Movie Night(s): Playing Catch-Up

MoviesYou know, for a site that claims to have movies as one of its primary topics of discourse, I haven’t had a lot to say about movies lately (well, other than my own). Of course, there’s been quite a bit going on lately, topics which, one could argue, are of just slightly more import than what’s playing at the local multiplex.

Still, I’d be lying if I said that my entire existence had been taken up with such weighty subjects. I have managed to squeeze in a movie or two since I last made a “Movie Night” entry. Unfortunately, at this point, it would take forever to give each of them a full review, so in the interests of catching up, I’ll just list them and provide a brief comment on each.

So, in no particular order:

Solaris: Creepy, wonderfuly shot. I really liked it, but it’s easy to see why a lot of people didn’t. The slow pace could be enough of a turnoff for some, but I just found the gradually increasing awareness of the situation (not to mention its eventual resolution) compelling.

xXx: I fully expected to hate this movie. After all, it was pretty much the poster boy for dumbed-down action flicks. But I was, to say the least, very pleasantly surprised. Is it dumb? Far-fetched? Sure, but not nearly so much as I had expected, and no more so than any Bond film. I was pleased enough that I made the effort to see a few more Vin Diesel films...

The Fast and the Furious: Not nearly as good as xXx, but still enjoyable. A lot of fun to watch, visually enticing... but I suppose the whole thing is undone by the complete implausibility of the (ostensible) protagonist’s actions. I can’t say I have any desire to see the sequel, but I don’t regret having seen this one.

Pitch Black: Diesel’s breakout performance, though his antiheroic Riddick is as much antagonist as protagonist. Sure, it owes one hell of a lot to the Alien films, but it does have its own story, and the photography is extremely creative. Of course, the science is seriously flawed, and there are some phenomenally staggering coincidences to swallow, but hey — it’s only a movie.

The Iron Giant: Yes, this too is a Vin Diesel movie, though I didn’t realize it until the credits ran. I suppose it’s a testament to filmmaker Brad Bird’s skill that I didn’t pay any attention to the “celebrity” voices, and just got lost in the story. It succeeds by focusing on the human aspects behind the science-fiction façade; the film’s individualist, antiwar theme comes through without its ever becoming a “message movie.” Not that I wasn’t looking forward to it before, but after having seen this, I can’t wait to see The Incredibles.

Intolerable Cruelty: Great chemistry between Clooney and Zeta-Jones, fun story, creative plotting, nice twists. Still, it falls a little short of the usual Coen Brothers standard. Almost as if it’s not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. The delicious amorality of the lead characters is undone by a pat, Hollywood ending.

Cheaper by the Dozen: Mostly harmless. I should probably leave it at that, but I feel I should say something more. Amusing, but bland. Yes, it’s primarily a Steve Martin/Bonnie Hunt vehicle, but I can’t help thinking that casting was made with a deliberate eye toward promoting two popular television teens — Smallville’s Tom Welling and Lizzie McGuire’s Hilary Duff — to the big screen. On the whole, my mild enjoyment was offset by the unrelenting tension induced (as a parent) by watching Martin try to handle twelve kids. Hell, I can’t handle two.

Blade: Ever since hearing that Patton had a role in Blade: Trinity (not to mention having a crack at polishing the screenplay), I figured I’d better catch up. In the post-Interview With the Vampire era, it’s tough to pull off the vampires-as-more-than-monsters idea, and Blade almost succeeds. It’s a well thought out plot, Wesley Snipes kicks some serious ass, and it hits all the action-movie points admirably. It is undone a bit by an overdependence on gratuitous “gross-out” effects and often-needless maliciousness on the part of its protagonists, but still a fun ride.

Blade 2: Guillermo del Toro’s take on the Blade character corrects some of the flaws in the original, but introduces a few of its own, including a ridiculously “revisionist” twist to revive a supporting character from the original, and an abundance of digital combat effects (still, probably preferable to bad wire work). About as deep as the original — which is to say, not much, but enough to keep you from feeling bad about watching it. Unlike, say...

The Lost Boys: Trust me — a picture best consigned to that corner of hazy memory in which we stick all things “eighties.” You’re infinitely better off remembering that Kiefer Sutherland was a dangerous, edgy, punk vampire than seeing that he was actually a ridiculous, middle-America-by-way-of-Hollywood caricature of what constituted “punk.” The story itself is perfectly serviceable, and everyone involved surely puts forth their best effort, but nonstop laughter at the overwhelming cheesiness of it all undermines any thrill at the picture itself. And whoa, Joel Schumacher was determined to get as much homoerotic imagery in there as he possibly could — while still (somehow) allowing typically homophobic adolescents to deny that there was anything “gay” about it.

Hellboy: Here, del Toro really comes into his own. I’ll confess that I was never optimistic about this picture’s prospects. First of all, it violated my fundamental rule about comic-inspired pictures: You can get the audience to swallow one supernormal event, but anything beyond that will destroy your credibility (Superman postulated a superhuman alien, waiting until the sequel to introduce superhuman villains, just to provide an example). But here, we were being expected to accept a whole slew of phenomenal occurrences. Add the fanboy contingent to all of this (sorry to say it, but a fanboy endorsement is almost a guarantee of box-office poison) and you’re asking for disaster. But despite all of that, it works, thanks in no small part to a remarkable performance by Ron Perlman. Some of the Lovecraftian designs may actually work against the “creepiness” factor toward the end, if only because the creature is so alien as to be unidentifiable to our frame of reference. But overall, the picture has just the right blend of action, humor, and (dare I say it) “heart” to come out ahead. This sequel I’ll make an effort to catch.

Shark Tale: Hey, whaddaya know, I actually made it out to the theater for once. There’s hope that I’ll get out to The Incredibles yet — particularly since my usual moviegoing companions are ages eight and five. Shark Tale’s been the victim of a lot of bashing, and I won’t join in here. I enjoyed the picture. Yes, it’s got flaws — the dependence on gangster-movie satire goes right over the head of much of the audience — but the film’s biggest shortcoming is that it’s not Shrek. Get past that, and you’ll be fine. And frankly, it earned points in my book for incorporating “A Little Less Conversation.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark: What can I say? Simply one of the greatest movies of all time, from back when Spielberg was still unashamed of making Saturday-matinee pictures. Story, performances, direction, everything. And rather than being dated, it holds up perfectly today. Though I do find it funny that, despite all the cleanup, Spielberg chose to keep the infamous “bouncing block.”

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: A fun adventure ride, and a great excuse to get reacquainted with Indiana Jones, but this has to be one of the more disappointing sequels of the eighties. It also holds two dubious distinctions: One, introducing the word “prequel” into the popular vocabulary — since the picture takes place one year prior to Raiders, a fact which unfortunately led to some serious character-development discontinuity. And two, along with Gremlins, this picture spawned the protests that led to the creation of the now-ubiquitous PG-13 rating. I watched this with the girls, but skipped several scenes (of course, at the end, when Short Round screams, “Cover your heart!” to Indy, my oldest had no idea what he was talking about; I dodged the question).

The Cat in the Hat: I usually try to find something positive to say about a movie, but alas, I can’t do that here. If it weren’t for the fact that I was spending time with my five-year-old, I would want that 90 minutes of my life back. From a horribly crafted script, to a feeble attempt by Mike Myers to channel the spirit of Bert Lahr, this picture fails on all counts. Thankfully, I hadn’t paid to watch it (at least not specifically, as I caught it on HBO).

The Station Agent: Thankfully, the bitter taste of The Cat in the Hat was more than chased by this truly wonderful picture. In fact, you could consider it the diametric opposite of Cat: Great story, great direction, great performances. A tale of real-life concerns, populated with believable chracters, with idiosyncrasies and obsessions that truly separate them from the cardboard cutouts of traditional studio output. No pat Hollywood conclusions, no great revelatory moments, no swelling orchestral score, no “message.” This one really deserves all the accolades it’s been getting.

So that’s it. All caught up. Of course, I may have forgotten a film or two, so there’s always the possibility of an addendum. But it feels good to get at least somewhat back on track.

Okay, back to ranting...


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