Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

After viewing possibly the best film of 2008, I think I've just seen one of the worst: Starship Troopers 3. ST3 went straight to DVD on a $20 million budget. It boasts only one original player from Starship Troopers: Casper Van Dien, whose cheesy enthusiasm goes well with the gorgonzola we're served here. Unfortunately, it's not that gouda.

I just have one question: who writes this crap?! (Not my cheese jokes, the bloody script!) The special effects aren't too bad, actually; I think they got their money's worth there. Lousy acting from most parties, almost interesting but misdirected satire that doesn't approach the gem of the original, a real maze of a plot that doesn't lead to anywhere but silliness, and you have, yep, a bad movie.

We do get some Rico-isms. "You know what to do! Kill 'em all!" And Van Dien seems to believe his own advice.

Poor Jolene Blalock. I actually think she's getting better, but she's certainly dragged down by this crap. I had always wondered where Amanda Donohoe went to. I now know.

This movie is terribly sexist, a fact that's impossible to get past, in a miserable attempt to match the unisex shower scene in Starship Troopers. There is some humor in the film, some of which is planned, and much that is not.

Keep your own humor and miss this one.

Thumb's down.

The Dark Knight

I remember sitting in a darkened theatre a few years ago, watching the credits from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers scroll by. I was stunned. I had never before felt such despair at the end of a movie. I thought it was so dark, the darkest movie I had ever seen. I had no idea what was to come.

The Dark Knight is one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen, and, yes, that’s high praise. Only the thump-thump of my screaming bladder warned me that the movie was longer than the norm. I was always interested, always fascinated in what was going on onscreen. Every minute, every shot, was aligned with the themes of the movie.

And the theme of this movie is that even good people, when driven to the edges of their consciousness, can do questionable, unethical things. And in the face of unspeakable evil, will we still identify those things as bad? Is Batman bad because he punches through the boundaries of good taste and, yes, sometimes decency? Let’s just say that, in spite of being surrounded by some of the most ethical people in the world, he comes a little too close to the Joker on the moralistic curve, perhaps because he seeks to protect those people so much. It’s a choice that defines his humanity, tells us so much about this character and what he seeks.

Those moralistic pillars we’re talking about are Alfred, played stably by Michael Caine as his butler and confidante, and Fox, played by Morgan Freeman. But, in addition, to those two stalwarts, we have two more in The Dark Knight: Gordon, our true blue cop, played by Gary Oldman, and newcomer Harvey Dent, the District Attorney of Gotham City, played by Aaron Eckhart.

I won’t give too much away, but as soon as I heard the name “Harvey Dent,” I knew a little of what was in store. I started reading Batman comic books in the late ‘50’s, and Dent’s story was featured in those books. But I had no way of predicting what might come out of the revelation that was sure to come.

I’m leaving the best for last. In fact, Christian Bale’s and Gary Oldman’s performances, which are brilliant, are overshadowed by the performance of Heath Ledger as a Joker we’ve never seen before. This Joker has sort of a Midwestern accent, which makes him ever stranger than the freak we can immediately see. Here evil is not necessarily a polar opposite of "good," but a manifestation of anarchy, someone who doesn’t care about keeping score with something as mundane as money. As Alfred warns Batman, the world contains people who would just like to see the world burn. Ledger takes that concept and magnifies it, scaring us even more with every gesture. Every time the camera is on Ledger, everything comes to a halt, and we watch and listen, trying to make sense of his scheme. His performance is just riveting.

So, at the end of this epic movie, I felt a twinge of despair, just as I did in The Two Towers. But I have great hope for the Batman franchise. This movie has really set the bar impossibly high. And it’s so terribly sad that we will never see this spectacular Joker ever again.

Thumb’s up.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The best thing about The Clone Wars is the animation. I mean, after all, wouldn't it be easier to show Jabba the Hutt and all that drool if you could just draw him? And you can do so much more in animation than you can do in, say, Tunisia. Worlds that look different. Hutts.

There's another Hutt in this film, one we've never seen before. Who knew there were more? But you can do that in animation.

Plus, there's the idea that we're visiting old friends. Obi-wan Kenobi. Padme. Yoda. And that lovable character, Anakin Skywalker, who...oh. Well, let's forget about Ani's problematic future. Oh, but look: there's built-in humor in those pesky bad robots. That's a good thing, since it gets tiring seeing battle after battle after battle. And the story is lighter than the last film versions. Kids are welcomed back in, as nobody except robots seems to die in Clone Wars.

The worst thing about this film, though, is that there are too many problems to speak of. There's no clone war. Oh, there may be as background, but we never see it. The film spends most of its time on rescuing another Hutt. It's a charming device to advance the story, but the fact that we never get into the actual clone wars is problematic. The fact that the plot goes all over the universe, and I don't mean geographically, is problematic.

The whole movie is rather tiring and doesn't advance canon. The true-blue Star Wars fan should see it, though, because, well, what else is out there? But those of us who are waiting for the next Star Trek movie can, and should, wait.

Thumbs down.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

There are certain things we S&M'ers (Scully and Mulder, focusing on their relationship, AKA "shippers") insist on in any possible permutation of the X-Files. Mulder, who wants to believe. Scully, whose science base makes her the eternal skeptic. A certain look about it, usually with snow. Backlighting. Weird people in weird stories. And one of the best-written relationships about people who should never be together because they’re just so different.

We do get all this and more in X-F2, much of which was lacking in the first movie. And we get the little in-jokes. There were only four of us in the theatre, but we laughed as one at certain times, like when Mulder asks for the flashlight. When he makes a wisecrack. We’re always laughing at Mulder, but never at Scully. Because we feel her pain.

Gillian Anderson is such a quiet actress. It’s all there, though, on her face, in her pauses. I used to say “underrated,” but when she was nominated for several Emmys for her work in the X-Files, even she was surprised, and people took notice. She’s excellent. And Duchovny is close behind.

The story concerns a psychic who leads the FBI, headed by Amanda Peet in a strong role as the senior FBI agent in charge, to several clues hopefully leading to a missing FBI agent. The psychic has his own questionable past, however, and represents a package that Mulder leans toward and Scully away. It’s a great focal point for their differences, and the question remaining in the film is whether we will see their differences split them apart forever, forever from each other and from solving this latest of cases.

Do you have to be familiar with Chris Carter’s X-Files series to understand what’s going on? Well,, no, but a bit of background would certainly help. When we see a surprise visitor at the end of the film, knowing where he fits in the chronology of Scully & Mulder would certainly fill in the blanks. However, it should be said that too much would hinder. Scully & Mulder went too far in their own canon, too far adrift as Duchovny was preparing to leave the series. Too many murdered relatives also fogs comprehension. Who needs all that angst?

The only criticism I have of the film is that it is much too dark. First Mulder’s and then Scully’s curmudgeonly skepticism becomes a real downer. A little humor, more banter, between the two would be much appreciated.

Still, at the end of it all, we’re left with a relationship that saw its ending in the series, resurrected now in this second movie. It would have been easier if we could’ve fallen into the circumstances of the film after, say, the third season. Gillian and David, however, aren’t playing it that way, and all that damage that collected under the bridge isn’t enough to sustain the current couple. However, we’re still there, watching.

Because, after all, we want to believe.

Thumb’s up.

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Mamma Mia!

Every six seconds or so, much like the male brain in another pursuit, my mind starts singing a snippet of a song. Due to my movie-watching choices lately, these days it’s always ABBA.

And not just any ABBA song. All of them. From the stage show’s hit, Dancing Queen, the song we all wait for, to The Winner Takes It All, from SOS to Chiquitita. And Does Your Mother Know. Any ‘70’s fan of the Swedish music group knows that the list goes on and on.

And when you go to see Mamma Mia, you expect to be singing, if not out loud, than at least in your mind. The biggest surprise in this movie, especially for someone who’s seen the stage play Mamma Mia, is that Meryl Streep can really sing. I mean, really. It’s such a pleasant discovery that that fact really lifts the musical.

The other discovery is not so pleasant. You remember Linda Blair’s raspy, devil-laden voice in The Exorcist. It compares favorably to Pierce Brosnan’s singing voice in Mamma Mia. Even Heath Ledger’s Joker has nothing on Pierce. Gosh, I figured an old James Bond, with that great, clipped British accent, could carry a tune. Well, he carries it, but you’d rather not go where he carries it to. The only positive thing worth mentioning here is that he seems earnest. Actually, he seems in pain. Earnest pain. It might be called acting in some quarters.

The whole premise here, in case you’ve been watching reruns of Mad Men, or ensconced in a batcave, is that a beautiful 20-year-old (Amanda Seyfried) is due to be married on their Greek island, the one she and her mother (Streep) have kept together with gum and duct tape for the last several years, but she isn’t sure who is her father. So, after finding her mother’s diary, she picks three of the best options, and invites them all, unbeknownst to her mother. Songs ensue.

The casting is just short of brilliant, Streep and Brosnan aside. Julie Walters has developed into a fine character actress, and is terribly funny here. I was wondering why Christine Baranski’s talents were being wasted here when she breaks into a show-stopping role-reversal of a song called “Does Your Mother Know,” and really works the beach sand. Seyfried is bright, new face and has a wonderful voice. And the other two male suitors, Colin Firth and Stellar Skarsgard, have some surprises in store for us.

This is a summer delight: great songs, familiar adaptations of them (the male ABBA members helped with the music), and beautiful people on a beautiful island.

Thumb’s up.

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