Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Spider-Man's Raid: Breaking even

The big story this weekend at the box office was, of course, Maleficent and Eight Million Ways to Die in the West. The former did better than expected, the latter did worse than expected. We might get a Maleficent 2, while Seth MacFarlane is probably fast-tracking Ted 2.

The more interesting story to me is down at number 7. Seems everyone has forgotten poor Spider-Man already. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 so far has made about $192 million. It will barely make $200 million - if it makes it there at all. For a Spider-Man movie, that's pretty poor. That may not even cover the production budget, to say nothing of marketing.

Now granted, nobody's going to the poor house. Worldwide, this Spidey has grossed $690 million. So, as was the case with the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, even though domestic went meh, worldwide grosses ensure a follow-up at some point.

That said, I still think the series deserves a major-rethink. The grosses for each successive Spider-Man movie have tailed off considerably. My perception is, Sony rebooted too soon and people didn't fall in love with the new gang. Leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are appealing, but the movies that surrounded them are not so much.

What to do? First, they need to ditch director Marc Webb. He just doesn't have the chops to pull off a big franchise. Let him go back to making smaller fare like (500) Days of Summer, and have someone else with more pizzazz come in. I'm not sure who that should be. Josh Trank, who helmed the lower-key and clever Chronicle might be good once he gets done with his Fantastic Four reboot.

Second, and more importantly, they need to drop the bloat. No more than two villains at a time, please. And this idea of a Sinister Six movie? Drop it. If Sony cant't sell the hero who once had a decent track record, how can they expect to sell villains with none?

Sunday, June 01, 2014

CLEAR! (Reviving this blog)

Some of you (maybe about five of you) might be wondering why I hardly ever post here anymore. That's because for the past year or so, I've been using a Facebook fan page called Sir Critic's Social Cinema. 

Alas, that has become cumbersome, he said sounding Dr. Seuss-ish. . Since Facebook makes it increasingly difficult to distribute posts widely (unless you have lotsa money), that fan page is no longer the best option to distribute my thoughts on movies. I will continue to post reviews here, but I will be reviving sircritic.com and using it as kind of a film diary. Even if I don't see a movie on a particular day, I've got something film-related on my mind, and I'll post about that. Box office, trailers, Oscars, the works. First post will be made by the end of the day tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The minor Philip Seymour Hoffman

After the very sad and tragic passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I kept thinking back to his performances in Twister and Along Came Polly.

Twister? Along Came Polly? Why those when I could be talking about Almost Famous or fricken Capote, for which he won an Oscar?

Well, yes, Twister and Along and Came Polly. Neither of those is a great movie. Twister is entertaining junk, and I can't even recommend Polly, which was thoroughly mediocre. I won't even say that Hoffman gave great performances in either movie.

What Hoffman did do is stand out in both, and I think that's actually a trickier feat than his great performances. Long before he died, it was no secret how fearless and powerful Hoffman was. But it's easy to talk about his best work. Many people have already done that and done it very well. However, I think greatness shows not only in what you bring to the best movies, but what you bring to the average ones.

Twister was the very first time I can recall seeing him. (Many tributes have mentioned Scent of a Woman as his first notable role, and I saw that movie, but I honestly don't remember much of anything about it  except for the scenery that Al Pacino ate like the Tasmanian Devil.)  And yet, as Hoffman leaned over into Jami Gertz and whispered, "It's the suck zone," there was a charisma there, a unique energy. I remember thinking, "This guy is somebody to watch." He definitively proved that when Boogie Nights came out the following year. 

By the time Along Came Polly arrived in 2004, Hoffman had Happiness, Magnolia and Cold Mountain under his belt, and Polly seemed like a step backward. It struck me as his Twister character after he'd lost his job as a storm chaser. When I reviewed the movie, I said Hoffman was "slumming."

Maybe he was. Even so, Hoffman still stood out as a very unique presence in a very mediocre movie. Most of his gags were gross, such as squeezing grease from one slice of pizza to another and then eating it, but I remember that a lot more than anything Ben Stiller or Jennifer Aniston were doing.

Now he's gone. And I still have trouble wrapping my head around that fact. I'll miss seeing his amazing diversity in powerful movies like Doubt and The Master, in which he had astonishingly different personalities and chemistry with the same actress, Amy Adams. But I'll miss seeing him in the small stuff too. It's not only sad that he won't be around to make great movies greater. It's sad that he won't be around to make average  movies cool, if only for a few scenes.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

REVIEW: Liberal Arts

I rented this from Netflix because I find Elizabeth Olson very, very appealing, and indeed the movie works largely because of that. She and co-star/writer/director Josh Radnor have a very easygoing, vibrant rapport, so as long as the movie sticks with them, it works. Unfortunately, it takes too many side detours, with Zac Efron's comical/wise stoner being especially precious and superfluous. On the whole, though, this is a wise look at learning to live in the moment, even when you find the moment stifling.  Sometimes that other side isn't all it's cracked up to be because we aren't ready for it yet.

Liberal Arts IMDB entry.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Every movie I saw in 2013

On the Big Screen

  1. Les Miserables B
  2. This is 40 B-
  3. The Impossible A
  4. Not Fade Away C-
  5. Promised Land B
  6. Zero Dark Thirty A
  7. Gangster Squad C
  8. Mama B
  9. Django Unchained A
  10. Warm Bodies B
  11. Oscar Nominated Shorts A-
  12. Side Effects B+
  13. A Good Day to Die Hard D
  14. Silver Linings Playbook A+
  15. Argo A+
  16. Beasts of the Southern Wild B
  17. Life of Pi A
  18. Amour B-
  19. Lincoln A
  20. Jack the Giant Slayer C+
  21. The Master B+
  22. Oz the Great and Powerful B
  23. The Call B-
  24. Safe Haven C
  25. The Croods B+
  26. Stoker B+
  27. West of Memphis A-
  28. Olympus Has Fallen B+
  29. The Gatekeepers B+
  30. 56 Up A
  31. Evil Dead (13) C+
  32. 42 B
  33. Oblivion B-
  34. Mud A
  35. The Sapphires A-
  36. Iron Man 3 B
  37. The Great Gatsby B+
  38. Star Trek Into Darkness A
  39. Fast and Furious 6 B+
  40. To The Wonder C-
  41. The Hangover Part III C+
  42. Now You See Me B
  43. Frances Ha A-
  44. Man of Steel A+
  45. Monsters University B
  46. The Bling Ring A
  47. This is the End A-
  48. Much Ado About Nothing A
  49. Before Midnight A
  50. World War Z B
  51. The Lone Ranger B-
  52. The Heat A-
  53. The East B
  54. White House Down B-
  55. The Apartment A+
  56. Pacific Rim B+
  57. The Princess Bride A
  58. 20 Feet from Stardom A
  59. Despicable Me 2 B+
  60. The Conjuring A
  61. The Way Way Back A-
  62. Swing Time A+
  63. Son of Dracula C+
  64. The Black Cat A-
  65. The Wolverine C+
  66. Fruitvale Station A+
  67. Blue Jasmine A
  68. Good Ol’ Freda A
  69. Elysium A-
  70. The Magnificent Seven A-
  71. Lee Daniels The Butler B
  72. I’m No Angel B+
  73. The Bank Dick B-
  74. Beach Blanket Bingo B
  75. The World’s End B-
  76. The French Connection A+
  77. The Spectacular Now B+
  78. 2 Guns B-
  79. Blackfish A-
  80. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints B+
  81. Short Term 12 A+
  82. Drinking Buddies C+
  83. You’re Next B+
  84. The Family B
  85. Insidious Chapter Two C
  86. Prisoners A-
  87. Rush A
  88. Safety Last A+
  89. Don Jon A-
  90. We’re the Millers C-
  91. Captain Phillips X2 A
  92. Gravity X3 A+
  93. Enough Said A-
  94. Metallica: Through the Never B
  95. 12 Years a Slave A
  96. Carrie C
  97. The Counselor D
  98. The Fifth Estate C
  99. Ender’s Game B
  100. About Time B
  101. Thor: The Dark World B
  102. Dallas Buyers Club B+
  103. All is Lost A-
  104. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire  B+
  105. Frozen A
  106. Philomena A-
  107. Saving Mr. Banks B+
  108. The Hobbt: The Desolation of Smaug B+
  109. Nebraska A
  110. American Hustle X2 A
  111. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty C+
  112. The Wolf of Wall Street A+

    On the Small Screen 

    1. The Man Who Knew Too Much A-
    2. Compliance C+
    3. How to Survive a Plague B+
    4. Everything or Nothing A-
    5. Game Change A-
    6. Searching for Sugar Man A
    7. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  B
    8. The Killers (46) A
    9. Smashed A-
    10. The Killers (64) B
    11. Anastasia (56)  B+
    12. Peeping Tom A
    13. River of No Return B
    14. Baby Face B+
    15. Helter Skelter B+
    16. Storm Warning B+
    17. The Long Goodbye A-
    18. What’s Up Doc A-
    19. Public Enemies B+
    20. The Canyons D+
    21. $ellbrity B
    22. I Wanna Hold Your Hand A-
    23. Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out A-
    24. The Woman in Black C
    25. Making the Shining B
    26. Sound City B+
    27. Upstream Color D+
    28. 12 Angry Men A-
    29. Fast and Furious B
    30. Lovelace C
    31. Passion D+
    32. Brick B+

Thursday, June 13, 2013

REVIEW: Man of Steel

This is a fantasy. A careless product of wild imagination. And my good friends, Man of Steel is all the better for it.

For months, I actively worried about this movie. The last one, Superman Returns, was better than most people say it is, but those who complained it was too meditative and ponderous had a point.  When I realized that Zack Snyder was directing the new movie, I swallowed hard. I had greatly enjoyed his debut film, the Dawn of the Dead remake, but each successive film got worse, culminating in the juvenile rampage called Sucker Punch. And yet, I held out hope because Christopher Nolan was producing and co-writing the story. Maybe he would keep Snyder's excesses in check.

As it turns out, he hasn't. Man of Steel bears all the hallmarks of Snyder's hyperactive approach, and if anything, his direction is wilder than ever. But what's different this time is that the material actually supports and merits the over-the-top style. This is a film about what would happen to Earth if a platoon of Kryptonian soldiers decided to invade, and Superman put up a fight. The planet gets shellacking of absolutely immense proportions

But that's what woud happen in a Superman story with ultra-high stakes. No other movie has captured the adrenaline rush of a superhero story with such unbridled abandon. Drew McWeeny of Hitfix raised my eyebrows when he said the action made The Avengers look quaint. He wasn't kidding. Man of Steel left me breathless and exhilarated in a way I haven't felt in a very long time. THIS is the kind of gargantuan action that Michael Bay has been trying, and mostly failing to mount for decades. Snyder choreographs his action with just enough control that I was always dizzy, but never lost.

Even more importantly, the action, powerful though it is, does not snuff out the drama. As they did in Batman Begins, Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer move forwards and backwards in time to show how the past influences the present. Superman Returns had the noble intent of exploring the loneliness of a god-like alien, but became lugubrious along the way. In Man of Steel, we more directly see the cause and effect as young Clark wants to use his powers but can't, giving Superman's conflict the emotional import it needs. At the same time, Nolan and Goyer add novel tweak the Superman mythology, such as making Kal-El the rare natural birth on Krypton - and making his parents criminals in the process.

The actors, by and large, are terrific. It's no surprise that Michael Shannon (General Zod) plays menace well, and Amy Adams (Lois Lane) elevates every project she does with her intelligent sunniness. Diane Lane is somewhat underused as Martha Kent, but Kevin Costner has his best role in years, as does Russell Crowe, playing Superman's father.

Then there's Henry Cavill in the title role. Ever since Christopher Reeve left his indelible mark, other actors have been unable to escape his shadow.That's because none played Clark Kent as well as Reeve. Playing Superman isn't so hard, but making the Kent disguise believable is.  So Cavill, for the most part, doesn't try. This story doesn't require it. He brings the appropriate physicality to the role without overdosing on moodiness.  How well he plays Clark will be best explored in future movies, but I'm confident he'll pull it off.

That said, when the credits rolled, I could only wonder how the sequel could possibly match the sheer scale of this movie. I'm very anxious to find out, when the first movie is the best one I've seen so far in 2013.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

REVIEW: The Great Gatsby

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I might have felt more generous toward Baz Luhrmann's wild take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel. But as it stands, it's more like The Good Gatsby.

It's certainly more praiseworthy than most critics have said, but when the best praise I can give it is in comparison to the 1974 film, that's not saying enough. Back then, The Great Gatsby wasn't so much filmed as it was embalmed. With the lead roles miscast and a leaden pace, the whole thing felt as stiff as a starched collar. It had no pulse.

Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby certainly has a pulse, but it's an erratic one. At first, it's mesmerizing. The director's florid visuals explode off the screen with quite literal fireworks, while Gershwin and Beyonce (together at last) blare forth on the soundtrack. His 1920s roar with blinding colors and dizzying camera tricks. The use of 3D is enveloping as our point of view careens from New York's skyscrapers and zooms through the city streets. Moulin Gatsby, anyone?

So the problem isn't so much that it's over the top. With Luhrmmann at the controls, that's a given. The eye candy certainly fits the themes of putting on false fronts. But eventually, the stylistics become wearying.

In Luhrmann's past movies, the wild visuals seemed to flow from the material. The heated emotions of Romeo + Juliet made a wild style fitting. Moulin Rouge was such a unique world, it couldn't help but be delirious. This time, Lurhmann's hyperactivity feels grafted on to the material, and it doesn't always reflect Fitzgerald's graceful prose.

Case in point: in one shot we see a billboard with the familiar book cover art of the eyes looming over the city. That might have been clever if used once or twice, but Luhrmann beats us over the head with it like a desperate Cliffs Notes writer. His style makes Gatsby seem more like Charles Foster Kane, an error the 1974 movie also committed.

And yet, I still recommend Luhrmann's Gatsby, largely because of the actors, who sell the material. Leonardo DiCaprio's Gatsby looms larger than life but is touchingly vulnerable. No longer is he merely a romantic cypher. Joel Edgerton makes for a genuinely menacing Tom, and with Carey Mulligan, I finally understood why Gatsby made such a fuss over her. Only Tobey Maguire disappoints as the rather dull narrator.

I am thankful that we finally have a cinematic Great Gatsby that is worth seeing. I only wish that it was as good as it could have been.