Thursday, May 31, 2007

And the wait for Sin City 2 just keeps getting longer.

All right, so it's only been a little more than two years since Sin City hit the multiplexes in big, violent, marvelously bloody fashion. But in this era of instant sequels (just add water, watch 'em grow) and Internet-induced ADD, it's hard to wait.

According to an interview with Frank Miller at Rotten Tomatoes, the sequel has been delayed even further, and now must wait until Miller completes The Spirit and Robert Rodriguez finishes his Barbarella remake (and considering he just signed on a week or two again, who knows how long it will take).

Well, hey, at least this debunks the recent Michael Madsen report that the bummer box office netted by Grindhouse had indefinitely halted production. Thank God for that.

Michael Moore saves the movies!

Michael Moore is a very polarizing figure and is bound to create controversy wherever he goes (gee, betcha didn't hear about his recent trip to Cuba), but one thing we can all agree on is that the guy loves movies and is willing to do anything to preserve cinema as an artform, including rescuing a decrepit one-screen theater in Traverse City, Michigan, so that the residents have a chance to see limited release arthouse flicks they usually wouldn't have the option to. He will only show movies released on less than 200 screens nationally, which I think is a great idea.

Someone mind coming to my town and doing the same?

And just so there's no bones about it, I cannot wait for Sicko.

Finally, you can get revenge on that crying kid sitting behind you at the movies.

Are you one of the many who has become increasingly pissed off with your fellow movie theater patrons?

Well, now you can take heart: Select Regal theaters in New York City are handing out a little device that you can use to rat out those annoying folks to the management. This is in an effort to appease the millions of disgruntled customers who are staying away from theaters in droves, allowing DVD to take over (you bastards!). Of course, there's the whole problem that the management will come to check out the problem and create even more of a disturbance. So I guess they still have to work the kinks out.

It's still cool.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New DVD Day: 5/29/07

This week's only notable release:

I don't know any Lecter fan who's actually subjected themselves to this wretched-looking prequel. Ugh.

Wow, that's all for this week? Pretty pathetic. We don't usually cover re-issues or boxsets except for special occasions, but I'm pretty sure the new Katharine Hepburn Collection will be a lot more kick-ass than fucking Hannibal Rising. Even if all the films in it are obscure and I've never seen any of them. At the very list, I suppose they'd be interesting.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tonight on the History Channel: Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed.

Yup, it's Memorial Day, and while everyone else is celebrating real-life war veterans, the History Channel has decided to take a look at the legacy behind the most famous fictional war of all time, that waged between the Rebllion and the Empire. That's right...Star Wars. There's gonna be a lot of famous folks on hand to discuss their experiences with the film, and you can check out a little video clip here where Stephen Colbert, Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson, and more offer some words.

It's on tonight from 9:00 to 11:00 PM EST, and it's preceded at 8:00 by a special discussing the technology of the series. Then at 11, they replay the whole thing again.

But just in case you can't remember:

Have a happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Do the Cha Cha Cha!

Viva la Mexico!

Mexican pals and auteurs Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu have teamed up for a $100 million, five picture deal with Universal called Cha Cha Cha. Under the deal, each of them will make a new flick, along with two other movies made by Rodrigo Garcia and Alfonso's brother Carlos Cuarón.

Since one of them's made three masterpieces (Iñárritu; 21 Grams, Amores perros, Babel), one of them's made two masterpieces (Alfonso; Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), one of them's made one masterpiece (Garcia; Nine Lives), one helped his brother write a near-masterpiece (Carlos; Y tu mamá también), and one of them's an interesting guy who could one day make a masterpiece (del Toro; sorry, Pan's Labyrinth was good but came nowhere close to living up to its hype), I am ecstatic at this news.

Imagine...Paul Rudd as John Lennon?

+ =
+ ?

According to the latest regular issue of Entertainment Weekly (they released two issues this weekend, but one is an American Idol special)--#936, June 1--in an upcoming rock 'n roll mockumentary, Walk Hard, Paul Rudd will play John Lennon and Jack Black will play Paul McCartney in a scene where the two get in an argument.

Tenacious Beatles at Penny Lane During the Holiday in the Knocked-Up Anchorman's 40 Year Old Destiny?

Okay, that was extremely contrived and probably not that funny. But I'm psyched at this news, probably because I haven't been able to stop laughing at the idea since I first heard it.

Choice quote from Rudd?

"To think that Yoko Ono would even see it makes me want to throw up."

This, however, does make the casting a bit more plausible:

From the Bookshelf: Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy

An extremely fun and entertaining read, Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy largely covers Joss Whedon's television career as a writer on Roseanne and Parenthood, among others, and of course his triumvirate of perfection, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, though it does have some very informative chapters on his film career as one of the most important script doctors of the 1990's. But to be honest, I'd take his TV career over anyone's film career.

The book is a bit sad, because at the time it was published--2003--Joss' product was still out there in the market. Granted, as the book winds down, the writer, Candace Havens, discovers that Firefly has most likely been cancelled (it had) and that Buffy may possibly come to an end (it did). Still, that left Angel, which got cancelled in 2004. There's no discussion of Joss' current film career, since the publication date preceded it, but it's been one of mixed joy and turmoil: Serenity continued the story from Firefly and won critical acclaim, but it flopped at the box office (though the book, and the man himself, makes it continuously clear that quality is far more important to Joss than money). He spent two years working on Wonder Woman before leaving because the studio didn't want what he wanted, and he didn't want what they wanted (I wonder whose ideas were better, eh?).

At the time the book came out, Joss was still a genius workhorse, and though he's still a genius workhorse, it's largely confined to the comic book medium (where he writes Astonishing X-Men and the official eighth season of Buffy). Now, while I absolutely adore comic books and think of them as an artform equal to that of television or film, it's been a mighty long time since I got to enjoy new Joss material on the screen, big or small. Luckily, it's been revealed that he's submitted a final draft of the screenplay for his psychological horror film Goners and will soon be finding out if he will be shooting it THIS YEAR. Which makes me all kinds of happy. But there is a certain sadness that hangs over the material here, especially those chapters detailing future television projects that Joss will never get to make.

Speaking of the book...let's actually talk about it. Havens is obviously a fan, and the book is pretty biased, but then again, this is not meant to be a definitive biography, rather an educational look into the method and madness of a creative genius. Which it is. There are plenty of great quotes from Joss himself, as well as those he has worked with, all painting a picture of the man as the unique, insanely creative maestro his fans have always known he is. Though a hardcore Whedonite I am (and ooh, that's some pretty scary, quasi-religious terminology right there), there are several things here that I was completely unaware of, especially Joss' early life and several film scripts he's already written that may or may not ever see the light of day.

I'm not exactly sure if Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy will have any literary value to those who are not already fans of the subject or his work (unlike, say, Bob Spitz's magnificent Beatles biography, published in the same year), but I do know, as one of those aforementioned fans, this is absolutely essential. A+

Saturday, May 26, 2007

At the Movies: At World's End a fitting end

[NOTE: Will would like it made known that his reason for non-participation isn't because he doesn't love you. He wants to make babies with you. The real culprit is some strenuous schoolwork that will keep Will out of commission for the next several weeks, which saddens him to no end. Hopefully he will be back writing with me soon! Until then...enjoy The AJ Show!]

Back in summer 2003, I fell in love with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, certainly Disney's edgiest live action fare up to that time, and with plenty of heart, humor, laughs, action, and thrills. I like heart, humor, laughs, action, and thrills. Unfortunately, The Curse of the Black Pearl hasn't held up as well on repeat viewings; I saw it a couple times in '03, once in '04, and again just this week, and I've liked it less each time, though I still like it and find it very solid and enjoyable. Now, I know that a lot of folks had problems with the sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. My question to those people is: Did you watch the same fucking movie? Everything that rocked about the first was amplified and expanded, while proving insanely rewatchable (at least it did this week).

I'm not going to go on record saying that either one was a masterpiece (though with a little fine-tuning the second could've been), and thus I was able to approach Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, purportedly the franchise's final installment (though for the past few months there have already been rumblings of a continuation), without the insane sugar high expectations that allowed Spider-Man 3 to crush me as much as it did and with the knowledge that as long as it was fun, I'd have a good time. And I did.

Picking up directly from where the last left off, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is back after Jack killed him at the end of the first (death is meaningless in this series; more on that later), and under his captainship, the gang goes looking for the infamous Cap'n Jack (Johnny Depp) who was eaten at the end of the second by the ferocious Kraken when Elizabeth (Kiera Knightley) cuffed him to the Black Pearl as everyone else jumped ship. Later there's the exploration of the love "triangle" between Elizabeth, Jack, and Will (Orlando Bloom)--it's really a two-pronged love affair, but Dizzy Miss Lizzy has given Will reason to be suspicious of she and Jack--and a meeting of the pirate lords, including Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat).

The film opens beautifully with a disturbing sequence of pirates being hanged, and then our gang has some adventure down in Singapore when they go to confront Sao Feng, but after that, it flounders until Captain Jack Sparrow shows up about 30 minutes in. Unlike the first two, the movie gets to a point where it seems to become aimless, and wanders around for a while before busting out its internal compass to find its way back to the hearts of moviegoers. This isn't to say that it meanders its entire length, but that around the halfway mark it becomes so tangled and mired in the seaweed of its own complex storylines and mythologies that it stops having a point. There are a lot of exposition scenes that come across as very exposition-y; they're transparent talking points with no flash or zing to distract us from the fact that we're learning things it's essential we know. This is particularly apparent during scenes revolving around whether or not oracle Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) is Calypso, some sort of goddess. The audience is almost painfully aware it's being force-fed information to keep the plot going.

Fortunately, Jack's introduction scene in this film, an outrageously bizarre piece of surrealism that made me think I was watching something made by the opposite of Disney (actually, much of this film made me think the same thing), makes the movie fun and relevant again, but the lapses into aimlessness are periodic.

As I said before, I was a very big fan of the second film, which realized it was nothing but an absurdly over-the-top Hollywood action movie and it raised said blockbuster absurdity to something close to an artform, elaborate setpiece topped by elaborate setpiece in a stylishly deft juggling act by director Gore Verbinski. This isn't to say that all I want from this third entry is Action, Action, Action!--that couldn't be further from the truth--but some momentum is badly needed in places, and I kept wanting to feel that the movie was going somewhere I felt inclined to follow.

Also, through the film's many complicated plotlines--none of which I actually found confusing except for initially the concept of Davy Jones' Locker, which later grew on me--we discover that death is basically meaningless in this franchise, which is unfortunate considering Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio want you to be afraid and excited for these characters. Every time someone dies, there seems to be an easily explainable reason for their subsequent resurrection, sometimes so easy it's hard for the viewer not to feel a little cheated. This is a huge detractor from its suspense and danger, though I must say there's a nifty little twist near the end.

Luckily, At World's End retains its urgent pace in the last half-hour, in a deliriously complicated action tour de force that contains everything much of the duller spots were missing: Those ol' heart, humor, laughs, action, and thrills I love so much.

If you're a Pirates fan like me, you're gonna dig this, though let it be known it is the series' weakest point. If you're not a fan, well, it's almost three hours long, the acting's not gotten any better (as always, with the exceptions of Depp and Bill Nighy as the marvelous Davy Jones), and it's occasionally a mite dull.

And, by the way? Stay after the credits. You'll be glad you did. B

Friday, May 25, 2007

New Movie Day: 5/25/07

(Opened 5/24)

This weekend's big release is, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the trilogy's final installment (well, currently). Critics are railing on it just as harshly as they railed on last summer's Dead Man's Chest, and since I thought that one squashed the first like a Kraken tentacle, I can't wait. Hopefully it won't be disapponting like this month's other threequels, Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third. Plus, it bests Spider-Man 3's all-time theater count: 4,362. I'm leaving in less than ten minutes to grab my friends, and then we're heading to the theater. And, yes, we already have tickets.

Being hailed as William Friedkin's return to the terrifying horror of his classic The Exorcist, Bug looks and sounds freaky as hell. I'm game.

In limited release:

(Only in LA/NY)
(Only in NY)
I absolutely love that poster and especially that tagline. Fucking genius.

(Only in LA/NY)
Just so you know, if you're planning on seeing this one, the English title is Golden Door. Couldn't find a pic of the American poster.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New DVD Day: 5/22/07

Hey, I'm ripping off my own self! New DVD Day, a total thievery of New Movie Day, will pop up every Tuesday to talk about new DVD releases.

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's booze-fueled, Jew-bashing rant, I think there was a little movie he opened too, and now it's on DVD.

Clint Eastwood's excellent drama about the Japanese side of the Iwo Jima conflict during World War II gets the two-disc special edition treatment. It's also available in a boxset with Clint's American point of view flick Flags of Our Fathers, and while Letters is the better, more celebrated film, both are definitely worth seeing.

A documentary on the late, great racing horse Barbaro.

Steven Soderbergh's unsung 40's-esque political drama didn't do much for critics or ticket buyers, but when I went to rent it at Blockbuster today, it was all checked out.

Legendary actor Peter O'Toole got an Oscar nomination for this mixed-age romance film.

This adaptation of the first novel in the popular kid-lit series honestly looks like it has nothing going for it.

I've never seen this and it's already one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

Joss Whedon takes a stand.

Even though this blog is pretty new, I'm pretty sure I've made it known I'm an uber-huge fan of writer/director/TV god Joss Whedon. And it's not just because he creates amazing work and has a brilliant sense of humor. Though we've yet to truly see much of his political activism (though his three TV series and one movie are pretty great political allegories), what we have seen is brilliant, and if it's anything like this post at the fan-run blog Whedonesque (of which I am a member, UnpluggedCrazy), he could almost maybe sort of be the next John Lennon.

Read the post. It's more than worth it. A glut of celebrities may have hailed Africa as a cause, but Joss remains one of the strongest voices out there about gender equality. I'd also just like to point out that the root problem is also the world's lack of humanism; all people have to treat all people well before the plague can be truly be cured.

In any case, remember Du'a Khalil.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

At the Movies: With any luck, Shrek The Third will be Shrek the Last; and we can only hope The Last Mimzy stays true to its title

So this was my first trek to the drive-in this summer (though the weather was in the 50's and 40's, hardly feeling like summer); hopefully I'll go a few more times before the place closes down for the fall. I loves the drive-in, you know? It's a unique experience, and a very American one (I know it's been copied in other countries since its 1932 genesis in Camden, New Jersey, but it strikes me as strongly American).

It's just a shame that the movies they show are always such shit. It's very rare I actually see a worthwhile movie at the drive-in, though it should be noted that seeing Jurassic Park at the drive-in on its opening day of June 11, 1993, was my first moviegoing experience and a defining moment in my life.

But just to show the crap I usually put up with to go to the glorious drive-in: Last year I had a double feature of Talladega Nights and Little Man, and felt like killing myself afterwards. However, seeing the Spider-Man movies at the drive-in (after midnight/early afternoon showings on opening day, of course) is a tradition (one I've yet to carry out for Spider-Man 3, though I caught snippets of it on the other screen tonight)...and I can say that I have now seen all three Shrek movies at the drive-in on their opening days.

But the series has never regained the heights of the first Shrek. Six years ago, in May 2001, Shrek was a witty, clever blast of refreshingly skewered fairy tale satire in the grand tradition of Fractured Fairy Tales and the like. It's still the only computer-animated film worthy of existing in the same realm as the gems thought up by Pixar (just forget about A Bug's Life). In these intervening six years, however, the skewered satire has become the norm, allowing for everything from Over the Hedge and Monster House to come along and borrow from its irreverence, never bettering or equalling it yet still managing solid laughs. This has made things harder for the Shrek franchise, and the danger signs were already apparent in 2004's Shrek 2: It's a pretty good flick, but already the formula feelt a bit tired and repetitive.

Now Shrek the Third doesn't just have the symptoms; it's the diagnosis plain and simple. Nothing new happens. Fantasy clichés are upturned. Rapid-fire pop culture references are had. Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, Puss in Boots, et al. once again have to go on some wacky quest while facing magical mistrials to prove that, Hey, don't judge your brothers, we're all Shiny Happy People! It's sad that none of this has any spark, zest, energy, or zing anymore. The important yet trite message that people are people no matter their outward appearance came across seemingly magical in the first, with that glorious transformation sequence at the end; in the second, it felt a little samey but overall pretty effective (like everything in Shrek 2); and in Shrek the Third, not even the title ogre and his bride seem to really care all that much.

The plot is interesting but lacks heart. King Harold (John Cleese) croaks (heehee, he's a frog, get it?), so Shrek (Mike Myers), with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in tow, have to go to find Arthur (Just Timberlake), the only remaining heir, since Shrek doesn't want to take the crown. While the ogre's away, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) finally enacts his vengeance against Shrek by attacking the Land of Far Far Away with an army consisting of every fairy tale villain ever, and endangering the pregnant Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Charming actually has a pretty good twisted character arc, but it doesn't go anywhere, and the film's 92 minutes rush by, though not in a good way. It just comes and goes quietly, disposably, without flashing any of the edge the first film so hiply and unabashedly reveled in. Whereas once the Shrek movies mocked product, it now has become the exact same product. Oh well, can't capture lightning twice, let alone thrice.

And then the second feature I caught was The Last Mimzy, which did almost incline me to bust out the razorblades like I felt compelled to last year. The plot is pretty silly: Two Bad Child Actors (Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) find some weird shit on a beach which ties into this thing this scientist was doing and then they're all special and have to save the world and...oh, fuck it. Who cares? All I got out if it was that the kids here reminded me of the fact that Rory Culkin is still the only child actor consistently worth notice (and he's pretty much outgrown the "child" label anyway), and that Rainn Wilson can be amazingly witty and hip when he's not playing oddball Dwight on The Office. Also that everything Michael Clarke Duncan has done since The Green Mile remains nowhere near as good. And that I fucking hate kid's movies, especially ones loaded to the brim with pseudophilosophical bullshit like this one.

Say what you will about Shrek the Third--and I know that I did--but at least it wasn't pretentious. Shrek the Third: C-; The Last Mimzy: D-

I do, however, know that Will has seen Shrek the Third and liked it, so hopefully he'll offer an interesting counterpoint.

Friday, May 18, 2007

New Movie Day: 5/18/07

So, first weekly installment of New Movie Day! Awesome!

Let's see what's in theaters this weekend...and, just as a note, wide releases will usually be the only ones commented on due to time and, well, I generally have more knowledge of the wide releases and have more of a chance to see them than the limited. I have the right to break, bend, or drop this rule at any time. Because I am the god of this blog. Well, co-god with Will, but he has a meager two posts compared to my five. ;-)

Amazingly, but not surprisingly, the only wide release this week is Shrek the Third. Opening in 4,122 theaters--as opposted to the 4,324 Spider-Man 3 will still be swinging into, actually expanding despite its 60% tumble in box office receipts last weekend--it's expected to wear the crown this weekend yet Shrek doesn't have a prayer of claiming Spidey's numerous all-time records throne. The Scottish ogre is also getting a critical drubbing, clocking in at only 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm seeing it at the drive-in tonight on a screen with The Last Mimzy, so I'll let you know how they both are.

Speaking of threequels, next week caps May's troika with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Hopefully that one won't disappoint, eh?

In limited release this week:

(Opened 5/16)

(Only in NYC)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Flyin' with brand new cover art.

Two years ago, Joss Whedon's critically-acclaimed science fiction film Serenity came and went at the box office (meaning to say that it flopped, earning back only $25m of its $39m budget during its run in theaters). Three years earlier, the TV series it directly continued, Firefly, had a similar fate, garnering critical acclaim (though the acclaim really only showered when it hit DVD, when it could be viewed in its proper order instead of the hackjob the hack network FOX did to its airdates) but being cancelled after only half-a-season.

However, just as the show's fictional space crew kept on flyin', the film did as well, furthering the large cult fanbase originated by Firefly and spawning fan-run charity screenings of the flick, all proceeds going to Joss' favorite charity, Equality Now. The first annual events were held last year all over the globe (raising more than $65,000), and you can see my report on the 2006 Cleveland screening on the official Can't Stop the Serenity website, on which the dates for this year's events are also listed.

Joss Whedon--with apologies to John Lennon, Stan Lee, and Quentin Tarantino--is my favorite creative person, and Serenity is my favorite film. Which is why the abhorrent DVD art the film initially got was even abhorrent-ier in my eyes: River looks like some undead cat-like vixen (with incorrectly green eyes), Serenity is shooting lasers even though it is a transport/cargo vessel with no weapons, Zoe and Mal appear heavily airbrushed, and there is a swarming crowd of zombies in the middle which I guess are supposed to be the Reavers. Also? Llama.

Here it is:

It is some of the worst cover art I've ever seen. And despite all this, I still own a poster of it. Whatever, shut up.

Now, though, with the release of the two-disc collector's edition of Serenity on August 21, it's apparent the first DVD sold well enough to warrant a special edition (therefore again igniting the naive hopes of myself and fellow Browncoats [hardcore fans] that Universal might want to pony up the cash for a sequel), and most importantly, NEW COVER ART.

Unfortunately, I can only find a pic on DVDActive, and images there cannot be uploaded elsewhere. You can still go to their site to see it, though. It has its problems (very little DVD art doesn't), but it's hyperspeed lightyears better than the original release's art. It might even get people to pick it up at the store for reasons other than to see if it's the shitty SciFi Channel flick it looks.

My only regret is no llama.

UPDATE: Apparently, the llama was in the original design. God bless you, 11thHour.

The Governator does it right!

Okay, so I may not always agree with Governor/Terminator/Danny DeVito twin Arnold Schwarzenegger's politics, but I've always given the guy credit for being a serious leader when he so easily could've become a parody (like the awesome berserk Governator on Conan O'Brien).

And it's this seriousness that leads him to extoll about the bullshit Paris Hilton petition which attempts to get her 45-day jail sentence for driving with a suspended license overturned, "I've never got any request. But I have many more important things to think about."

So the rich bitch will wind up in the slammer, and thankfully quarantined from the rest of civilization for a month-and-a-half.

That's so hot.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Grindhouse Phenomenon

When watching Grindhouse for the first time, I found myself asking one question and one question only: what the hell were Tarantino and Rodriguez smoking and where can I get some? Since then, I've seen it once more in theaters and I'd pay good money to be able to see it again, if only for the orgasmic rush of thrills, laughs, and intense entertainment that only Grindhouse can offer.

Grindhouse is, without a doubt, the most original film to come along in years. A love letter to the old slasher and exploitation flicks of the '70s, this film comes at you like a round of bullets or a speeding car and doesn't stop until you're in pieces all over the ground. Or maybe something a bit less morbid...

But no, this is Grindhouse! I've got a right to be morbid! The whole damn movie is morbid!

For those interested in going out for the Grindhouse experience, this is what's on offer: two feature-length films, Planet Terror and Death Proof, four fake (or maybe not...more on that later) trailers, and a slew of old "grindhouse"-style opticals and ads. To give away any more would be to ruin all the little suprises that await you.

Both films included are simply outstanding in every right. Planet Terror is basically Dawn of the Dead...on crack. And heroin. And pot. And maybe some other shit, I dunno. It's easily the craziest, most over-the-top, endlessly gory flick to hit the cinema screens in decades. There are clichés aplenty here, and instead of trying to avoid them, Rodriguez embraces them like a mother hugging her only child and makes them feel brand-new once again. A word of warning: Planet Terror is not for the squeamish. When the blood starts spewing and the limbs start flying, the weak stomachs among us will be found out.

Death Proof is Planet Terror's polar opposite. It's a slow, dialogue-heavy, character-driven thriller that only includes two action sequences. Personally, I loved just listening to these [mostly female] characters bullshit about guys and pop culture in a style that's so uniquely Tarantino, but for those who aren't up for it, just know that you'll be rewarded for your patience in the end. How, you ask? The answer is simple: the single greatest car chase ever to be put on film. Move over, Popeye Doyle, because Stuntman Mike's in town and he's gonna kick the living French Connection outta you.

And there's no way I can mention Stuntman Mike without giving props to Kurt Russell, who delivers one of the most memorable and most villainous performances of all-time. If he doesn't at least get a damn Oscar nomination, I'm suing. No, fuck that - I'm BOMBING. More on that at a later date...

The four fake trailers I mentioned before are as thus: Machete (Robert Rodriguez), Werewolf Women of the S.S. (Rob Zombie), Don't (Edgar Wright), and Thanksgiving (Eli Roth) - all great trailers, each with a different sense of humor about them. After some thought, I finally decided that my favorite has gotta be Machete, a delightfully over-the-top piece by Rodriguez that probably best represents the style of the trailers these pay tribute to.

Grindhouse is just a great fucking movie any way you look at it, but the sad fact is that it's become quite the flop at the box office. Some blame the bad release date (two days before Easter Sunday). Some blame the violent nature of the film. But in these eyes, the reason for the poor ticket sales is simple: nobody wants to see a trashy-looking, over-stylized, three-hour-in-length homage to some old movies nobody's even heard of. No average moviegoer, anyway. You hear that?! You guys suck! Or not...yes.

However, Grindhouse has definitely generated a cult. The IMDb boards for the movie are constantly active, fan sites have been popping up, and there's merch all over the place. Both times I saw it, there was only a very light scattering of people in the theater, but it's almost appropriate that only a few people came out. These are the people who get the joke, the ones that Grindhouse actually means something myself.

Bottom line? Grindhouse is an experience not to be missed, and it's definitely one that I'll be calling a favorite. I've already got a poster, a shirt, and I'm working on getting the action figures currently available. Whenever the DVD hits (and it damn well better be a four-disc special limited collector's edition with special limited collector's edition packaging with a special limited collector's edition gold chain to wrap around it), I'll pick it up the first day. Grindhouse will live on in the hearts and minds of the fans until the end of time...two against the world, baby. Two against the world.

Or something a little less gay.


(BTW, if anyone's interested, all of the fake trailers can be found on YouTube.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Webbed Wonder: Why Spider-Man Is the Greatest Comic Book Movie Series of All-Time

Like most, I found Spider-Man 3 a crushing disappointment. Also like most, I was chiefly frustrated by the fact that half the movie was the brilliance that we've come to expect from the series while the other half was, well, a bit of a tangled web. So it's a pretty good movie; I'd see it again, I may buy it on DVD (mainly with the intent of re-editing it with Will, plus the special features).

Rewatching the first two films in the series in the wake of this third installment, I've discovered that no matter how you slice it, the Spider-Man trilogy is still the greatest comic book movie series of all time.

First, before we get to the actual movies, I'll get the comparisons to other series out of the way. The closest competition Spidey currently has is the X-Men series, as in they both have two fantastic films followed by a heavily disappointing yet entertaining third entry. However, each of the Spider-Man movies annihilates its X-Men equivalent, and judging X-Men: The Last Stand against Spider-Man 3 reveals that I've perhaps overrated its merits.

After X-Men, it seems that Superman would offer Spider-Man the fiercest competition, though it had a much steeper drop-off in quality after its first two excellent installments. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace may get the most negative press of the series, but for my money, Superman III, which was basically a poorly-conceived comedic vehicle for Richard Pryor with occasional cameo appearances from the Man of Steel, is by far the worst. Plus, if we're counting it, Superman Returns was an overlong bore with no zip and no zing that actually made me fall asleep in the cinema.

And then there's the original Batman quartet, where Tim Burton turned Bruce Wayne into a gothic James Bond and Joel Schumacher basically revived the old Adam West series with a special extended episode in Batman & Robin (though I will ashamedly admit Batman Forever is my favorite of the bunch, what with its tongue-in-cheek lunacy and one hell of a brilliantly campy performance from Jim Carrey as the Riddler). Speaking of Adam West, again, if we're counting it, the 1966 camp trash of his Batman feature just does further disservice to the series' standing.

Let's not count out Bats, though. Because currently, the series that has the best chance of becoming the successor to Spidey's throne is Christopher Nolan's revamped Batman series, filming its second installment, The Dark Knight, as we blog. It's the first live-action adaptation of the character to do justice to the source material (the Bruce Timm animated series and films started getting it right back in '92), and it's fantastically dark and rich stuff. With the recent news that Maggie Gyllenhaal is replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, things just keep getting rosier.

I'm not even going to bother getting into idiotic trifles like Fantastic Four or Catwoman.

After all of this babble, let's actually talk Spider-Man. I've been a comic book fan in general and a Spidey devotee in particular for my entire life, so I had a lot of expectations for his 2002 debut film (though, like most of the aforementioned series, there was an earlier debut, in this case a terrible 1973 TV film, The Amazing Spider-Man, which served as the pilot for an equally terrible primetime series). It met each one without exception. I had been one of those hardcore nerds decrying the news that Peter Parker wasn't going to be strapping on his webshooters, that the webs would be organic; but after I saw the finished product, I was left asking, "Why hasn't it always been like that?" (In fairness to the comics, they finally caught up some time last year.)

The film is bright and colorful, with director Sam Raimi perfectly blending comic book camp with modern action movie sensibilities and, most importantly, Raimi focuses on character development. The first half of the film is the origin story, taking 1962's Amazing Fantasy #15 and expanding it (while borrowing plenty of riffs from Brian Michael Bendis' brilliant 21st century updated comic book series Ultimate Spider-Man), with the second half being the action-y, thriller-y stuff. Upon rewatching, the origin bits are actually better than the action bits, though it's all great, especially the magnificent final battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin.

Now I might start to become a little overanalytical, and I wanna get this out of the way first: Spider-Man is in no way political; that's X-Men's job. But it would be foolish to overlook the American flag that Spidey leaps off of at the film's very end; it was added, of course, after the tragic events of 9/11, when the film's release date was pushed back from November 2001 to May 2002. (Interesting sidenote: The film's original teaser, debuting in early 2001, featured Spidey webbing a helicopter between the Twin Towers.) The American flag became a staple of the series, and is probably its most ridiculed element. Most find it to be cheesy and sentimental, and say that it supports the character and its world as Republican ideology. Well, they're wrong.

Spider-Man shows that, yes, fighting the good fight is possible--even necessary--but there's no winning or losing. Peter's foes can turn out to be good people in bad situations (in fact, that's often the case), and Peter never faces a clear moral victory. Also, notice that every time someone boasts or gloats in the movie, they get into serious shit, most notably Peter when he arrogantly lets a thief rob the wrestling promoter who fails to pay him, and the crook ends up capping Uncle Ben. So, basically: America, fight back. But don't gloat and don't lose track of the fact that war is an ugly, ugly thing and should never be celebrated.

Okay, so now that I've just politicized a movie that was never ever meant to be politicized, let's move on to Spider-Man 2, which largely eschews the comic book camp and has softer, more restrained colors (though it still has great camp and great color; if you've seen it, you know what I mean). I recently had a conversation with an IMDb user on the Spider-Man 3 boards in which they mentioned that Spider-Man felt like a "fun" movie, whereas Spider-Man 2 felt like an "Oscar" movie. I guess I agree to some extent, in that the relationships that the first film built up--specifically the complex emotional ties between Peter, MJ, and Harry--are given weight in the second. To again tread into political waters lightly, the American flag at the end is much smaller and is only in the corner of the frame, perhaps showing that Raimi has realized that he can play games, but games with substance are much more fun to play.

But it's the relationships that are core to both the Spider-Man comics and movies, that are its biggest assets. Peter Parker is a real person, not a musclebound hero saving the day and getting the girl but a bespectacled loser (just like me) who, by time he gets the girl, has fucking earned it. And this is what makes Spider-Man 2 the single best comic book film ever made, its relationships and its character and its action scenes that are important and not throwaways (God, that sequence on the train never gets old, plus it has emotional resonance). It's like a damned Shakesepearean opera.

Which is why Spider-Man 3 is so disappointing. All of the relationships get fitting conclusions (because even though three more films have already been confirmed by Sony, this could possibly be the last one with the original crew in tow), and they're some great conclusions, it's just that the journey getting to them feels incomplete and underwhelming. MJ starts acting like a bitch (to be fair, she got unnecessarily bitchy in the second as well), Harry has a sudden character shift that would've been believable in moderation but here is just insanely over-the-top, and Peter acts naive, but not in the charming normal guy way Tobey Maguire honed so perfectly in the first two. Perhaps most disappointing is Peter's trip to the dark side via the black symbiote, in which he only does two frightening things and then dances the rest of the time. Yes, dances. And unsuccessfully hits on chicks. Venom is my favorite of Spidey's famous foes (gotta kick in some of Stan Lee's awesome alliteration), but his portrayal onscreen is only mildly rousing, though he does get the film's best line, which was actually improvised by actor Topher Grace (I'm not going to ruin it). Also, I'm not saying that the first two were subtle, but they had a certain deftness the third is lacking. I'll just put it this way: The American flag at the end is fucking HUGE. Sam Raimi's visual sense is also starting to flag; the glorious quirks he created in his gloriously gory cult Evil Dead trilogy and which gave the first two Spider-Man films much of their spark is largely missing. I'll just pose this question to uber-hardcore fans, and they'll know what I mean: Was the Oldsmobile even in there?

Still, Spider-Man 3 is successful in that it introduces a great villain, Sandman, played to perfection by Thomas Haden Church, and that it ties together all of the movies' recurring themes and motifs: Men who are monsters through choice and men who are monsters through fate, "With great power comes great responsibility," putting love above all, and of course, the visual cues of the famous upside-down kiss and many others that will be instantly familiar to fans (not to mention the obligatory hilarious Bruce Campbell cameo).

These are emotional, powerful movies that just happen to have great action setpieces and nifty whiz-bang special effects. There are two moments that make me cry in the first, a plethora of moments that give me goosebumps in the second, and even the third has moments that made me genuinely well up.

And that's why Spider-Man is the greatest comic book movie series of all time. Savvy?

(By the way, check out this awesome series of Marvel/DC parodies of those Mac/PC commercials).