Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Slightly rusty Iron Man?

OK folks, don't get all up in arms JUST yet. I have not seen Iron Man 2, so I have no way of telling if early mixed reviews are justifiable or not.

Yet, such as the anticipation, such is the pent-up demand, over this movie, that a few brickbats, most of which are not all THAT harsh, have unleashed a fusillade of "Oh nos!" Indeed, the name of -GASP!- Spider-Man 3 has been invoked! Too many heroes! Too many villains! Too many too manys!

Let's all take a deep breath here, guys. For one thing, most of the pro critics have not yet weighed in. Over at Metacritic, which counts more established critics than Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of  52, which means mixed, but that's based on only four reviews at this time of posting.

I understand the mini-hysteria here. I know very well a lot of people loved Iron Man. I wasn't QUITE among them. I really, really liked the film - but I did not adore it, as I explained in my original review. The film very much entertained me, and like most everyone else, I thought Robert Downey Jr was fantastic. In fact, I would argue that performance was much more deserving of a Golden Globe than his winning work playing Sherlock Holmes, which struck me as ersatz Tony Stark.

However, I thought the third act of Iron Man flagged, particularly because as gifted and now Oscar-ed  as Jeff Bridges is, playing villainous types is not his strong suit. See the remake of The Vanishing. Or better yet, don't. The film rated n a solid B+, which means "occasionally excellent - but only occasionally." I thought The Dark Knight, which came out later that same year, topped  Iron Man in almost every respect.

There is a very real chance that Iron Man 2 will break The Dark Knight's opening weekend gross of $158.4 million. However, I'm not at all certain Iron Man 2 will be able to live up to its buzz.  In today's age of impatience and inflated anticipation, anything that's less than blindingly brilliant gets derided as terrible. See the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,  and the aforementioned Spider-Man 3, which, contrary to popular belief, are NOT bad movies, but ones that merely committed the sin of having more clunky scenes than most of their predecessors.

So what's the moral of the story? Dial it down, folks. I know that's hard amid all the hype, but lofty expectations are dangerous. Not only does it hurt when they come crashing down, but once the crash occurs,  rash judgement tends to follow. If Iron Man 2 isn't utterly awesome, that doesn't mean it will be utterly abominable either.

Not that I'm immune. I led off my review of the first film by saying "I can't wait for Iron Man II. I bet it will be even better than the original." I'm not so sure about that now. I am  prepared to have a good time, but not to be blown away.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are movie stars dead?

No, no, I'm not referring to the obituaries or to those morbid celebrity death pools. I'm referring to the notion made in this Guardian article that movie stars don't have the cache they once did.

But is that really true?

No doubt, the appeal of movies these days seems to be based more on concepts than stars. Avatar, for instance, which didn't do too badly for itself, made a lot of its money on its event status - it was the movie that people HAD to see. Sigourney Weaver was probably the biggest "name" in it, but I doubt her fame sold that many tickets. I don't remember the ads ever mentioning her - the one name the ads did mention was the director - James Cameron.

And when every movie that gets green-lit these days seems to be a sequel or a remake, it seems clear that studios are less interested in selling who than selling what.

But are movie stars really THAT irrelevant? Take Shutter Island, for instance. OK, maybe that made some of its money from its twisty ending, but would it have done as well if say, Mark Ruffalo were the lead instead of Leo DiCaprio?

And what about this year's biggest hit so far, Alice in Wonderland? The story of Alice sold a lot of tickets, as did the 3D (however weak that may have been). But would it be as big as it is without Johnny Depp? I don't think so.

And then there are those highly touted "failures" like Duplicity,  often cited as one of the harbingers of the death of the adult movie. OK, it didn't do as well as it could or should have, but would it have gotten the attention it did get without them?

Perhaps the best way to answer these queries is to pose another - when you choose a movie, what question is on your mind? Is it "What's it about?" Or is it "Who's in it?"

Just askin.'

How I love to spend my summers - with classic movies!

Columbus just announced its summer classic movie series. Here are my takes on their (mostly) wonderful slate. Never mind the sun - here is where I will be spending much of my summer.

Note: For any Ohio friends who are reading this, the weekday screenings are tough for me to make, but weekends usually work, Dayton's series is due to be announced in May. 

Thin Seperation

Rear Window (1954)

Friday, June 4, 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 6, 2 pm & 7:30 pm 

James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr

Seen it several times. After all, it is my second-favorite Hitch,
next to Vertigo.

Thin Seperation

It Happened One Night (1934)

Wednesday & Thursday, June 9 & 10, 7:30 pm daily
Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly

You know most of the cliches that run rampant in most rom-coms?
This film invented most of them - and did them better.

Thin Seperation


Friday, June 11, 7:30 pm


Frankenstein (1931)
Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke


The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi

What a fun double! Frankenstein deserves its reputation.
Can't speak to The Wolf Man, but it's gotta be better than
this year's movie.

Thin Seperation

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Saturday, June 12, 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 13, 2 pm & 7:30 pm
Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor

Perhaps the greatest example of the Golden Age of MGM musicals,
this delightful, tune-filled comedy spoofs the chaos in Hollywood during
 the transition from silent to sound movies. Musical gems include
“Good Morning,” “Broadway Melody,” “Make ‘Em Laugh,” and of course,
title tune “Singin’ in the Rain.”

To quote Jiminy Cricket: PERHAPS??!??!?!

Thin Seperation


Rio Bravo (1959)

Wednesday & Thursday, June 16 & 17, 7:30 pm daily
John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan

Very fine film, but I prefer the movie this was a response to:
High Noon, my favorite Western of all time. Wayne and
Howard Hawks just span in their graves. 

Thin Seperation


Pretty Woman (1990)

Rated R
Friday, June 18, 7:30 pm
Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Jason Alexander

So movies from the 90s are in the series now, huh? Pass the Geritol.

Cartoon Capers

Saturday, June 19, 10 am

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Saturday, June 19, 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 20, 2 pm & 7:30 pm
Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

Make 'em roar, make em scream, take a fall, butt a wall, split a seam ... oh, wrong movie. Well, maybe not. 

The Goonies (1985)

Wednesday, June 23, 7:30 pm

Lots of fun, but it's one of those films that gets overrated
by people wearing the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.
I always preferred Gremlins.


Thursday & Friday, June 24 & 25, 7:30 pm daily
Both films will be accompanied live by Clark Wilson on the Ohio Theatre’s prized “Mighty Morton” organ!


Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire


Seven Chances (1925)

I had the great pleasure of hearing Clark WIlson provide
accompaniment to Metropolis; the experience was mind-blowing.
I've always wanted an excuse to see a silent comedy.
Now I have two.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Friday, June 25, 11 pm
Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono

This would make a heck of a triple after the Keaton films, no?

Carousel (1956)

Saturday, June 26, 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 27, 2 pm & 7:30 pm

Not a great movie, but I have a soft spot for it because my friend Angie
played a lovely Julie Jordan.

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Wednesday & Thursday, June 30 & July 1, 7:30 pm daily
William Powell, Carole Lombard

Touted as the funniest comedy of its decade!

Of the decade? Well, no, that's Bringing Up Baby.
But this is almost as funny. 

All About Eve (1950)

Wednesday & Thursday, July 7 & 8, 7:30 pm daily
Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm

If only this didn't play during the week so I had a better
chance of seeing it with a dear friend whose birthday
 had a lot to do with this movie last year ;) Inside references
aside, this is one of the best films ever made for the sheer
power of the dialogue. It sparkles ... and burns.


How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

Rated R
Friday, July 9, 7:30 pm
Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, Whoopi Goldberg

How Eric Politely Declined.

The Music Man (1962)

Saturday, July 10, 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 11, 2 pm & 7:30 pm
Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Ron Howard

Double your trouble, which starts with T
and that rhymes with P and that stands for
... Paul!

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Wednesday-Friday, July 14-16, 7:30 pm daily
Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker

Never were a merry-go-round or a tennis game so chilling.

Cartoon Capers

Saturday, July 17, 10 am

Patton (1970)

Saturday, July 17, 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 18, 2 pm & 7:30 pm
George C. Scott, Karl Malden

George C. Scott and Bugs Bunny - together at last!!

Double Indemnity (1944)

Wednesday-Friday, July 21-23, 7:30 pm daily

Greatest noir ever? You better believe it, baby.

The Omen (1976)

Friday, July 23, 11 pm
Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens

More slightly overrated Richard Donner. Personally I think it'd be
fun to mash up this and The Goonies. 

My Fair Lady (1964)

Saturday, July 24, 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 25, 2 pm
Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway

I could have yawned all night. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cinematic catch-up: Kick-Ass, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc.

I've written in thus cyberspace before about how I like to theme my movie-watching. This month I did it unintentionally. 

I watched two movies that starred the young actress Chloe Grace Moretz: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Kick-Ass.  I saw two movies that starred Clark Duke: Kick-Ass and Hot Tub Time Machine. I also watched two movies that allegedly exploit their wise-beyond-their years actresses: Kick-Ass and The Runaways.  And those two films features Joan Jett music to boot. I also watched The White Ribbon, which has nothing to do with any of those films, but I saw it, so on the list it goes.

Kick-Ass: This flick has developed the reputation as this year's love-it-or-hate-it affair. Some people, especially in the geek crowd, think this is one of the year's best films. Other people, like Roger Ebert, find it morally reprehensible because it turns a 12-year-old into a killing machine who also actually gets hurt.

Whenever such controversies erupt, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. So it goes with Kick-Ass. Maybe it's the Libra in me, always trying to balance those scales.

I can see why Ebert and others have thrown up righteous indignation: the tone of the movie is wildly inconsistent. At times it seems to be a larger-than-life satire with a wink in its eye. Then it pulls the rug out from under the viewer by doling out real black eyes. It's a thrill to see the young Hit Girl (Moretz) running roughshod over the bad guys to the strains of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" - and then it's jarring to see her bleeding and grimacing in pain.

I see the point the movie is trying to make - it wants to offer vicarious thrills and show that such thrills have a price. But the filmmakers don't balance their act very well. The shifts in tone are too sharp, and it's hard to know just what to make of the film. Stanley Kubrick walked the tightrope brilliantly in A Clockwork Orange, this movie isn't anywhere close.

Still, for all it's uneasiness, the film is worth seeing, even if in my book it's not worth loving. The action, well directed by Matthew Vaughn, delivers, and it scores based on Moretz's sassy performance alone. She's a dynamo. Viewers who've seen 500 Days of Summer will recognize her as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's younger sister. GRADE: B+

Hot Tub Time Machine: I grew up in the 1980s, but I hold very little nostalgia for the decade, which to me reeks of artificiality and bad taste. Still, I understand that for some people, those things are part of the decade's appeal, and Hot Tub Time Machine captures that well. As far as "Let's get drunk and party" movies go, this one is actually pretty funny and clever. It's just naive enough to think that Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" is a really great song, and it's just self-aware enough to make us realize how silly some people were in the 80s for thinking Poison was a really great band. More than anything else, the cast, including John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke (Pictured) , put this one over, and the script actually has a brain in its head, even if it's a little sloshed. GRADE: B

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: This movie, to me, seems a textbook (diary?) example of something that probably works great in print, but less well on the screen. The books are wildly popular, and the movie seemed to capture some sense of them with its clever bits of animation. On the whole, though, this just seems like a garden variety Nickelodeon type movie. It would have been much better had it not kept undercutting its own good ideas with standard-issue gross-out gags. Moretz is fun but doesn't have enough to do playing  the older classmate who is the boys' first inkling that girls might actually be kinda cool. GRADE: B-

The Runaways: And here is episode two of Precocious Young Actors: Exploitation or no? In this movie's case, yes, but that's the whole point. The Runaways were Exhibit A of exploitation. That's their story. As this rock biopic tells it, one of their manager Kim Fowley's first reactions upon seeing 15-year-old singer Cherrie Cure  was "Yeah! Jail Fuckin' bait!"

Dakota Fanning completely throw herself into the role of Curie. Fanning's maturity and skill as an actor have always belied her young age, but now that she's not "the cute kid" anymore, it's startling to see her dry-hump the stage during a school talent show scene. She's not only talented, she's fearless.

On the whole, the movie's a fairly standard tale of rags to riches to rags (at least for Curie)  but  the performances are what sell it. Kristen Stewart is well cast as Joan Jett, Michael Shannon again proves himself a scene stealer with his flashy turn as Fowley, and whenever Fanning is on the screen, The Runways sprints. GRADE: B+

The White Ribbon: Now here's a funny thing. This is undoubtedly the deepest movie of the lot, and is the one that will get about as much space as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I know that's incongruous, but there's a good reason for that: This is a movie that I can't absorb, and thus can't throughly review in one pass. For now, suffice it to say it's beautifully shot in black and white, and very well directed by Michael Haneke. Its burn is perhaps a bit too slow, but as a tale of the dawn of World War I,  it chillingly points to the shape of things to come. GRADE: A-