Thursday, October 8, 2009

X-Men Origins Wolverine: Like A Videogame, But You Don't Have To Play

Hugh Jackman,Wolverine,movie poster

I have to preface this post with a tiny fact that may or may not be slightly embarrassing: I'm a long-time comic book fan. I read X-Men first, so it always has this weirdly special place in my entertainment lexicon. So of course I was pretty geeked out and nerdily overjoyed when the original X-Men trilogy came out. Of course, Wolverine came out of that the clear favorite (and was actually designed to do so, based on the amount of screen time and plot attention he was given in the first three movies), and was ranted his own movie, focusing entirely on him running around in tank tops and snarling, cutting things up and generally being feral and apparently highly appealing. According to the Lady, at least. How distressing! But understandable?

In case someone may have been living in a cave or under a rock or in a coma or something, Wolverine is a movie spin-off from the popular X-Men movie trilogy released in the early to mid Oughties, starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, Danny Houston as William Stryker, as John Wraith, Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox, Taylor Kitsch as Remy LeBeau, Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes, Dominic Monaghan as some random technopath, plus a bunch of other semi-familiar faces in different forms, like a young Cyclops, Emma Frost, and a few other mystery mutants in a crazy mutant jail. In general, it's pretty much a crazy mix of some great characters, some disappointments, some oddities, but is generally entertaining and action-packed.

ryan reynolds,taylor kitch,hugh jackman,liev schreiber,lynn collins,x-men origins: wolverine

There's probably a lot of spoilers in a general plot outline, but I'll try to keep it informative and spoiler free. Basically, the film explores the origins and youth of Wolverine, one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and arguably the character given the most attention in the original X-men trilogy. We see a lot of the reasons why Wolverine is the way he is, what happened to his memory, what happened with Weapon X, why he and Sabretooth hate each other, and why he has claws. In the mid 19th century, young James Howlett is a sick young man, who is close friends with the groundskeeper's son Victor. After an altercation, James is traumatized by witnessing his father's death, wherein sharp claws of bone pop from his hands, and he kills the groundskeeper. James and Victor run away, using their feral mutant powers in every major American war starting with the Civil War, going all the way to Vietnam. Their healing factors make them age very slowly (or basically stop aging once they get to young middle age). They're recruited by Stryker, who builds a small army of mutants. James leaves after it takes a turn he doesn't like, he quits. Six years later, James is living a quiet life in Canada, when his old life catches up to him. His old friends in the military group come back into his life, and he meets some new mutants (like Gambit and a young Cyclops).

The Weapon X program uses his rage against him to perform experiments, and he's forced to face his own brother, except for when he doesn't. In the end, he must face their ultimate weapon, and Stryker himself, which works out the only way that it can.

hugh jackman,liev schreiber,x-men origins: wolverine

I'm probably going to rate this with one star higher than it really deserves, just because I'm such a giant comic book nerd, but I think it'll be forgiven. Won't it?! Yeah, it will.

I like these kinds of movies, pretty much in spite of their many, many flaws. Cinematically, it was average, and basically as best as they get for action movies. It was directed by Gavin Hood, who has directed some (seemingly) decent movies, though I haven't seen them (Rendition, Tsotsi). It was written by some guys, too, I guess, and also based on a long and storied history, which they ignored about 65% of for this movie. Certain characters were just plain wrong (like Deadpool, though Reynolds's Wade Wilson was basically spot on). Certain people's powers were wrong, seemingly: Cyclops looked like he had heat vision (parts of the buildings he destroyed with his optic blast thingies were on fire), and Emma Frost just had diamond skin (a relatively new power for her character; she's primarily been a telepath). Anyway, that's all nerd-trap nitpicky crap. The fight scenes were pretty awesome, and certain characters were basically perfect. Gambit seemed pretty spot on, and surprisingly, the show-stealer was Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes, who was never one of my favorite characters, but holy crap did he make the Blob incredibly entertaining. I was even surprised at how not-terrible was as Stryker, considering this is his first movie. It's also an interesting choice for a famous musician like that; I like to see that some celebrities are comic book nerds, too.

One of the things that I simultaneously love and hate about the influx of comic book movies in the last decade is how popular these characters are becoming. For some strange reason, nerds are pretty protective of their nerdy obsessions. It's the same thing with video games. It almost seems unfair, like they haven't "earned the right" to be interested in these kinds of things. Seriously, though? It's good for the comics industry in general, and I'm glad to see that they're doing so well. When I was in high school, Marvel was bankrupt, and now they've bounced back with Marvel Entertainment, and were recently bought by Disney, which should open a lot of new doors.

I kind of hope they make a second Wolverine movie, if only because they can start including some characters that haven't been included as of yet. It's almost ironic that a film featuring the entire cast of the X-Men wouldn't feature major interesting characters, and they have to be introduced elsewhere. I'll have to compile a list of characters I'd love to see in a movie. Or at least characters to be treated correctly; it sounds nitpicky, but there's a lot of canon (yes, canon) that has ben established with these characters, so to see stuff ignored and misrepresented is pretty annoying.

In general, I would recommend this film to at least rent. I even bought Daredevil because I'm such a comic book nerd, so that might say something about why I bought X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I give it three half-naked and sometimes completely naked feral Hugh Jackmans running around out of five, or three strange and sometimes completely insane brotherly relationships between super-powered animalistic warrior maniacs out of five.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Life of David Gale: We Get It, You Hate the Death Penalty

movie poster,kevin space,kevin spacey,the life of david gale

In 2003, Alan Parker directed a movie that looks like it was made in the 1990s. It's the worst thing about this movie; for some reason, to me, it looks like it was shot ten years before it really was, and I can't put my finger on why. He also directed Angel Heart in the 1980s, which looks like it was made in the 80s, but set back in the day. Other than that, this film is a pretty fantastic crime-based sort-of-courtroom journalist drama starring Kevin Spacey as the titular character, a former professor on death row for murder and rape, Kate Winslet as a reporter with a dumb name sent to interview him the last three days before his execution, and Laura Linney as David Gale's best friend, and the woman he raped and murdered.

It's a pretty intense film with some unique twists and some surprises, though the Lady will attest that I called the basic gist of the final twist in the first half. It's a one-of-a-kind plot, and almost seems like something that could really happen. Most of the characters are interesting, the plot moves along swiftly, there are various twists, and there's lots of sex and violence, which is what all courtroom/crime dramas are really missing. Sure, there were some small pieces of the puzzle that I didn't guess, but the overall pucture itself was something I managed to figure out within the first, oh, I dunno, 45 minutes?

laura linney,kevin spacey,the life of david gale

The Life of David Gale follows Bitsey Bloom (told you that she has a dumb name), a reporter who is inexplicably called in to interview David Gale, a former Professor of Philosophy and head of the department of philosophy at the University of Austin. His marriage is strained, but he loves his young son. His friend Constance runs the local Death Watch, a protest group opposed to capital punishment and specifically the Texan proclivity for executions. He's accused of raping a grad student who was recently expelled due to poor attendance (apparently), and his life starts to fall apart. His wife leaves him, he descends into alcoholism, he loses his position in the university, his position in Death Watch, and virtually everything that means anything to him, except for his Harvard sweatshirt and his son's stuffed animal, which I believe is referred to as "Cloud Dog." Bitsey meanwhile gets closer to the cryptic truth through her interviews with David, and she and her intern Zack hang around the rural Texas town where the prison is located, and dealing with David's odd, podunk-ponytail lawyer Braxton Belyeu (Leon Rippy). As Gale's execution date looms, Bitsey gets as close to the truth as she's allowed until the right moment, where the truth is revealed at the last possible minute just before the credits roll.

kate winselt,kate winslet,gabriel mann,the life of david gale

Apparently, this film was generally received negatively. It's certainly not because of the acting or directing, both of which are stellar and better than average, respectively. Perhaps it's the heavy-handed and nearly ham-fisted way the plot treats the opposition of the death penalty, and the exceptionally brutal manner in which the main characters treat it and react to it. While no clear resolution is ever really reached, there is a sense that Gale's initial point (that the system is flawed, and tries to prove that an innocent man can indeed make it through the awfully disastrous system) reaches some sort of attention. There is also the sense and idea that capital punishment can't be stopped, as Bitsey is sent on a wild goose chase from her interviews with Gale to prove he's innocent, only to have him meet his execution date anyway.

It certainly is suspenseful, and the twists are excellent, and Spacey and Linney are as good actors as they ever were. Spacey and Winslet's characters have a semi- Hannibal/Clarice relationship going, so strong that I expected him to greet her in the same manner when she first arrives at the prison. It never really does explain why he chooses/requests Bitsey to interview her, and I half-expected her to be involved in the twist, in some bizarre and vaguely-connected way. As far as we know, he just chose her because she refused to give up her source on a previous trial, even though her source was a supposed child molester (or something). The basic point is, she was part of the overall plot and twist after all, but probably not the way you think.

I don't think the film is terrible, unlike Roger Ebert, who usually has a pretty good handle on these kinds of things. It's kind of a strange bummer of a movie, though, but it apparently works out for the best in the end. Kevin Spacey plays the role well, swinging between the tacit and professional David Gale on death row, emotionally strained with his execution looming, and the chaotic, intelligent, angry, and very often drunk past version.

I give The Life of David Gale three drunken street-rants about Aristotle and Plato and various other philosophers with amusing insights into their fashion sense as well as their beliefs out of five, or three stupidly-named and vaguely annoying yet persistent and emotional journalists out of five.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Smart People: They're Kind of Dumb

Smart People,movie poster,dennis quaid,sarah jessica parker,thomas haden church,ellen page

To a certain extent, I take offense to the general idea of this film, that smart people are also kind of dumb. Not in the academic sense, but in a more common sense area, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships, like with family, romance, and friends (technically, none of the characters in the film have "friends," even briefly or peripherally introduced). Actually, the more I think about it, the more accurate it is. The smart kids are always the social misfits and the weirdest, most awkward humans imaginable. Nevermind, this movie is pretty accurate and definitely on point, though it's occasionally a little on the nose.

Released in 2008, Smart People was directed by Noam Murro and written by Mark Poirier. It stars the ever-awesome Dennis Quaid, the constantly surprising Thomas Haden Church, the reliably entertaining Ellen Page, and friggin' Sarah Jessica Parker. That wasn't a good "friggin'," by the way. Oh well, she doesn't detract from the other performances or anything, so that's good. Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a somewhat awkward, pretentious, and overly intelligent English Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Ellen Page plays his daughter, a compulsive overachiever and social misfit, too intelligent for her own good and aware of it, who has stepped in to fill her late mother's shoes. Thomas Haden Church plays Chuck, Lawrence's adopted brother, who is the most normal character in the film (though he doesn't have a job, any real interpersonal relationships outside the family, and no real ambitions whatsoever). Sarah Jessica Parker plays Dr. Janet Hartigan, who treats Professor Wetherhold, and is a former student of his, and takes it upon herself to play the romantic interest to Lawrence. Their relationship is pretty random, and nonsensical, and whatever, nothing makes much sense. I guess it's not supposed to?

smart people,dennis quaid,sarah jessica parker

The Wetherhold family is extraordinarily dysfunctional, and virtually every member is adrift, lost, and unable to adequately cope with pretty much anything that happens to them. Lawrence is an English professor who is universally disliked by most, and can't be bothered to remember any of his student's names. His wife passed away some time before the movie takes place, and he's finding it impossible to adequately deal with it. His daughter Vanessa is insane over getting into college, and assuming the matronly role, and even helping her father come up with the title of his latest book, which he's having trouble publishing. His adopted brother Chuck shows up out of the blue, which is sort of lucky, because Lawrence hurts himself trying to hop the fence to get his papers out of his impounded car, and his vague sense of "who gives a crap" seems like it should be a positive influence on the household, and maybe it does, but it isn't anything earth shattering. Sarah Jessica Parker shows up as Dr. Janet Hartigan, a former student who treats his injuries, and they begin a very strange romantic relationship, complete with a pregnancy. Apparently, everyone learns a valuable lesson, and we see Professor Wetherhold becoming a better father, Chuck becoming still the same old Chuck, and evidently everyone else improves in some meaningful way.

Thomas Haden Church,Ellen page,Smart People

Nuno Bettencort, lead guitarist from Extreme provides the majority of the soundtrack, which is thankfully very far from Extreme, both in terms of the band name and the actual adjective. It helps the film find that weird balance of funny, depressing, awkward, and engaging. There are less than a dozen actors with lines in this movie, if I remember correctly, which definitely isn't a bad thing. It's an incredibly dialogue-driven film, with smart, witty, and sometimes awesome dialogue. It's low-key, subdued, subtle, and while its characters are often times incredibly pretentious, overblown, and utterly insufferable, the film itself manages not to be.

It's a pretty decent movie for a first time director, and a first time writer. It must have struck some good chords somewhere, because while he's not Brad Pitt, Dennis Quaid is a pretty big name actor. And even though she looks like a foot, Sarah Jessica Parker is a pretty big star. Luckily, the last few years have been pretty good to Thomas Haden Church, so he's getting pretty popular, and thusly a decently sized star. And of course, cute li'l Ellen Page has been a dynamo lately. And they're virtually the only members of the cast, and so there's a fair amount of star power for a couple of first-timers. Also, I'm jealous. I mean, it's not an incredibly dynamically directed film, but it doesn't need to be. And it's very smartly written, and the direction enhances the inherent timing of the dialogue and situations. I'm pretty impressed in general.

I recommend this film for anyone that's related to English professors, wants to be one, is one, or is just really snobby with English. Dennis Quaid is surprisingly and like-ably unlike-able, and Church is good as always, understated and with some spot-on timing. I also have to say that this is the first time I was annoyed by an Ellen Page character, so kudos to her for that. She's usually too adorable to be annoyed by. Her character is basically Juno, with none of the cool stuff. Still big words, still an odd attitude, but largely insufferable. I suggest checking it out. I give this film four vaguely out-of-shape Dennis Quaid characters (in which Quaid wears a fat suit) out of five, or four sleepy Thomas Haden Churches wearing red onesies with the butt flap hanging wide open for anyone walking by to cover up, so maybe cover your shame, man.

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