Monday, May 7, 2007

Movie Maven: Superheroes, Smokers, and Shameless Hype

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Of all the superhero films, I have enjoyed the Spider-man series the most. That is even taking into account the Superman 1 and 2 in the 1970s-80s. Spider-man 1 did a fine

job marrying great special effects with great stories and sympathetic characters. One set up the Spidey origin story, his uncle's death that gives him purpose, and the Green Goblin

who would ultimately get between him and his best friend. Spider-Man 2 bettered the first by having a great villain of Doc Oct, Spidey's struggle with his dreams and his responsibilities, and a simply great fight and rescue scene.

When it came to Spider-Man 3, I had read an article in Entertainment Weekly how this film had been rushed and between casting and writing the script filming it was getting a bit tight.

We went to Spider-man 3 having read much of the reviews that were very, very mixed. The reviews said that this installment was an obvious attempt to cash in on the francise and was just seemed thrown together. We watched the film and afterwards saw what the reviews meant, but found that it wasn't as bad as some of the reviewers made it to be.

It was a very long movie that could have been tightened and edited down more. It really didn't help that the theater we went to had played endless commercials and coming attractions. It was an 11:15AM showing, but we didn't get out 2:00PM.

My hubby, who is a big fan of comic books was very wary of using Venom as one of the villains because it wasn't one of the better ones in the Spiderman universe. If you are going to have a multiple villain fight with Spiderman that should include a little origin for each villain, it is hard to fit a subplot about Spidey's struggle with fame, relationship issues with his girlfriend and best friend, and dealing with the memory of his dead uncle and his need for revenge. It was just too much to try to fit well into a film. I didn't get the dance scene either. The ending was a bit sloppy as well. On the other hand, the effects are great and there are some really good fight scenes. What saves the film and what some reviewers missed is that I still cared about the characters. The core cast are people you care about and the director Sam Raimi is a talented director.

Spider-man 3 will make a lot of money even though it is the weakest installment, and that is okay. That is a testament -- a reward for how good the other two movies were.

All I ask is that if they do Spider-man 4, that they slow down and give us something of the caliber of Spider-man 2. Please.

Nicotine Poisoning

We have also renewed our Netflicks and have checked out various films. There are three movies with cigarettes in their title, only one was good. 200 Cigarettes is set in 1981 in New York City on New Years Eve. A bunch of angst-ridden twenty-somethings are looking for parties to go to or being angst-ridden hoping people will come to their parties. I guess 200 Cigarettes are smoked during the film, but we didn't get that far in before we ejected the disc. There were no characters that we cared about. Like its characters, it was a movie that desperately wanted to be cool.

The Smokers is another film that wanted to be cool. It calls itself another "Heathers", a cult-film in the 1980s. It just wasn't. We watched the entire film to see if it ever reaches "Heathers" status, but it just failed. You just have unpleasant rich girls (who, of course, smoke) and a troubled Scholarship Student who go on an anti-male revenge kick to get the feeling of power. They only give a momentary tease that they will deal with cliques, but they never really

follow through. Unlike "The Smokers", "Heathers" had a wry sense of dark humor with better cinematography. Skip "The Smokers" and rent "Heathers" if you want a film on teen angst, cliques, revenge, and wry comment on how communities deal with teen tragedies.

Thank You For Smoking is a very clever film about lobbyists and the art of spin. The lead character is a lobbyist for the Tobacco Industry, who lunches with lobbyists from the Gun and Alcohol lobbies and with a twinkle in his eye argues persuasively for his clients. Check it out, it is really enjoyable. While not as good as Thank You For Smoking, Fast Food Nation and American Dreamz are moderately interesting satire on American life.

We Have Been Oscar Hyped!

It is a truth for the ages that during awards season, studio marketing people are priming the pump to create buzz for their films. You get proclamations every year that their film is

"The Best Film This Year", "The Best Film of the Decade", and "Best Film EVER". For sole purposes of awards prognostication, it is important to pay attention and guess what hype the members of the Academy will fall for. This is why I try not to see any film before Oscars, because I almost always find the movie lacking in proportion to the amount of hype it gets.

Then I get indignant and refuse to vote for a film to get best picture, because the movie I saw was not an Oscar Worthy film. I temporarily forget that "Oscar Worthy" isn't the best film or best performance, but which marketing department throws the most pixie dust over their film.

As I mentioned before, I lost points this year on the Oscar competition because I watched The Departed before the Oscars. I refused to vote for it for Best Picture even though

I picked it for Best Director (even though I knew that it was Martin Scorsese's year since he was due after a large body of work without an Oscar) because I was disappointed in direct relation to the amount of hype it got. It wasn't that The Departed was bad, it just wasn't the best crafted film that Martin Scorsese ever done. Another problem was casting Leo Dicaprio, who just didn't sell the lead role, which just made the movie lack the weight it needed. This was a problem in another Scorsese film, The Aviator.

The Inconvenient Truth was not a bad movie. It had an important message to deliver. Unfortunately, there was not much new information for us and we thought it was a PowerPoint presentation mixed with a campaign movie for President. It certainly wasn't the best documentary that year. The best documentary I saw last year didn't even get nominated and that was Shut Up and Sing. Jesus Camp was a compelling and scary documentary about how the religious right evangelists are indoctrinating young children to be an army

for God, but I still think "Shut Up and Sing" had a better narrative.

Happy Feet won for best animated feature. While the music was good and the message was laudable, I don't think it was better than Monster House or Cars. Like Inconvenient Truth, this Happy Feet won because of its message.

Little Miss Sunshine was a pleasant film that had its moments of charm and humor, but it really wasn't one of the best films last year. It was better than The Devil Wears Prada which felt like an updated Working Girl from 1988. Meryl Streep will forever be one of the best American Actresses for her work in Sophie's Choice and Out of Africa, but Prada wasn't her Oscar worthy role.

So much hype surrounded Dreamgirls. Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy were shoe-ins for Oscars. Three songs from the movie were nominated along with a host of technical awards

like costume design. Much was made post-Oscar about only Jennifer Hudson winning for best supporting actress and the movie only getting awarded for Sound Mixing. People

cried foul that it got snubbed for Best Picture because it was an all-Black cast. After watching the film, it wasn't a bad film. Bill Condin, who also directed Chicago, did the best he could with a flawed musical with forgettable songs, broad characters, and lack of humor. Given better source material, this would probably be Oscar worthy as Chicago was regardless of the color of the cast.

Children of Men was not a bad movie. It created a very oppressive scary world were there is a world-wide epidemic of infertility. It had a really good use of sound and and had some really suspenseful moments, but it somehow fell short for me in comparison of another futuristic film, V for Vendetta.

So far, Pan's Labyrinth is in my mind the best film for 2006. It is so good on so many levels. I am still interested in watching Last King of Scotland, The Lives of Others, Volver, and maybe just maybe United 93 before I make a final decision.

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