May 28, 2006

X-Men 3: Suprisingly Good

I wasn't expecting much from X-Men: The Last Stand. Goofy title. New director (Brett Ratner) regarded as inferior to the old (Superman Returns' Brian Singer). And, in the trailers, lots and lots and lots and lots of characters running around. I was expecting a mess.

Well, it turned out to be a good mess. There were actual moments of subtlety in the first two movies, not so much in this one. Instead what you get is the scope and scale that the first two movies never had. X-Men was all setup. X2: X-Men United was a bigger flick with real personal consequences. X-Men: The Last Stand leaps ahead of the previous movies' abstract threats -- "We've got to stop this special effects whizbangery!" -- to a massive, public, consequential fight between Magneto's terrorists on the one side and, on the other, the X-Men backing up federal troops. Here's the starkest representation yet in the franchise of the classic comic book characters "sworn to protect a world that fears them."

There's a more complex moral issue driving the story, although the dialogue and direction isn't quite up to carrying the load. Halle Berry is finally given a meaty role and does fine; Hugh Jackman continues to rule; Patrick Stewart finally gets to show some shades of gray; Ian McKellen starts out as a villain you can root for (before he starts killing people left and right). And there's, hands down, the best super-hero slugfest ever committed to film. As my friend Mark pointed out, the movies have never been able to pull off the team versus team fight scenes that comic books have done for decades. The previous X-films' fight scenes were largely one-on-one mixups. This one raises the bar for all future super-team movies.

So I can forgive this movie for not being quite as smart as the last two. This time, spectacle really is substantive. It's fun, it's intense, it's worth seeing.

May 6, 2005

Criticism, Negativity, Lucas and Paranoid Androids

I've been thinking a lot lately about negativity -- in disposition, energy, or whatever you want to call it. I'd be the last one to suggest that we should all have Katrina and the Waves-like personalities. After a meatgrinder of a workday, the last thing I want to hear is "Walkin' on Sunshine." At the same time, there are those who think that wickedly funny is the only meaningful category of Funny, and there are those who saw the Hitchhiker's Guide movie not just as a flawed movie but a betrayal!

The latter example is similar to something I've never understood about the reflexive revulsion some SF fans feel toward George Lucas personally post-Jar Jar. One of them, a best friend who to his credit focuses his ire more consistently on George Lucas post-Ewoks, argues that by making the prequels to satisfy himself, when the whole Star Wars gestalt was no longer owned by him but by the generation of fans who were 10-and-under in 1977, Lucas broke faith with, or screwed over, legions of adults who were still going to buy tickets anyway.

Ah'm just not wired that way. Where I come from mentally, a creator has no obligation for the emotional attachment that you, generic reader You, may have applied to a movie you saw as a child or a beloved book. The creator's only "obligation," and I use the term cautiously, is to produce well-crafted art, ideally respecting original sources. Reasonable people can disagree on whether they pulled it off. But when cult favorites or cultural touchstones are involved, watch out!

This culture of Star Wars or Hitchhiker's victimhood -- perhaps we're owed compensation! (Where can I get a piece of that?) -- is inexplicable to me. And I wanted to try to figure it out and blog about it, because, well, the blog's looking a little empty today.

And then new blogger Paul Ketzle beats me to the subject, much more intelligently.

One idea that has interested me for a while is the Hegemony of Negativity. It's an idea that has arisen out of my observations about high, low and middlebrow culture. The upshot is this: If I simply dismiss something as stupid—or bad—this act of dismissal creates the impression that I'm being more critical than someone who thinks it's good, regardless of whether I have any substantive criticism.

What I'm trying to do here is draw a distinction between critical engagement with a text (something we ask our students to do all the time in literature courses) and critical dismissal (the summary rejection of a text). Summary rejection is fine in certain cases, especially where particular assumptions about the project apply. But when the text is attempting to accomplish certain goals, to reject it without considering those goals strikes me as intellectually dishonest (or at least lazy).

April 30, 2005

Obligatory "Thumbs Up" to Hitchhiker's Guide

My friend Mark and I are visiting my brother in Fairfax this weekend (while the child is having a weekend with my in-laws and the wife is enjoying a bender her first ladies' weekend out in four years. Tonight we saw the new movie adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That series in its novel, TV and radio drama forms was a big cultural part of the high school geek crowd I ran, er, slouched with. I was eagerly awaiting revisiting this part of my youth. That excitement was tempered somewhat when Adams biographer MJ Simpson wrote a blistering, devastating early review. (Link is to the Google cache, as Simpson's site is currently down.) We speculated a fair bit on whether Simpson was simply too close to his subject, or if the movie was truly that bad.

Having seen it for myself, it is my considered opinion that Simpson was smoking crack. Hitchhiker's is far from a perfect movie -- it's unambiguously a mess. But what a glorious mess, zipping from slapstick to sardonic humor. There are a couple of sentimental tar pits that bear no resemblance to the nihilistic authorial voice Adams adopted for his final Hitchhiker novel, Mostly Harmless. But those are thankfully brief. Hitchhiker's throws a ton of ideas on the screen, and there are more than enough winners to make the movie worth the price of admission, particularly if you are fond of its previous incarnations. Just don't expect the Second Coming of Adams. That would be needlessly messianic.

April 8, 2005

However, They're Assured of Great Seats for THE LONGEST YARD

Fans lined up at Grauman's refuse to believe that Revenge of the Sith will not be opening there.

(Thanks, Mr. Sun!)

March 28, 2005

Star Wars 3: The l33t Trailer

A hysterical captioning of the most recent Episode 3 trailer. If you're unfamiliar with online "l33t" (elite) speak, think of this as a primer. If you are even slightly familiar with l33tspeak, prepare for uncontrollable laughter.

March 22, 2005

Never Ask That Question

Once upon a time, in response to the tougher, more hardcore Space Ghost, I asked in despair, "But what's next? Charlie Brown packing heat?"

Such questions are usually answered by the cosmos: the butt-kicking Looney Tunes!

Compared to Warner Brothers, George Lucas is a paragon of artistic integrity.

(Yeah, the news is a month old....)

March 13, 2005

Always Know Where Your Trailer Is

This is possibly one of the five greatest movie trailers ever.

For a list of the others, you might have to consult the Guide.

March 4, 2005

Keep an Eye Out for MirrorMask

Speaking of great animated movies, watch for MirrorMask. Written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Dave McKean, this Labyrinth-like animated fantasy looks like no other movie I've ever seen. It's as though McKean's collage-style art from the Sandman comic covers has come to life. You must see the trailer. (Probably too unsettling for young children.)

Incredibles Director Interviewed

From ToonZone: Animation writer Michael Barrier interviews Brad Bird, writer and director of one of the best movies of all time. Nope, no hyperbole here, nuh-uh, no way.

December 20, 2004

Babylon 5 Revival Casting Rumors

My favorite non-prematurely-cancelled SF show, Babylon 5, was being developed as a feature film, The Memory of Shadows. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski has been pretty tight-lipped on the subject for the last few months, and a potential reason why might be the reasonably well sourced rumors that the studio is trying to recast the major characters. JMS says he can't comment, though he wishes he could.

October 7, 2004

World Puppet Police

Morning Edition had a great on-the-set story about Team America: World Police this morning. I've always thought Parker and Stone are (a) gifted but (b) far too vulgar for my tastes. So I'll probably give this one a miss. That said, the aesthetic of setting puppets on fire (and leaving their wires visible on camera) sounds really funny, and you can hear the sadness in the lead puppeteer's voice when he complains about how Parker and Stone insisted on using "live puppets," not "stunt puppet doubles," when it was time for serious dismemberment.

August 6, 2004

Exporting American Culture

Elaine Fallon and Leslie Harvey of Ireland were attending their second DukesFest. They said they believe they will have the only "General Lee" in their country after recently buying a replica in Los Angeles and having it shipped home.

The Irish give us Guinness, we give them The Dukes of Hazzard. Seems an unfair trade for them.

February 1, 2004

Observations on a Halftime Show

(1) Talk about flag desecration -- Kid Rock in a giant poncho that looks like an American flag with a slot in the center.

(2) Further cultural conservative heartburn -- millions of red-blooded, God-fearin' American male sports fans watched Janet Jackson hoping for a little skin, and got men wearing corsets.

(3) Justin who?

A note for my friends who don't pay attention to "ball sports" -- I'm talking about the Super Bowl here.

January 25, 2004

Bend It Like Beckham

So I'm only about a year late in seeing Bend It Like Beckham. It's miles ahead of that other recent, hyped independent film about the clash of cultures. The characters have more depth, and the problem isn't blandly "cuted" away. An outstanding movie.

October 19, 2003

One from the Where Are They Now File

Kevin "Tom Servo" Murphy, part of the "Best Brains"-trust responsible for Mystery Science Theatre 3000, is blogging at The Interocitor. Surprisingly, there's nothing about movies to be found; he's exclusively doing libertarian-right politics. C'mon, Kevin! Please, just one "Movie Bad! Servo hate movie!" for old times' sake!

In other MST3K news, Mary Jo "Pearl Forrester" Pehl is ... attending a furry convention. I'm still struggling for a punchline.

March 10, 2003

I covet that T-shirt

Though, admittedly, one shouldn't wear this unless one is a member of the club.

December 16, 2002

This is not an endorsement

My friend Mark Tebault, philosopher king, assessing Star Trek Nemesis:

"My tears sat in their little ducts, refusing to be jerked."

He's not alone.

November 3, 2002

Episode II, IMAX-style

Opinions of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones ran the gamut from giddy relief to aggressive disinterest to outright loathing. Projecting the same movie onto a 7-story screen won't change your opinion one bit. But if you liked Episode II, or at least were distracted by the pretty pictures and flashing lights enough to overlook the plot and dialogue, watching the newly-released IMAX edition is a treat.

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