Saturday, August 23, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

By Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! Oh sorry, just still excited from a pretty good movie I thought would blow. If you don’t know me, my name is Alan Trehern, and I sometimes write ridiculous reviews for Ben’s Movie Reviews. I’m sure if you type my name in the search box, you’ll find most of them. My proudest moment here has to be my omnibus of posts on Star Wars. I must now complete that series with the latest installment in the saga: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Now if you read my First Impressions of this movie over at The Solar Sentinel, then you probably have a good idea of what I wanted from this movie. However, I went in expecting the worst: a movie for children with infantile jokes and a horrible car wreck of Star Wars mythos. Thankfully, I was met with only a tolerable amount of this, and the rest of the movie was actually to my liking.

First off, the animation was probably one of the best things in the film, considering the new trilogy was mostly CG anyway, you got used to the characters and environments, even though they weren’t real. The space battles were presented fluid and easy to watch, for me anyway. Nothing was loose or slow, but nothing was too fast or jarring to make you sick. On top of that, each character had his or her own visual look, and no two players looked the same (expect for the Republic’s clone soldiers), allowing the audience to recognize the actors and stay in tune with the storyline. My visual favorites were Anakin, Dooku and Zero the Hutt.

The storyline was another strong point of the movie. You were caught up and informed of any events you missed in the first ten seconds, so you can’t say you don’t know what’s going on in the film, cause they told you. And the following scenes were continuous, unlike Episodes I-III, which switched locales and events every two minutes. The audience appreciates this and it is another factor in the movie’s overall fluidity. They also placed characters like Jabba the Hutt and Yoda in the story to appease classic Star Wars fans, which I thought adamant. There were also very few NEW characters, which subtracts some confusion if you’re unfamiliar with the Star Wars galaxy.

As far as characters go, I’d like to point out my own personal feelings. I have NO emotional attachment to the actors or portrayal of the characters in Episode I-III, so the voice changes and actor changes to Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé actually IMPROVED the film, shedding the familiar “zombie” acting of Christianson, Portman and MacGregor. The main character of Anakin Skywalker was also put into better light as an arrogant, joke cracking but disturbed Jedi Knight. This was very close to my interpretation of Anakin, had I been allowed to make one. Had this been the personality of Anakin through the movies, you would have had more of an emotional tinge when he turned to the darkside, instead of that “Thank God this movie is finally over, when do we get to see Darth Vader, oh wait that scene was gay when he yelled ‘Nooooo!’” feeling.

So there you have it, one of the few positive reviews of this movie. Sure it had its goofy parts, but that’s what the original movies had too. Do I think this re-fuels the franchise? If they can improve the storylines and possibly some darker animation for the TV show, yeah, we could have a new entertaining saga on our hands. Has this corrected flaws in the new trilogy? Absolutely not! That would take years and three more movies, I think, to improve. But then that might not be so bad, right?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Centennial Post! Upcoming Movies I'm Looking Forward To!

Sweet, I've reached a hundred posts. We've come a long way here since I started this site back in 2K6. Here's to a hundred more, at least. (Thanks to Tee Breezy for his contributions to the image above.)

Along the same lines as my previous (Not Quite) 50 Movies I'm Looking Forward To post from November of 2007, this post will give you some details on a few movies that I'm expecting to be pretty entertaining.

Burn After Reading - September 12th, 2008
This one is a no-brainer. After the Academy-Award winning No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers are back with this comedy that features Pitt, Clooney, Malkovich, and more. Story goes that Pitt finds Malkovich's ex-CIA memoirs and tries to blackmail him while Clooney is another agent who gets in the mix. Should be pretty funny.

Appaloosa - October 3rd, 2008 (Limited Release)
Ed Harris co-wrote, directed, and stars in this western about two ex-lawmen who are hired to save a town from some corrupt ranchers. 3:10 To Yuma was one of my favorite movies last year, and this one has the same vibe to it. It won't be another Tombstone (nothing comes close in my eyes), but it should be more action-oriented than The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford at least.

The Brothers Bloom - October 24th, 2008
I've mentioned this one before, but it's worth mentioning again. Rian Johnson, who directed the high school noir Brick back in 2005, has finally put out a second feature. This one is about con men brothers who get involved with one last job involving a millionaire heiress that takes them around the world. Stars Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz.

The Road - November 26th, 2008
This adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) novel stars Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world where a man and his son must travel across the country, fending off cannibals and stragglers. Sounds like it could be similar in tone to I Am Legend. No trailer yet.

Transporter 3 - November 26th, 2008
Jason Statham returns as Frank Martin, our favorite driver/white martial artist combo. If you've seen the first two in this series, you know what you're getting yourself into with this one, and the teaser trailer looks phenomenal. (Wait a second until the ad disappears, and beware of the volume - it's unexpectedly loud.)

Taken - January 23rd, 2009
Liam Neeson stars in this French movie about a former spy who has to save his daughter (Maggie Grace), who has been sold into slavery on a vacation. This should be absolutely fantastic. I'm really pumped about it.

Push - February 6th, 2009
Director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, Wicker Park) takes a crack at the sci-fi genre in this X-Men-esque flick starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, and Djimon Hounsou. The concept revolves around people with telekinetic abilities banding together to escape the government agency that they're forced to work for. Sounds like a Joss Whedon plotline to me, but it has some potential. No trailer yet.

Watchmen - March 6th, 2009
After reading the graphic novel and then watching the trailer, my interest in this project skyrocketed, making this my most anticipated movie of next year (aside from James Cameron's Avatar). The book was so dense that it's hard to even explain, but suffice it to say that it's exactly the kind of superhero movie that we need to see due to the influx of them in the past few years. And with Zack "300" Snyder behind the camera, this project looks like it's in perfect hands. Kevin Smith recently saw an early cut of the movie and said that it was "f*cking astounding," and that they definitely pulled it off.

Crank 2: High Voltage - April 17th, 2009
I've talked about this one before, as well. But that doesn't mean it isn't one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The first Crank was wild, and this one is set to be 20 times more ridiculous. Statham comes back to face a Chinese mobster who has stolen his heart and replaced it with a battery powered one that needs jolts of electricity to keep him alive. No trailer yet.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - May 1st, 2009
Hugh Jackman is back as Wolverine in this prequel that delves a little deeper into the amnesiatic mind of Logan. I think the dude could play Wolverine in his sleep, and he was always my favorite part about the other X-Men movies, so I'm definitely down for seeing this one. Plus, Ryan Reynolds is in it. No trailer yet.

Star Trek - May 8th, 2009
JJ Abrams' take on the classic science fiction franchise was pushed back from Christmas until summer, and in the long run that will allow them to make a better movie for us to enjoy. After recently watching all of the original crew films, I'm excited to see Abrams and his writers tackle Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew set in a time before all of the other adventures. This prequel focuses more on how the characters got to know each other in the early days at Starfleet Academy.

Terminator Salvation - May 22nd, 2009
This entry into the Terminator franchise concentrates on John Connor and his attempt to lead the resistance against Skynet after they take over. The first of a new trilogy, this one also stars Christian Bale and should take a more serious approach to the material than Terminator 3 (which I didn't mind, by the way.)

Fast and Furious - June 5th, 2009
I wish they would have gone with my title of 4 Fast 4 Furious, but in any case, this movie reunites the stars from the original flick and brings the street racing action back to the United States after a terrible trip to Japan in Tokyo Drift. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel back together again? As much as this series is kind of "meh" to me, I think that's enough to get me back in the theater. No trailer yet.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - June 26th, 2009
I'm not really looking forward to this one THAT much, but I do really like Michael Bay movies and Shia LaBeouf (not to mention the fact that Megan Fox is a hottie), so that kind of predisposes me toward being excited for this movie. Story-wise, I'm sure it will suck. But who cares? Giant robots smashing things are always cool for summer movies. No trailer yet.

Public Enemies - July 1st, 2009
Michael Mann, one of my favorite directors, brings us this 1930's crime story of the infamous John Dillinger and the FBI man who brings him to justice. Starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, those are three elements that are practically begging for an Oscar nomination already. No trailer yet.

So there you have it. There's a couple more that I'm really looking forward to - Eagle Eye, Killshot, Fanboys, Game, Nottingham, and Avatar - but I mentioned those in my last post of this sort and don't want to rehash all of those plot details again. Thanks again for reading everyone. Until next time...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Controversy swarms the release of Tropic Thunder as it finally sees its theatrical release today. Advocate groups are picketing the film because of its depiction of retarded people and others were up in arms about RDJ playing a black guy a few months back when that made headlines. Turns out neither one really has a case, because the whole "retard" thing isn't even something to complain about - it's not making fun of people who are retarded, it's mocking actors who take it too far when they go to play a retarded person on screen. And the NAACP has approved of Downey's performance, so that makes it OK, right? Unlike some of the other comedies this summer, Tropic Thunder was funny all the way through and was unquestionably worth the price of admission. Ben Stiller's newest is a return to form for the comedy director/actor, but it's really Robert Downey, Jr. who steals the show. You're not surprised, are you?

Tropic Thunder
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson

It helps if you've seen some of the older war movies that Tropic Thunder parodies (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, etc), but even if you haven't, you can still easily enjoy this movie as it stands alone. If you're a fan of comedy, action, ridiculousness, awesome cameos, or all of the above, this flick will fill your needs. From a directing standpoint, Ben Stiller did all he needed to make me laugh and present his movie in a competent manner, so I can't complain about that. It almost seemed like Tropic Thunder directed itself, since the cast and the script melded so cohesively that there wasn't room for an ego-driven director to take over, which was a good thing.

The script was really well written, a testament to the talents of co-writers Stiller, Etan Cohen, and Justin Theroux (set to write Iron Man 2). Yeah, there were some stupid parts in it (the TiVo thing sticks out in my mind), but they came across as sort of endearing in this context instead of groan-inducing in a Will Ferrell context. The acting was great on all accounts, from Jack Black's drug-addicted wild man to Stiller's action hero and Nick Nolte's grizzled war veteran. The supporting cast was awesome, including actors like rising star Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Bill Hader, and some great cameos that I wouldn't dare give away. [Side note - Owen Wilson was supposed to play Tugg Speedman's manager, but because of that whole "attempted suicide" thing, he was replaced.] The real star here was Downey, who completely disappeared in his role of Kirk Lazarus, the "dude playing the dude disguised as another dude." In a striking parallel to his on screen persona, he was so intense and in character that I almost forgot it was him a couple of times. Great stuff, and definitely a high point in his comedic career that seems to have gotten a second wind thanks to the mega-success of Iron Man.

You all know the plot line (actors get caught up in real danger thinking its part of the movie they're filming), so I won't go into that too much. The special thing that separates Tropic Thunder from similar comedies are the fake trailers at the beginning of the movie for each of the main actors and previous films they've been in. Reminiscent of Grindhouse (those fake trailers were the best part of that movie anyway), Tropic Thunder capitalized on the opportunity and really went all out making trailers that added to the backstory of each of the main characters. And while the final credit dance definitely reminds me of the very very end of Dodgeball (the Milkshake dance), it was still funny to watch.

I'm not going to say any more about it, because the movie really thrives off of the little surprise moments that you don't see coming. Once again, credit here belongs to the trailer editors for not giving away too much in the previews. I really hope that you all get a chance to check this movie out. I predicted it would be my favorite comedy of the summer, and it didn't let me down. Hopefully you all will get as much enjoyment out of it as I did. Until next time...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Editorial: The Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever

Recently, there have been a lot of people proclaiming The Dark Knight as "the greatest comic book movie of all time." Indeed, even this humble writer fell into this trap, but now I'm kind of regretting it. Don't get me wrong - The Dark Knight was masterful, and definitely in my Top 5 movies of this year (the others, in no particular order: In Bruges, Speed Racer, Cloverfield, and Wanted). But does that make it the Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever? Let's find out.

I admit that I got caught up in the hype when I made those grand proclamations a couple weeks ago. But now that I've had some time to think about it, there really needs to be some kind of criteria upon which to judge these movies against each other in order to qualify one as "the best" of the bunch. The problem is, that magical criteria doesn't exist.

It's pretty obvious that each major comic book movie brings something different to the table. Thematically, visually, etc. - these differences are apparent in their source material, and naturally make the transition to the big screen. Even among the same source material, there can be room for interpretation. Comparing Ang Lee's Hulk and Louis Letterier's The Incredible Hulk is a perfect example. One is more of an art film, mostly an inner search for Bruce Banner's true identity, while the other is a more formulaic film that features more action sequences. So which one is better? Well, it depends on what kind of movies you like.

These comic book movies tend to reflect our childhoods in that if we didn't read the comics or watch the animated series as kids, then we probably don't care too much about the characters. That's the truth about me, for sure - I'm much more of a Batman and a Superman fan than an Iron Man fan. If that theory holds true, I should automatically like all Batman and Superman films more than Iron Man films based on my previous familiarity with the characters and their universes. But that's not always the case. Batman Begins (which I previously thought to be the Greatest) and Iron Man are two completely different films even though their main characters are remarkably similar. But tone-wise, Iron Man was pure fun and one-liners while Batman Begins dealt with much heavier issues. Their goals were very different, but both were really solid films.

How can we objectively take a step back and look at ALL of the comic book movies that have been made and call one better than another? Unless you've read a good portion of the comics from every character that a comic book movie is based on (yeah, right) and you've seen a lot of movies, then you're probably not qualified to make that kind of decision. I know I'm not. And don't forget about non-superhero related material that was originally in comic book form like Road to Perdition and A History of Violence. How do we throw those up against Spider-Man 2 and choose the "better" film?

Also, even if we were able to somehow find a common factor to judge these films against each other, there's still the matter of taking the source material into consideration. Is Spider-Man better than X-Men 2 because it followed the history of the comics more closely? Is V For Vendetta better than Sin City just because it has more relevant political applications? I don't think we can answer these questions.

Basically what it boils down to is that you have to take each comic book film for what it's worth and decide whether it was "successful" or not. My definition of successful is if the movie captures the essence of the characters and story and presents it in an entertaining fashion. We can't possibly know if the creators of the original comics would approve of the updated versions of their works (since a lot of them are dead), but people like Frank Miller and Zack Snyder are taking those types of things into consideration and are trying to stay as close to the source material as possible. After all, if the comic was good enough to be made into a movie in the first place, why change it? [This, of course, excludes series that have been ongoing for 50 years or something. Then, you can only hope to capture the essence of the character and come up with a compelling story.]

To paraphrase an MTV article I read a while back, people were calling Iron Man the Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever at the beginning of Summer '08, and now it's all the rage to pass that title on to The Dark Knight. And if early indications are true, I've got a sneaking suspicion that the title will be transferred again to Zack Snyder's Watchmen in March of 2009. That's just the hype fuel that burns through the internet. But maybe next time we think about bestowing that title on a movie, we'll stop for a second and judge it on whether or not we felt it achieved its goal. Until next time...