Swan]]], [[[Requiem for a Dream]]], or really any of his other movies with the possible exception of [[[The Wrestler]]], which I only found unpleasant. This is unpleasant on a whole other scale though. This movie features the death, by drowning, of the overwhelming majority of the population of the planet and it isn’t even the most messed up thing that happens in the film. Most disturbing scene has to go to the one where Noah is about to stab his newborn twin granddaughters to death because he’s convinced that God wants the human race to die out with his children. What’s that you say? In the bible all three of Noah’s kids bring their wives with them and there’s no question the human race will continue? I don’t know what to tell you. Your bible probably doesn’t have rock monsters in it either.
Aronofsky is a great director and while this isn’t a great film his talent comes through in the visuals. The spiritual side of things is heavily stylized and colorful while the earth is all muted grays. It creates solid contrast and will almost get you to accept that man has ruined the earth provided to him. There’s also a fantastic sequence where Noah tells his children the biblical story of seven-day creation while we’re shown a much more scientific creation montage including evolution. It’s visually stunning but probably not worth the shit storm I’m sure is forthcoming from the more devout religious groups.
In the movie they identify the rock monsters as members of a group of angels called The Watchers and while doing a bit of research for this review I came across a fun fact. There are no examples of fallen Watchers in the actual bible but in the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical Jewish text, does describe a group of Watchers who fell including some that share names with characters in the movie Noah. This group of Watchers was kicked out of heaven because they couldn’t control their urges and started having sex with human women leading to a race of monster giants. None of this is in this movie and I probably would have rather seen that.
I feel bad for The Muppets in the same way I feel bad for aging rock bands. They used to be cutting edge but now they’re content to be a nostalgia act making money by playing the hits. I don’t begrudge them the work and frankly I might be a little jealous of how much money they’re making doing the same old thing but I wish they doing new and exciting things rather than just jamming out on “Sympathy for the Devil” one more time. Muppets Most Wanted is a fun movie but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
The plot of Muppets Most Wanted centers around an international jewel thief frog who is identical to Kermit with the exception of a mole on his lip. Using his underling Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), Constantine switches place with Kermit, taking over running the Muppet world tour while Kermit rots away in a Siberian Gulag. The movie then breaks in to three threads with Gervais, Constantine, and the duped Muppets going on a world tour that corresponds to where robberies need to be made leading to a heist of the crown jewels while Kermit tries to escape his captors at the Gulag (led by Tina Fey) and a pair of mismatched cops (Sam Eagle and a Clouseau-esque Ty Burrell) try to solve the crime. It doesn’t break any new ground in any of the three threads but the live-action actors are giving it everything they have even when they seem a little over their heads in the musical numbers. Muppet purists might be a little upset that Walter is still front and center in this movie instead of some of the more established characters. Muppet purists might also find this film too similar to The Great Muppet Caper to really warrant a whole new film. Are Muppet purists a real thing? Is this a demographic that moves tickets? Wouldn’t they have given up when Jim Henson died, Frank Oz retired and Disney bought the company?
There are two lengthy sequences where you can see all of Constantine’s body and he moves around on his legs and Disney needs to promise they won’t try this with any other Muppets until the effect gets much better. Everyone knows these are puppets and is willing to accept the limitations that come with that. I don’t know if it was a marionette or a CGI effect or some combination of the two but it looks atrocious. There’s a classic look to the Muppets and it all looks fine introducing new for the sake of new (you cannot convince me a dance number was essential to the plot) is a dicey proposition even when it doesn’t look like you’ve hastily inserted a frog puppet via green screen.
I’d like to close by briefly scolding whoever had the idea to have Usher do a cameo as an usher. I groaned over the next two lines. You almost pissed away all the good will you generated by having Salma Hayek appear exclusively in a red spandex bodysuit. Almost.
Divergent is a rather cynical reminder that Hollywood is all about making money and never taking any chances. Twilight blows up and everyone scours for Young Adult books with supernatural elements and love triangles. That search eventually leads to The Hunger Games which makes a ton of money leading to another wave of searches for YA books about dystopian futures and that is how we got to Divergent. If this movie makes enough money expect a round of films where everyone refers to groups of people with needless SAT words. I think that’s the takeaway here.
In the Divergent world all life exists in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where everyone exists in one of five factions Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, or Dauntless. Everyone is tested for their appropriate faction but that is rendered moot as you are allowed to pick your faction when you reach some late teen age that somehow makes it so our main character Beatrice chooses on the same day as her older brother. Beatrice is a Divergent, someone who tests equally well for more than one faction. This makes her dangerous somehow. People will try and kill her if they discover this information.
This might seem like a lot of basic exposition and the film struggles mightily with it. Establishing the previous paragraph and showing Beatrice (later just Tris) training for acceptance into the Dauntless faction takes the overwhelming majority of the film. The actual story with real consequences and stakes doesn’t start until awfully close to the two-hour mark of the film. This is a trilogy and I understand the need to lay groundwork for future movies (especially when they come pre-greenlit) but it really feels like they sold this movie out for excessive exposition and one too many training montages.
I also strongly feel that good science fiction needs a clear philosophical bent and I’m just not sure what that is in Divergent. It might be about accepting people who are different, it might be about the importance of family, or it could be as simple as condemning people who want to throw violent coups. It could be that this will also be clearer as the series goes on but I knew after one film that The Hunger Games would be about rebelling against an oppressive government. Divergent just leaves me confused and disinterested.
The bad guy for most of the middle third of the movie, Eric, looks so much like hip-hop artist Macklemore that it’s honestly distracting. It’s a choice I can’t understand unless this movie is intended as a propaganda piece to turn the young girls of America against Macklemore. I would fully support that agenda and would be prepared to change this entire review into a rave if that agenda came out. If anyone at Summit Entertainment or Lionsgate would like to comment on these please send a note through official ComicMix channels.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I backed the Veronica Mars movie on Kickstarter. In addition to a myriad of cool perks this gave me, and thousands of other backers, access to regular updates on the process of making this movie, a level of access rather atypical today and totally unheard of a decade ago. I watched this movie grow from a cool pipe dream to an actual thing that is actually playing in theaters. This all adds up to a movie that I liked a great deal but am unable to assure myself that this affection is genuine, or is it more like the love a parent feels for their potentially mediocre child?
300: Rise of an Empire is a movie that made me doubt my own sanity. I watched that movie and wondered if I had completely imagined the ending of the original movie and, for that matter, the graphic novel it was based on. I distinctly remembered that story closing with a mass of people being told the story of the brave 300 and how their sacrifice inspired the Greeks to band together and now they would fight the Persians and now their victory was assured. I had to run to YouTube to find this clip to assure myself that that is how the movie ended. It’s too bad no one involved with 300: Rise of an Empire bothered to do 40 seconds of searching because they could have avoided completely negating their entire first movie.
300: Rise of an Empire takes place before, during, and after the original film and tells a highly fictionalized version of the Battle of Salamis (for example, in the real battle the light from the sun was not exclusively orange and grey). Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is leading a rag tag band of a Greek navy against the unbeatable Persian navy led by Greek-born warmonger Artemisia (Eva Green). While leading the war Themistocles must also help Calisto (Jack O’Connell), the son of his friend Scyllas (Callan Mulvey) become a man and a soldier, a process achieved mostly through meaningful glances that seem to constantly threaten to turn this movie into another kind of Greek affair.
The Greek navy happens to be hopelessly outnumbered in this battle much like the Spartan army to the south but these soldiers, who are called out as being poets and sculptors before the fighting begin, handle themselves just as well as the Spartans do in the first movie dispatching dozens of Persian sailors for every casualty. It kind of weakens the greatness of the fantastic Spartan army if it turns out that any Greek of the streets with a spear and a shield could have performed about as well. There’s also the moment when Themistocles and his men find out that the 300 have fallen and rather than be inspired to unite as one Greece like they showed at the end of the first film it inspires everyone to want to give up and have many long conversations about how hopeless they are. It’s a rare movie that can make me feel bad for trampling over the plot points of its predecessor when I didn’t even like that movie in the first place.
You might have noticed something about all those names in parentheses in the preceding paragraphs, they all play Greeks and they’re all remarkably pale English, Scottish, New Zealanders, Australian, or French people. It’s whitewashing and it’s offensive, the only dark-skinned people in this movie are on the Persian side and they’re overwhelmingly incompetent or cowards. Even Xerxes is retconned in to being the pawn of Artemisia and her anti-Greek ambition. Artemisia is the palest person in this movie, which stretches credulity to the breaking point as they portray her as a Greek-born slave turned Persian admiral. None of those activities seem like they would be conducive to avoiding the sun.
The worst thing about 300: Rise of an Empire is that it’s going to be used to defend Zack Snyder. He must be something more than the only person fighting Michael Bay for a seat at the musical chairs of the world’s worst directors if he can leave a franchise and see the quality plummet like this. Maybe there is some measure of artistry in all that slow motion if someone copying the technique can make it look so much worse.
Martha Thomases: So much better! Karl Urban looked the part. The set, while not looking like the comics, had the gritty spirit of the comics. And the violence was terrifically cartoony.
And no Rob Schneider, although I did think he was the best thing about the first one.
Mike: Back in 1995 I went in to the theater with really low expectations, given the Sylvester Stallone / Rob Schneider leads. They managed to live up to those expectations. This new one had enough blood to make Sam Peckinpah gag, but I dug it. It was meaningful blood.
I admire Urban playing true to the character and never taking the helmet off. Sly put his money right there on the screen. Sadly.
Martha: Urban kept his face still and his voice growled. I can remember the other characters. The kid who worked the computer for the bad guys has stayed in my mind. Those eyes. Dredd 3-D reminded me of Escape From New York more than Peckinpah.
Mike: Good point. Although Escape From New York reminded me of Grand Central Terminal at evening rush.
Lots of solid special effects with the eyes. It was a signature thing with this movie. I liked how both women leads looked like they had been drawn by Ian Gibson, which was exactly the right thing. The growling was right on target, although I’m afraid some people will think he was imitating Batman.
Martha: I also liked the way the women weren’t played as sexy femme fatales nor damsels in distress. None were there to be love interests, not even Judge Anderson. Although in a society where everything is filthy and no one can get a close shave, I am impressed that they take the time to pluck their eyebrows.
Mike: This one was very faithful to the comics, both in tone and in detail. You’re right about the cityscape, and the blocks looked more realistic (and less ironic) than in the comics.
They really understood their source material… maybe because the 2000AD publisher co-produced it. The dog wagging the tail, as opposed to the Warner Bros. approach.
Martha: I couldn’t tell when it went from real to matte/CGI. The city looked quite believable.
Mike: Like the Tales from the Crypt teevee show, they added nasty language to the dialog. Unlike Tales from the Crypt, no nudity. Which was fine: I, for one, would have to pluck my eyes out after seeing Judge Dredd naked.
Martha: But a naked Dr. McCoy would be a delight!
I did flash on how cool it would have been to have Joan Jett as the villain, but Lena Headey was absolutely great.
Martha: I don’t know who should get the credit for Urban’s performance. It was very flat, which is exactly right. Kind of show-offy in a non-show-offy way. I assume the director told him to do that.
Mike: Judge Dredd dominates. Unlike the comics, he can’t be unrealistically one head taller than everybody else so his performance had to make it seem that way. Given how everything was covered up except for his jaw and mouth, all he had to work with was his voice. Which came off great.
Martha: If I have a problem, it’s the McGuffin made no sense. It’s a drug called SloMo, which slows one’s perception of time. If you’ll living a wretched slum, why is that something you would want to do?
Although taking a bath on SloMo sure was pretty.
Mike: I agree with that, although heroin is much the same way – except you also get to distance yourself from your lousy reality. But it worked well for the big finish.
Martha: It worked for the torture threats, too. Made the bad guys seem really, really bad.
Mike: I think the middle of the movie was too drawn out. When Steven Moffatt wrote the Rowin Atkinson Doctor Who, he said the show was about chase scenes through endless corridors. In Dredd 3-D, they seem to think this was a good idea.
Martha: I kept thinking video games. I thought we going to have to go through all 200 levels.
Mike: The outrageousness of the early Dredd stores has since become commonplace in our culture. It lost all its shock value. And as much fun as that was, I think they were smart to avoid that today. It would have turned the movie into a comedy. But without Rob Schneider.
Martha: I eagerly await the Judge Death storyline.
Mike: Yeah, I hope it does well enough for a sequel. Not too sure about that, although the reviews weren’t universally horrible. Two-thirds were at least fairly positive.
What did you think of the Real 3-D?
Martha: It made the SloMo parts really pretty.
Mike: This is the new second move – ever – where I liked the 3-D effects, the first being The Avengers. This was actually better. But those middle scenes lacked ‘em, making them even slower for me.
Martha: Otherwise, it was subtle enough that I focused on the movie.
Mike: Good point. The gimmicks should never outweigh the story or the performances. Just try telling that to George Lucas.
Martha: The sparkle in the SloMo 3D is the only reason I could imagine the drug was any fun.
Mike: So, kids, just say no to drugs unless you’re in a 3-D theater. ComicMix cares.
Martha: 3-D Pixar movies are great in 3-D.
Mike: Yeah, well, personally I’m not a big fan of that animation style. This makes me very lonely. And they’re a waste of Randy Newman’s considerable gifts.
Martha: We will have to agree to disagree about that.
Mike: So I infer you liked Dredd 3-D… a lot?
Martha: A bunch. I would recommend it. I hope it does well so Box Office Democracy covers it. I should warn you that I did not hate the TotalRecall remake, so my opinion might not matter.
Mike: Of course your opinion matters. Consensual reality doesn’t apply to movies. And nice job plugging Box Office Democracy!
I would certainly recommend it to action movie fans and absolutely to comics fan. I think my response is about 90% of yours.
Martha: I would be interested to know how this movie is received by those who don’t know the comic.
Mike: I will be interested to see how it does in the UK as opposed to North America.
What are you looking forward to next?
Martha: I want to see Looker. I still haven’t seen The Master. And Bond. James Bond. The Man with the Iron Fists. Django Unchained. Cloud Atlas – the new Wachowski film. I am a social butterfly!
Mike: The trailer for Iron Fists was great, although you already warned me. It’s made by Michael Davis’s buddy Rza. And, yeah, as always I’m looking forward to the next Bond. Us baby boomers and our James Bond fetish.
That Ben Afflick movie Argo looks interesting. Then again, I’m hoping he’s in Avengers 2 as well. Or Captain America 2. Just to piss the hardcore off.
Martha: I love Ben. I even loved Jersey Girl.
I find that, if there is a theme in my movie preferences of late, it’s that I like to see cute guys in peril.
Mike: Damn. So Daniel Craig is cute? He doesn’t do that much for me. But M…
Martha: Is she in peril in the new one? I think the new Q is adorable.
So, yes, I think all ComicMix readers should go see this… if only to participate in this discussion in the comments.
Mike: Ever vigilant about the page hits! I agree, on both subjects. Thanks, Martha! We’ll see you here next week!