Category: Reviews


Review: RED TAILS

RED TAILS (2012)
Starring Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Daniela Ruah & Bryan Cranston
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Written by John Ridley & Aaron McGruder
Executive Produced by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum & Charles Floyd Johnson
Cinematography by John Aronson
Music by Terence Blanchard
Edited by Michael O’Halloran & Ben Burtt

Did you guys hear?! They're making a Tuskegee Airmen video game! It's going to be SO awe....oh, wait.

   If there’s one thing that I feel should be eradicated from the face of the planet, it’s racism. Seriously, it’s probably the stupidest notion that mankind has ever conjured, one that gets absolutely nothing accomplished and feeds on people’s fears and lack of knowledge about others. I’m happy that racism seems to be less of a problem today than it was as little as 50 years ago, but it’s definitely still there, and frankly, I feel the people who practice racism today need to get with the fuckin’ program. We don’t need to be afraid of each other anymore! We’re all people! It’s literally mind-boggling to me that anyone would treat someone else cruelly based solely on their skin color. But hey, this is a movie review, not a dissertation on racial ethics. The reason I bring it up at all is because race is topic #1 in Red Tails, the new project straight from George Lucas’s vast and unfathomably bottomless wallet. This film is based on the amazing true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black regiment more officially known as 332nd Fighter Group of the Air Force during WWII, and is the first Lucasfilm production since 1994 that has nothing to do with Star Wars or Indiana Jones. Now I don’t know about you, but I felt much appreciation towards George Lucas for doing something beyond his multi-billion dollar franchises, and finally producing one of those “great film ideas” he’s been touting for so many years. So here we are – a brand new Lucasfilm movie based on the stories of a group of true American heroes, featuring a nearly all black cast and badass recreations of exciting WWII aerial battles. With a setup like that, Red Tails should be, like, the greatest thing EVER, right?! Well….the sad truth of the matter is no, my friends. No, it definitely isn’t.

   Red Tails was, according to the G-man himself, “designed” to look like the aerial battle films of the 40’s. And, given the exorbitant amount of detail put into the CGI dogfights in the film, I could say this “design” worked perfectly. But Red Tails, despite having excellent production value and a promising cast, unfortunately falls short of its seemingly infinite potential. And while the movie is by no means excruciatingly terrible – it provides some great visuals and a couple exciting moments – it just isn’t very good either. It’s kind of just….ehhhhhh. Which is disappointing, because honestly, I would’ve LOVED to give a movie like this a glowing review full of hyperbolic complimentary adjectives, praising it for its character depth, its execution, its style, its themes & message, the works! But each of these things I’ve listed are all where the movie just completely, utterly misses the mark.

Now THAT'S how you hit a mark! You know, these filmmakers could learn a thing or two from their own fake little plane pilots.

   My real, main beef with this film is the performances. I really don’t know what happened, because the cast in this movie is potentially GREAT and chock full of talented actors, but nearly every line in this movie is delivered with a hokey, unnatural undertone that completely takes the viewer out of what’s happening! I knew it wasn’t a very good sign when the very first line of dialogue in the movie actually made me laugh out loud in the theater. The line is delivered in German, actually, by an evil Nazi fighter pilot – I know he’s evil because his over-the-top and deliberately evil delivery of the line was meant to imbue that sense into my brain. While I was laughing I was thinking to myself “seriously….THAT was the take you used? The one that completely sounds equivalent to what a little kid would sound like while pretending to be an evil Nazi in a school playground game?” And not only that, but the dude’s facial expression – it was just soooo overplayed and corny! Like he was so obviously trying to convey that he was AN EVIL NAZI and he was ABOUT TO TAKE OUT THE AMERICANS! And then the American pilots start talking, and they sounded completely unconvincing as well! It’s like everybody in the movie deliberately decided to act terribly, and for all I know, that could have been their decision….but if it was, they didn’t do a very good job of conveying that was their intention. It just sounded like shitty, amateur line reads in a major multi-million dollar studio movie.

   In the very first scene of the film I was already taken out of what was happening because of the wooden performances by these people! Oh, and get this – during this seemingly exciting and intense battle sequence, they decide to let the opening credits roll using a VERY plain font in a very distracting shade of bright red that takes up the entire middle of the screen! So while this “action” sequence plays out – I put “action” in quotations because there isn’t any reason to care about anything that’s happening yet, thus making the “action” boring – there are giant red letters blocking our view of what’s happening! There’s these gloriously rendered CGI airplanes shooting the shit out of each other, and we can’t even kind of enjoy it because there’s giant letters in the way! So even if you wanted to enjoy the battle taking place onscreen, you couldn’t because they shoved the opening credits right in the fucking way! Couldn’t they have devised a less distracting method of rolling the opening credits? This whole opening sequence is, without a doubt, one of the most boneheaded openings for any film I’ve ever seen. I was seriously dreading the rest of the movie after viewing this haphazardly constructed sequence, and it wasn’t even 5 minutes into the film yet!

   Luckily, things started to get slightly better in the very next scene, once we actually meet the Airmen themselves. After the disaster of an opening sequence, we finally meet the main characters of the movie, and it’s refreshing that they actually have some personality and charm. I have to say that, despite my criticism of the acting in this film, the young African-American actors portraying the Airmen do a damn fine job of establishing a sense of camaraderie to the audience. You get the feeling these guys all like each other, and have been through some shit together. This is where I can actually give some credit to the filmmakers – in terms of character relatability, they actually managed to convey something extremely crucial, and that is the true brotherhood of the Tuskegee Airmen. So we start to get to know the pilots as they trade casual insults and witty remarks with each other, and they’re all pretty likeable dudes – the main two we get to know here and throughout the movie are Martin “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) and Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), the latter of which blows up a German train by himself by disobeying orders and taking it head-on – effectively establishing his recklessness and penchant for disobedience. Although individually, almost every actor in this movie comes off as a little stale and wooden, as a group these actors shine, and since this is a movie about a group of courageous people, I can’t really knock them for achieving that. I can give ’em a pat on the head for it, at least.

It's a little known fact that the Tuskegee Airmen did, in fact, invent the badass pimp strut.

   Soon we’re treated to a scene that establishes the 332nd’s struggle to be recognized as legitimate fighter pilots in the war – a war room scene in which Col. A.J. Bullard (portrayed by Terrence Howard) takes on the clearly bigoted white warlords (for lack of a better term), the head of which is portrayed by Bryan Cranston. It’s no secret that the 332nd are pretty much regarded as a joke amongst the high brass of the war, who have no intention at all of letting these dudes see any real combat. Bullard is there to push these racist assholes into letting his men fight in a real battle, and he’s got his work cut out for him. The scene is pretty well done, but I want to take a moment to focus on the truly talented Bryan Cranston. For one thing….he’s barely, barely in this movie at all!  Now, this is a small point, since the movie is clearly not about him, but I feel like more could have been done with his character to justify the very fact that an actor of Cranston’s talent is in this movie! For those not in the loop, Bryan Cranston plays Walter White on TV’s absolutely amazing show Breaking Bad, and if you’ve seen even one episode of that magnificent show, then you understand just how great of an actor Cranston is. When I saw him in the trailers I thought he would be a formidable antagonist in this film about race issues during the war. But the dude’s literally got two scenes in the entire thing and they were BOTH in the trailers!!! I’d say his grand total was….about 4 minutes of screentime, give or take? It’s just disappointing, because I was really excited to see Cranston bust out his formidable talents in this movie – but no, he was only there to serve as a small hurdle in Bullard’s fight for equality. I dunno, I just feel like if they were going to give him such a small role, they should have cast a different actor in the part…but like I said, this is absolutely just a personal beef I have with the movie, it doesn’t really effect it as a whole….but man, I was achin’ for more Cranston! And I really think he could have made the movie just a LITTLE better! But anyway, back to bigger things.

   I really have to pick apart the tone of this movie, because frankly, I feel like it’s just completely off. Now, I know the point of this movie (according to George Lucas at least…a “man of his word”, no doubt) was to harken back to the days of simple, jingoistic, flag-waving war films, complete with the corniness and over-sentimentality that notion implies…but I’m not really sure if the story of the Tuskegee Airmen was really the right one for G.L. to do that with. The Airmen faced a LOT of hardships while fighting to attain some respect in the harsh times of the war, and I don’t feel like their story is one that can be dealt with lightly. This movie tries at once to be an examination of race issues that unfortunately plague society and also a big, dumb action flick with badass CGI dogfights. It just…doesn’t…WORK!!! There have been countless films made in the past that deal with the exact same issues this one does in much more profound and meaningful ways…Remember The Titans comes to mind, as does A Soldier’s Story, and Glory. This movie feels like it’s trying oh-so-hard to be in the same league as those movies, but it ends up brushing over the very things that made those movies emotionally notable and thematically strong to get to the mind-numbing dogfights. And while racism is definitely a big issue in the movie – there’s a scene in which Lightning goes to a military bar and is immediately told to leave by the white men in uniform there, and later scenes which show the Airmen slowly gaining respect amongst the ranks for being badass pilots who escort bombing raids to relatively casualty-free success – I just feel like overall, it wasn’t really given the attention that it definitely should have received. This is another reason I felt Bryan Cranston should have been in the movie more – his character would have been the  perfect antagonist for the 332nd! I mean, that’s what I was expecting him to be, at least! He could have been actively trying to sabotage the Airmen or sully their reputation somehow, or SOMEthing! But after the Airmen get their new planes and respect from the higher-ups, he’s just gone – as is any real form of racial bigotry in the upper ranks of the Air Force. To me, this just signifies that the movie didn’t really know what to do with its own themes, and sort of just abandoned them for glorified, CG aerial acrobatics. And while the dogfights are definitely exciting and fun to watch, there just isn’t that much depth to what is happening to make it truly captivating.

Bet you never thought you'd be yawning at something like this, did you?

   Instead of a truly deserving antagonist who could very well screw everything up for the Airmen on the beauracracy side, we’re given some kind of weird, half-assed antagonist in the form of one German dude who is affectionately dubbed “Pretty Boy” by the pilots. This guy REALLY DOESN’T LIKE the Tuskegee Airmen, and for some reason, happens to be on the opposing side every time they have a new mission. I mean, I guess that could be plausible, but it just feels really dumb and coincidental to me. Basically, this dude’s job is to look mean and shoot at the Airmen in an attempt to give us a sufficient “bad guy”, but we literally learn NOTHING about him, other than the fact he’s evil.  He really serves no purpose AT ALL in the movie and even gets shot down midway through. Seriously? This is what we get? You’ve got a kickass actor like Bryan Cranston and you completely waste him so we can see some shitty actor pretend to be all evil? What a gyp, man!

   Anyway, back to other stuff that doesn’t work. I really didn’t like the way this movie looked – everything has this over-lit, glossy feel that really detracts from the gritty reality the Airmen faced. It just feels so fake and sterilized, much like the Star Wars prequels did. While this helps the dogfight scenes have a distinctive look, it makes the rest of the movie seem as artificial as the dogfight scenes themselves. And think about this, kids: there was a time, way back in the day, where people would actually go up into the sky and stage dogfights with REAL planes, and the director and DP would be up there with them trying to capture all the frenetic action. Um, can you imagine anybody NOW doing something crazy like that?! Of course, the answer is NO! Now, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, any actual filmmaking effort can be thrown to the side in favor of convenience. I mean, if they could do it 70 years ago, why can’t they do it NOW? I dunno, this doesn’t really matter in the long run, but my point is you can go ahead and have CGI dogfights in your film, I don’t care, whatever….just please, try to make them feel real, please!

"Nice job, the green screen looks great! How much am I getting paid for this again?"

   There’s a few more things worth mentioning because they definitely drag the movie down too. I almost don’t even want to mention the romance subplot with Lightning and a local Italian woman named Sofia. Never before have I seen a romance subplot so shoddily shoved into a movie. It’s really just there to make you sad when he gets shot down at the end, so I can’t really say it adds much more depth than that to the story. Seriously, it’s not even worth going into elaborate detail for, because I honestly think my brain would explode if I attempted to do it, and it would get boring anyway, so I’ll just spare us both the strain. Just know that it SUUUUCKS. The dogfights are really cool, but even those have this otherworldly, Star Wars-like feel to them, even down to the sound design. Basically, this movie has so much going for it but never really lives up to what it could have been – a really great action flick with a solid social resonance. It simply juggles too many things at once, and what’s more, it heaps on pounds of cliches and features some truly crummy acting from most of the people involved, even the big names like Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., both Oscar-recognized actors. I would normally mostly blame this on first-time film director Anthony Hemingway, who has made a name for himself directing episodes of TV shows like CSI:NY and The Wire. I’m sure he’s quite talented and can direct well on the little box, but for a big-budget action flick of this magnitude, he probably wasn’t the right choice. But I dunno, in the end I’m really just going to blame George Lucas for it all anyway, because let’s face it, it really just boils down to him in the long run. You can’t tell me that George Lucas didn’t have complete creative control over this movie. It was his money financing it, for God’s sake, you can’t just tell the guy with all the moneys NO!

   Believe it or not, I actually think Red Tails has one or two redeeming qualities about it – it captures the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen and their camaraderie, and in that regard, it is a success. I’m definitely more aware of these people because of this movie, and even if it was lame, I’m glad I’m more conscious of them and the fact more people will be too. When I went and saw the movie, there were a LOT of people in the theater. Not only that, when it was over, a lot of them applauded it. It did somewhat capture a rousing spirit of adventure through somewhat likeable (if extremely one-dimensional) characters, but I doubt the people who applauded it picked up on the incredibly half-assed manner in which it was executed. But hey, if the people are entertained, what’s the difference in the end? It might just be one of those things that strikes a chord with audiences, even if the thing in question is schlocky as hell and shoddily made. Hell, just look at Troll 2.

No seriously, look at Troll 2. It's excruciatingly hilarious!

   I had really high hopes for Red Tails.  I wanted George Lucas to prove to everyone that he’s really not a soulless, money-grubbing businessman, that he actually has some filmmaking ability left in him and that something bearing his name – aside from the original Star Wars trilogy and first three Indiana Jones films – could be crafted, creatively inspired and genuinely poignant in its actualization. But instead, we get a corny, simplified, just-entertaining-enough-to-get-by action flick that could have been so much more. They’ve made the point of saying it’s like that on purpose and it still isn’t even passable under such stipulation! There’s just so many things wrong with it strictly in a filmmaker’s perspective…things like cliched writing techniques, wooden acting, awkward editing, and trivial and unneccessary subplots that don’t add anything to the story! I really feel that real American legends such as the Tuskegee Airmen deserve a lot better than this. Making a corny, pandering 40’s B-movie throwback in 2012 that simultaneously tries to honor the story of highly respected war heroes completely cheapens and makes light of what said heroes went through…even if your intent wasn’t to do that at all! The movie is just a failure. On many, many levels.

    So I guess in the end, while I managed to find a few redeeming things about Red Tails, it’s generally just another multi-million financial investment from George Lucas, in a grand-scale attempt to add some credibility to his one-trick pony name. Let’s see if it pays off.

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Review: BATMAN FOREVER

BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Starring Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, & Chris O’Donnell
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler & Akiva Goldsman
Produced by Tim Burton, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Benjamin Melniker & Michael Uslan
Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Edited by Dennis Virkler & Mark Stevens

I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I had this hanging on my bedroom wall as a child....well okay, maybe I'm fully ashamed.

   Everybody knows that Batman is cool. He’s got the cape, he’s got the car, he’s got the cave and the gadgets, and he goes out at night and beats the shit out of imaginative villains and average street thugs…all while maintaining his alter-ego status as a playboy billionaire bachelor. Simply put, Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the most iconic creations to ever spring from American culture. Plus he’s AWESOME. And, given the box office earnings of the films based on the character, the public generally agrees with this sentiment. But, for a very short time in recent cinematic history, the Batman movie franchise was not only dead in the water…it was butchered, torn to shreds and strewn about for the game of the fishes swimming there. What started as a captivating, brooding, triumphant saga with the Tim Burton-directed Batman in 1989 ended as a stupid, embarassing, cartoony mess just 3 films and less than a decade later with 1997’s repugnant dungheap Batman & Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher. The Batman cinematic dream all but faded into shameful memory until a talented and promising filmmaker known as Christopher Nolan resurrected the Dark Knight from the throes of mediocrity with 2005’s excellent Batman Begins, and America could once again celebrate one of its most beloved characters in the manner he so rightly deserved. But, the old Batman film series is still there, lurking about in the shadows – not unlike the character for which they are named. And while the two Tim Burton-directed films – Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns still hold up fairly well, the two Joel Schumacher-helmed films – 1995’s Batman Forever and the previously mentioned abomination – live on in a somewhat woeful infamy. And while I could no doubt write an entire book on the subject of why Batman & Robin is a turgid, offensive, and unwatchable mess, I’m instead going to focus on the first Schumacher production – the one that still manages to maintain a shred of dignity and respect for the character of Batman. I’m going to talk about Batman Forever.

   Batman Forever (or Batman For More Than A Day, as my father calls it) exists as an interesting middle point in the first Batman film franchise – not really as serious or involved as the first two movies, but not nearly as mind-numbing and vomit-inducing as the one that followed it. Instead, it’s somewhere in between – it still holds on to that mystique and intrigue that the first two films established, while also starting to stray into campy, silly territory.  This is clearly why Michael Keaton, who played Bruce Wayne/Batman in the previous films, opted out of this one – he didn’t like the direction the series was taking. Really, if we should blame anyone for the death of Batman, we should blame Warner Bros. – they’re the ones who decided to make the Batman films “more mainstream” (even though the first two films grossed a combined total of $678,171,278. Clearly pretentious, underground, indie type of stuff). Burton was relegated to “producer” status, to…I dunno, make him feel important, I guess.  Directing duties were passed unto Joel Schumacher, who at the time was a relatively successful filmmaker who had directed films like St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) and Falling Down (1993; actually a really great movie). A decent fit at the time I suppose, but the Warner’s guys had no way of knowing how this director would completely fuck up the series in just a few short years. Anway, Michael Keaton was replaced by Val Kilmer, a script was written and shot, and eventually Batman Forever made its way to theaters, where it went on to gross a respectable $336,529,844, despite receiving a tepid reaction from critics. I remember seeing the film as a child very well – it was in Los Angeles with my family, actually, and as a child I was completely enthralled by the spectacle taking place before my eyes. It wasn’t until later, after I grew up and became a cynical film snob that I realized how mediocre the movie really is – but wait, all is not lost!

After all, it's got stuff like fancy headwear! What's not to love?

   I actually think that Batman Forever, despite its MANY flaws, is pretty decent. It’s genuinely entertaining throughout, time is actually spent on developing characters (well…some characters) and the film touches on many important issues that define the character of Bruce Wayne and his relationship with himself as the caped crusader known as Batman. The movie’s plot is a bit…..thin, to put it mildly, but there’s enough there to keep one interested in what happens. There’s still a devotion to characterization and tone, and general filmmaking style. This, of course, is entirely unlike the film that follows Forever, which was just a giant toy ad featuring horrible puns about ice delivered by a grossly miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger….but I’m getting off topic here. The point is, this is actually still a MOVIE – it delivers a cinematic experience in a manner befitting the most fun and entertaining summer blockbusters. The writers saw fit to give Batman and new addition Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell…remember him?) character arcs that make sense and add to the dramatic elements of the story.

   That being said, the flaws in Batman Forever are almost too numerous to elaborate on in full detail. Just for fun, let me dissect the very first scene in the film – Batman’s harrowing rescue of a poor security guard from the evil clutches of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. So the setup is Two-Face (played with over-the-top zeal by Tommy Lee Jones, more on him later) is robbing a bank and holding said security guard hostage. The scene successfully establishes Two-Face as a maniacal asshole and we get a sense of his lunacy as he flips a coin to decide the security guard’s fate. Once it’s decided that the guard will live, he is bound, gagged, and thrown into the bank vault as bait for Batman. After Batman kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses he makes his way into the vault and un-gags the guard, who screams “IT’S A TRAP!” before the vault door shuts. So far, so good – but this is where things start to take a turn for the ridiculous, and somewhat confusing. The entire vault is chained to a helicopter hovering outside and then pulled out of the building, allowing it to hang freely above the streets of Gotham. I’m not sure why the entire vault is able to be moved with such ease….maybe it helps when they’re cleaning it or some bullshit. Kind of makes stealing it a lot easier, especially when you have a helicopter that can simply pull it out of the building. Then, the personal lockboxes in the vault open up and start spewing some kind of red liquid, which is identified when the terrified guard screams out “OH NO! IT’S BOOOOILING ACIIIIID!” Two-Face then does the audience the favor of elaborating on the fact it’s the very same acid that disfigured him and made him into a raving lunatic.

Severely acid-charred madman, or new Clearasil spokesman? You decide.

   Okay, let’s just talk about the logic of this event for a moment, shall we? First off, Two-Face had to have previously planned to lock Batman in this vault, and then somehow rig the lockboxes to shoot “boiling acid”. But we saw Two-Face flipping a coin earlier to decide the fate of the security guard, meaning that the coin could have very well landed on the other side, and Two-Face then would have been bound to killing the guard. This was an option! So if Two-Face already had this plan to trap Batman in the vault with the boiling acid, why would he flip a coin to decide if he should let the guard live to use as bait? Did he have someone else in mind to use as bait if it was indeed determined that he would kill the guard? Like, was there an actor just standing off to the side waiting to be bait or something? I’m pretty sure Two-Face can’t predict which side his coin will land on when he flips it – that would negate the whole point of flipping a coin.  So if the coin landed on “kill guard”, he would have shot the guard in the face and he wouldn’t have had any bait to lure Batman into his elaborate trap! Why even flip the coin at all? Why not just throw the guard in there like he ended up doing anyway without the hassle of potentially having to kill the very thing that would lure Batman into his trap? And then there’s the very fact that the boiling acid starts spewing from the lockboxes – how would somebody rig up this incredibly dangerous and elaborate contraption? Did Two-Face bring tubes, wiring and vats of liquid acid along on this bank heist? Did he get his dumb thug guys to wire it up? If there is indeed something hooked up to the vault that is feeding the boiling acid into it, why can’t we see it hooked up to the outside? Um….what the hell is going on?

   You see, this is what’s known as “sloppy writing” – the writers wanted to establish Two-Face’s coin-flipping schtick and also put Batman in a deadly situation that sort of ties in to Two-Face’s own acid disaster, so they just threw them into the movie without even thinking about the contradictory logic of the scenario. And I know this doesn’t really matter in the long run, because it’s just a stupid Batman movie, but these are pretty common sense things, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, Two-Face is supposed to be a criminal mastermind – he wouldn’t be making potentially plan-threatening mistakes like this.

   And it only gets better from here, my friends. So once the acid starts pooling up and rising at the bottom of the vault, Batman and the guard hang on for dear life near the vault door. The guard’s glasses fall into the acid and disintegrate, establishing the fact that yes, this acid will kill them if they fall into it. Batman then reaches down and pulls out the guard’s hearing aid and uses it to listen to the vault door as he tries to figure out the combination, while the guard unconvincingly screams “HEY – THAT’S MY HEARING AID!” . Now, usually hearing aids are reserved for people who are, you know – OLD. People who can’t hear well anymore. The actor playing the security guard looks like he’s in his late 30s, maybe early 40s – AT BEST! What the hell is he doing with a fuckin’ hearing aid?! I understand that the filmmakers needed to give Batman a clever way to get out of this situation somehow, but c’mon!!! If you indeed wanted to make the whole hearing aid bit plausible, wouldn’t you at least hire an actor who looks like he actually NEEDS a hearing aid? It’s probably one the most inexplicable and convenient turns of events I’ve ever seen in any movie in my life, and it’s not even effective because the security guard in question isn’t even pushing 45! And then, to make matters even worse, later after Batman opens the vault, rigs it to swing back into the building perfectly, and saves the guard, the police come in and Commissioner Gordon says to the guard “You’re gonna be all right, young man, just stay calm.” I guess hearing aids are all the rage for the semi-middle aged in Gotham City. Or maybe the filmmakers think the audience is retarded. Either way, the hearing aid thing is incredibly stupid.

But not nearly as stupid as this. Thank God for Arkham City, that's all I'm sayin'.

   Let’s move on from the incredibly sloppy writing already present in the very first action scene of the film and focus on some good things – the first of which being Jim Carrey as the film’s main antagonist, The Riddler. Now personally, I find Jim Carrey to be absolutely hilarious. He’s always been one of my favorite actors, and he was undoubtedly the reigning king of comedy during the 1990’s. Nearly all of his movies released during this period are classics in my mind, and most were highly successful with audiences. When I heard he was going to play a villain in the new Batman film as a little kid, I couldn’t WAIT to see it! And Carrey doesn’t disappoint – he knocks the role of Edward Nygma/The Riddler out of the park. Carrey’s brand of inspired lunacy somehow works well in this film, and doesn’t distract from the brooding seriousness that Bruce Wayne is imbued with. He goes for broke in the role and it makes for a truly memorable performance. Plus, whoever’s idea it was to give him an orange flat-top….pure gold. It’s fun to watch Edward Nygma go from a borderline psychotic scientist who’s obsessed with Bruce Wayne to a fully psychotic mastermind villain after devising a way to suck the brainwaves out of the citizens of Gotham (yes, that’s really the plot, get used to it).  There’s a scene halfway through the movie where Nygma, having both stolen and legitimately earning millions of dollars, throws a grand gala for all the elite of Gotham to attend, including his idol/enemy Bruce Wayne. Nygma does everything he can to rub his success in Wayne’s face, while Bruce maintains an utmost cool. At one point he puts on glasses, which forces Nygma to instantly don glasses of his own as well. A few lines of dialogue pass and Wayne takes the glasses off again, which Nygma hastily does in turn. It’s a little moment, but it reinforces notions of the Edward Nygma character in a purely visual way, without bringing too much attention to itself. Jim Carrey imbues the role with a perfect dose of zaniness and as a result The Riddler definitely comes off as one of the stronger villains in the first Batman film series.

   Another thing I like about the movie is the romance subplot between Bruce Wayne and Nicole Kidman’s character Chase Meridian. Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman have pretty believable chemistry with each other, and their scenes together are written very well and have a certain flirty sexiness to them. This is testament to the acting abilities of Kilmer and Kidman, who do very well in their respective roles. I do think it’s kind of ridiculous that in her second scene in the film she instantly jumps Batman’s bones on the rooftop of the police station – the only reason she does so is to get the whole romance plot going. I guess it’s kind of believable that she would instantly have the hots for Batman – I mean, he‘s friggin’ Batman, after all. And the movie even does try to justify this a little bit…but I still feel that the whole thing is a little forced just for plot convenience. Anyway, it’s no huge deal – she digs Batman and Bruce Wayne digs her. The main reason this is in the film is so Bruce Wayne can question his role as savior of Gotham City…he seriously considers giving up the superhero life and settling down with Chase. This is supposed to add dramatic tension to the story, but we all know that it isn’t going to happen (the movie’s called Batman Forever, for Chrissakes), so it ends up feeling a little tedious…but I give them credit for trying to shake things up a bit. Overall, I like the Chase Meridian character. I feel like she challenges Bruce Wayne in a mental capacity, and it’s fun to see him sort of meet his match outside of his darker second life.

Seriously, if this don't make you want to rip the rubber nipples from your real ones, I don't know what will.

   Anyway, back to stuff that doesn’t really work. As time has gone by, I realized I don’t really like Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. I feel like he makes the character a goofy Jack-Nicholson-as-The-Joker impression, totally hamming it up in a way that belittles the intent of the original character. Harvey Dent/Two-Face always struck me as more of a tragic character, with a certain intensity that made him a formidable foe for Batman. Tommy Lee Jones plays him as a gimmicky, clown-like trickster who’s obsessed with the number 2 (robbing the 2nd Gotham Bank on the 2nd anniversary of his accident, rigging a bomb with 200 sticks of TNT). [Whoops, turns out he actually does this in the comics after all…but I doubt he did it as childishly there as he does in the movie. Anyway, my bad. – Trent] There’s even a scene in the movie that could be considered downright blasphemous to fans of the comic books: So Two-Face and The Riddler break into Bruce Wayne’s house and chase after him and Chase Meridian. Two-Face sits and watches his thugs chase them around while continuously flipping his coin to get the outcome that he desires. One thing you need to know about Two-Face is that he does NOT question the outcome of his coin tosses. He rests everything upon fate and chance, which is what the coin symbolizes – it’s pretty much the defining trait of the character, apart from his half-burnt face. This scene shows a complete disregard for Two-Face’s character and I’m almost completely dumbstruck at the fact it’s in the movie. This isn’t Tommy Lee’s fault, but it is a blight on the character he plays and just makes him look even worse. Two-Face is totally cheapened in this film and it’s one of the weakest things about the entire production.

   This film was made in a time when superhero movies were still considered to be hokey, mindless entertainment instead of serious, character-based stories chock-full of true dramatic potential. Comparing the first 4 Batman films (especially the last two) to Christopher Nolan’s new take on the character not only makes them look like a joke, it’s just simply unfair. Nolan bases his films on a respect for the character and the world of Batman and grounds them in reality, while the first 4 movies treat him as some sort of spectacular, otherworldy mythical figure. This is most apparent in the Schumacher-directed movies, especially in regards to the much-maligned and infamous rubber nipples (Batman & Robin always takes the heat for this one, but they are in this film, too), which were said to be inspired by statues of Roman gods. Batman is at his best when he’s a relatable human being, even if he is an absurdly wealthy one. This is why the Nolan directed Batman films are so effective – they make you really relate to the character of Bruce Wayne, and they focus more on the human side of him, as well as providing the awesome ass-kicking Batman action. There’s a warmness to Bruce Wayne, a kind of charismatic likeability – you feel like you could hang out with this guy, even though he might be a little intense.

   The first 4 Batman films are all more focused on the Batman side of Bruce Wayne, rather than the character as a whole. The films are all built around the scenes in which Bruce Wayne is in the Batman suit, kicking ass – the rest of the movie kind of exists just to get to these scenes. Michael Keaton had a bit of that charm about him, but I’ve never really thought of him as a great fit for Bruce Wayne – he just seems a bit underwhelming to me, and even scrawny. Val Kilmer, I think, actually fares best out of all of the 90’s Batmans, but he plays Wayne with a bit of a coldness, and a hint of unrelatability. He kind of seems like a boring nerd at times, one with a slight holier-than-thou attitude. Kilmer doesn’t really put a lot of emotion into his line reads – in the scene where Bruce and his butler Alfred (the completely natural Michael Gough, seemingly born for the role) figure out who The Riddler is by deciphering the 4 very simple riddles he delivered, the “eureka!” moment when Bruce Wayne states “Edward Nygma” is so plainly expressed by Kilmer that I almost feel like Bruce Wayne can never feel true elation. I know Batman is supposed to be all stern, but at least a little hint of an exclamation point at the end of “Edward Nygma!” would have been appreciated! I mean it’s a big moment for them!

….And don’t even get me fucking started on George Clooney. Again, that will all be in the Batman & Robin review book.

Anyway, I know I’m kind of straying from the review and unfairly comparing Batman Forever to Nolan’s films, and I apologize for that, but I feel like it’s kind of hard not to. I just feel the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is more substantially realized in the new movies, while the older ones are kind of one-dimensional – even though they try not to be. It’s all in the tone of the flicks, and how they’re executed. There’s not really a focus on getting to know Bruce Wayne as a person, it’s more about the fact he flies around and kicks ass as Batman – and also about the over-the-top, comically maniacal villains. However, despite having said all that, I DO give Batman Forever credit for trying the hardest out of all 4 of the original Batman flicks to delve deeper into Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Chase Meridian is a psychologist, and during the scenes in her office many thematic elements are touched upon which reflect later in the film – namely subjects like duality (blantantly through the character of Two-Face and subtly through Bruce Wayne and his double life as Batman) and obsession (Robin’s vendetta on Two-Face for murdering his entire family, Edward Nygma’s obsession with Bruce Wayne). There’s a great scene in the movie in which Bruce sees a framed painting hanging on Meridian’s wall that is obviously in the shape of a bat. Bruce asks her if she’s got a “thing for bats” and she replies that the painting is in fact a Rorscach test, and meaning is inferred by the one viewing it. She then tells him the question which should be asked is if he’s got a thing for bats. This is a totally awesome way to establish Bruce’s mind state to the audience, and also brings up the question of what that Rorscach would look life if viewed by someone else. We, the audience, view it clearly as a bat, but only because we’re seeing the test through Wayne’s perspective. It could very well look like anything else to Chase Meridian, and anyone else for that matter. It definitely brings up a few questions that challenge the viewer’s perception, and I love it.

The Riddler and Two-Face are VERY disappointed with today's Garfield strip.

   This is why I consider Batman Forever to truly be the deepest out of all the 90’s Batman films (I should say all the live-action 90’s Batman films, because the animated Mask of the Phantasm is easily the best and most psychologically complex 90’s Batman film) because the writers actually delve into the meat of what makes Batman Batman, and Bruce Wayne’s inner conflict with his own vigilantism and lone wolf lifestyle. Bruce is presented with not one but TWO people interested in intwining their lives with his by way of Chase and Robin – the former as a love interest and the latter as a crime-fighting partner. This is definitely new territory for the withdrawn Bruce Wayne (well, at least in these movies) and it messes with his mind a little. He even considers quitting the Bat-game for this chick, which sort of feels a little abrupt considering he hasn’t really known her that long – but it’s something I could realisitically see happening to a guy who runs around in black tights with rubber nipples. Also, he is completely against letting Robin be his partner for no real legitimate reason, implying he might be acting a bit more selfish and defensive than he truly lets on. This is all great character building stuff, and it’s done very effectively and subtly.

   For me, it’s these things that save Batman Forever from being a schlocky, over-the-top, thinly-plotted action flick. While the film certainly bears all of those unfortunate qualites, it also manages to provide real emotional depth to the things that are transpiring onscreen – and for that reason it receives a saving grace in my mind. It’s really interesting that all of these deeper psychological themes exist in the movie, because there’s also all kinds of slapsticky, off-the-wall stupidity and immaturity (probably brought on by Carrey’s presence in the film, admittedly) that sort of bring the film down from being a truly satisfying Batman narrative.

Presenting the latest and greatest of Batsuit features....the mouth illuminator. Handy when delivering hackneyed attempts at cutesy humor.

   Before I close up I just want to mention a few more things that stick out to me, mostly just little things I couldn’t really fit it anywhere else. There’s a scene in which they awkwardly try to reference the 60’s Batman TV show by giving Robin the line “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” once they get to The Riddler’s island. Batman says “Huh?” and Robin says “The ground, it’s all metal, it’s full of holes, you know? Hole-y!” to which Batman replies “Oh.” I’m almost positive that this was a cute attempt at self-referential “humor”, but my oh my does it come off as forced and awkward. I love the scene in which The Riddler says to a kidnapped Chase about his glowing jacket, “Like the jacket? It keeps me safe while I’m jogging at night!” which I hope was improvised by Jim Carrey. Also, the film actually has a pretty killer soundtrack. This, of course, is the film which brought about Seal’s simply awesome song “Kiss From A Rose”, and also has a great track by The Flaming Lips called “Bad Days” which is very effectively used to establish Edward Nygma’s shitty apartment when he gets back from murdering his boss. 90’s music….gotta love it! And speaking of the 90’s, the entire movie is just such a testament to the time in which it was made….the tone, the set design, the general execution of the film – it all just screams 90’s to me. Anyone who wants a good nostalgia trip would be very well served by watching Batman Forever – it’s a relic of 90’s filmmaking style. I also like the scene in which Robin steals the Batmobile and goes for a cruise around Gotham (even though I have no idea how he could have possibly done that, and the movie doesn’t even try to explain how), eventually finding a gang of brightly painted neon skull dudes or something who are trying to…I guess rape a poor, twenty-something 90’s chick. Robin saves the girl and gets to have a glorious kiss with her, complete with sweeping and heroic music, and I think this scene is really fun and works well, while establishing that Robin could in fact legitimately pass as Batman’s partner….plus the fight is underscored by an awesome Offspring song, which can’t hurt a 90’s movie at all.

   So, to bring this very lengthy review to a surely much-anticipated conclusion, Batman Forever is, despite being heavily flawed in its complete execution, still worth checking out and enjoying if you’re in the mood for a fun, dumb superhero/action flick. It’s got juuuust enough smarts to not make your brain completely corrode inside your skull, and it’s got some pretty well-designed action set pieces that please the eye. It’s a silly film, and completely dated when compared to the new Christopher Nolan Batman films, but it’s still worth watching if only for a trip down 90’s nostalgia lane. Good performances, dumb writing, and great action. Gee, with a combination like that, what could possibly go wrong?


SO MUCH. SOOO MUCH COULD GO WRONG. OH GOD PLEASE END THE PAIN PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE NO MORE!

Review: SUPER MARIO BROS.

SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)
Starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper & Samantha Mathis
Directed by Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel
Written by Parker Bennett, Terry Runté & Ed Solomon
Produced by Jake Eberts & Roland Joffé
Cinematography by Dean Semler
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Mark Goldblatt

If this awesome poster doesn't make you want to see this, then brother, I don't know what will.

   It was bound to happen eventually – a big-budget, full-length feature film based on a video game. After decades of adapting from other mediums, it was only a matter of time before somebody in Hollywood decided to make a movie inspired by the interactive worlds that games offered. And in the early 90s, the video game market was still relatively new – still evolving and growing to the level of sophistication (depending on who you ask) that we know and understand today. And at the forefront of the video game revolution was Super Mario Bros. – undoubtedly the most successful video game of all; the game that singlehandedly made Nintendo a household name and saved the video game industry from becoming a forgotten, irrelevant fad during the mid-80s. Mario was the Mickey Mouse for the gaming generation, a veritable icon for the ages and beloved mascot for a titan entertainment company. So it’s really no wonder that Super Mario Bros. became the first ever movie based on a video game – and unwittingly set the unfortunate precedent for almost every video game-to-film adaptation to come.

   Upon its release in 1993, Super Mario Bros. was universally despised by pretty much everyone who saw it. It was loud, strange, tonally inaccurate with the games that inspired it, and generally boneheaded in its execution. The film cost $48,000,000 to make and only recouped $21,000,000 from the box office. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down – an unavoidable kiss of death for movies during the 1990s. Bob Hoskins, who had the distinction of portraying Mario in the film, would go on to say that it was the worst thing he ever did and that he wished he could delete the film from his life – and this is coming from the dude who was in Heart Condition. If there were a picture in the dictionary to go alongside the word “failure”, the poster for Super Mario Bros. would surely do the most justice.

Or maybe this one, actually.

   But, my friends, I have a sort of deep, dark secret I would like to confess to all of you right here and now: I actually kind of enjoy Super Mario Bros. I know, I know, what the hell could possibly be wrong with me?! How can any of you trust my word on films when I actually enjoy a travesty such as this film?! Well to that I can assure you that Super Mario Bros. exists for me purely in the realm of guilty pleasures – something that is so horrendously, appallingly terrible that I just have no choice but to love it for being so bad. I first took a shine to the movie as a young lad, when I rented it from Zip’s Video without any knowledge of its abysmal performance at the box office or any care what critics thought of it – I was just a little kid who loved the Mario video games, so a live action movie was pretty much the coolest idea ever! I really liked the movie as a little kid, so maybe that effects my judgement of it as an older, semi-wiser adult. But, to reiterate, I definitely do understand that the movie is bad. And to be fair, Super Mario Bros. isn’t bad in the way that a movie like, say, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is bad. Super Mario Bros. actually has several redeeming qualities about it that save it from the realm of evil, offensive, mind-destroying crappiness that so many other movies fall into. What could those qualities possibly be? Read on, my friends, read on!

   For one thing, Super Mario Bros. actually tries to take itself seriously – which can either be construed as a bad thing or a noble thing, depending on your view. There is a sort of devotion to the reality the film is trying to present, even if it is a silly and over-the-top one. You get the feeling that the characters in the movie actually believe they’re participating in the ridiculousness being put upon them, and because of this, it’s actually possible to be drawn into the world of the movie, rather than being alienated from it and detached while things are going on. I guess what I’m trying to say is, while the tone of the film is COMPLETELY different than the tone of the games, it establishes itself for what it is and remains consistent throughout its running time. This is something which cannot be said for a LOT of movies considered to be in the same vein as Super Mario Bros., so I give the movie some credit for actually staying faithful to its own grand design…unfortunately, it’s just a very misguided one.

   Anybody who’s ever played a Mario game knows what the deal is: Princess Toadstool (later renamed Peach) gets kidnapped by Bowser, a big, menacing, fire-breathing, evil & spiky-shelled turtle, and it’s up to Mario (and sometimes his brother Luigi) to go on a magnificent quest through bright, colorful worlds to rescue her – all while defeating troublesome enemies along the way. There’s not really much else to the early Mario games – they’re lighthearted platform adventure games with catchy music with a VERY thin plot to give you an excuse to bop digital bad guys on the head. I’m sure when people went to go see the movie back in 1993, they were expecting something similar to this, since – you know, it was based on the game n’ shit. But instead of seeing this bright, colorful world filled with smiley happy characters, they got a grungy, dilapitated hellhole populated by unfriendly and ugly dinosaur people and controlled by Dennis Hopper. The plot is, Mario and Luigi are plumbers from Brooklyn, and get sucked into an alternate dimension where dinosaurs have evolved into intelligent beings (who happen to look exactly like humans), and are now actively being pursued by King Koopa (NOT Bowser) for harboring a piece of meteorite which belonged to Princess Daisy (NOT Toadstool) that can be used to merge the dino-dimension and the human dimension into one. If you’re saying “What the fuck?” to yourself after reading that sentence, trust me….you are NOT alone. The makers of the film, in a vain attempt to modernize and ground the film in some kind of reality, completely morphed the concept of Mario into some kind of sci-fi/action/comedy spectacle flick….and the effect is, needless to say, quite confusing.

Seriously, how do you go from THIS........

..........to THIS?!

   Gone were the bright green pipes which housed chomping Pirahna Plants. Gone were the mushrooms which made Mario grow larger and stomp enemies. Gone were the green-shelled turtles and mushroom-shaped Goombas which populated Mario’s world. Gone was anything that even remotely tied in to the Super Mario Bros. franchise visually, save for the appearance of Mario & Luigi themselves and one sole Bob-Omb. It was all replaced by lavish, S&M-inspired hysteria and dystopian grunge with only mild references to the actual games themselves (a nightclub called “Thwomp” and another called “Bullet Bill’s”, for example) in a sort of send-up of 90’s New York culture. I think this is primarily why so many people rejected Super Mario Bros. upon its release: it was just way, WAY too different from what they knew and loved from the video games. Not only that, but it was a lot more violent and harsh than the games, which exemplified kid-friendly cuteness in almost every way. I’m positive there were MANY parents out there who stormed out of the theater with their children once they laid eyes on the dark, dystopian society the loveable Mario & Luigi found themselves trapped in and the surreal, violent antics which occurred there. You go from such simple themes as adventuring and saving a princess to fascist rule by an oppressive dictator, childhood abandonment, the concept of evolution AND de-evolution, and inter-dimensional domination, to name a few.

   So what hell happened here? Well, I think that when time came to develop the Mario license into a live-action movie, there were several problems that instantly came into play:

1. There’s no plot.
2. Nothing in Mario’s world tangibly exists in reality.
3. Faithfully recreating the exact style of the games would cost a shit-ton of money.
4. The only people who played video games were little kids….and maybe weird adults.
5. Nobody had ever made a video game into a movie before.

   I think this last one was the most troubling for the creators of this film, since they had absolutely nothing to go off of – they were essentially creating a brand new genre of films. Now personally, I think that notion would be incredibly exciting and open up a nearly endless well of creativity, and maybe it did for the movie’s producers – but they didn’t necessarily use that creativity in a very productive way. I still believe it is VERY possible to make a good, solid Mario movie using the actual style and characters from the universe of the games, but apparently at the time the filmmakers thought they needed something a bit more substantial to make a live action movie with. The result, unfortunately, was something wholly unworthy of being considered anywhere near the quality of the games which inspired it.

   But, if you recall, I did say that I actually enjoy Super Mario Bros., and I really, truly do. I completely understand that it is is a terrible movie, with a hopelessly inept script and somewhat hammy acting from all parties involved, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to completely write it off as another failure from the bowels of Hollywood. There’s a sort of quirky charm to the movie, a kind of lightheartedness that endears itself to me. The movie begins with what could possibly be the worst animation ever committed to celluloid – I don’t know if they were trying to emulate the 8-bit look of NES games, but the poorly-drawn, barely lip-synced dinosaurs in the intro look laughably terrible. Then a cheesy-sounding narrator with a bad New York accent begins to awkwardly expose the plot before the opening credits even begin, effectively showing that these filmmakers have absolutely no idea how to begin their own movie. Seriously, they could have done away with this entire opening segment and the movie probably would have made at least 10,000 more dollars…but this is just speculation. Anyway, the movie really begins with a mother leaving her baby (a giant, unhatched egg) on the front stoop of a nunnery in the middle of the rain, along with a mysterious piece of blue rock. Then, when she goes back underground to go into her dimension, Dennis Hopper comes out of the shadows and grabs her by the shoulders….which makes the whole cave shake for some reason, and the mother screams while the rocks presumably bury her alive. We don’t know for sure because it cuts away instantly to present-day Brooklyn, where we meet Mario and Luigi, two plumbers who are dangerously low on funds. We follow them around and get to know their personalities, and they eventually run into Daisy, whom Luigi falls for and which gets out plot going. I’ll stop summarizing here because I think you get the idea – this movie is pretty damn ridiculous.

Koopa wants to hit it too.

   Despite the shortcomings of the heavily flawed script,  it does actually make sense in its own way – I know what motivates each character, I know what the stakes are and what happens if Mario and company fail, and because of that, I can actually squeeze a small amount of dramatic tension from the story. The characters have a sort of goofy charm about them, and the actors try their best to breathe a little life into them. It’s not Shakespeare, but c’mon, it’s a stupid movie based on a video game! And hey, the production value on the film is GREAT! It really is a fun film to look at, even though what’s transpiring onscreen is enough to make you question what the hell the directors were thinking. The set designs are creative and elaborate, the makeup effects are pretty damn dazzling, and the creature effects are very impressive. It’s very clear that a lot of money went into this production, and they actually used it to create a believably hostile environment filled with strange and perplexing characters. This is all part of what makes movies fun to watch – complete immersion into a make believe world.

   Although, for this feat, I should really give credit to production designer David L. Snyder – the same man who designed the sets for Blade Runner. He’s pretty much the reason why the movie looks cool, because the film’s directors – the husband and wife team of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel – probably didn’t have much to do with that. Stories of the duo’s inability to control what was happening on their set are now infamous, but needless to say just from watching the movie, these two people were in way over their heads. It’s really mind-boggling to me that the movie’s producers (including Roland Joffé, the director behind the critically lauded filmed The Killing Fields….WTF?!) didn’t try to find someone with a bit of a track record for big-budget adventure flicks….the only movie these two yahoos had directed was a little noir film called D.O.A. (1988) which was critically accepted but bombed at the box office. Their biggest success was creating the popular 80s commercial character Max Headroom. Other than that, Rocky and Anna were pretty much hacks whose “arrogance had been mistaken for talent”, according to Bob Hoskins. Inexplicably these two people were put in charge of a big-budget video game adaptation and this was the result. Not to mention the screenplay had been rewritten several times by several different writers and wasn’t even completely finished by the time production began…in essence, making Super Mario Bros. was almost more unbearable than the movie itself. It’s really a shame, because the potential for something great was squandered by people who thought they knew what they were doing.

When we said we wanted to "gross millions" this isn't exactly what we meant.

   Super Mario Bros. exists as one of those rare movies where everything goes completely wrong but is, for some reason, still somewhat entertaining. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo actually have pretty good chemistry and are pretty believable as Mario and Luigi, and Samantha Mathis, who plays Princess Daisy, tries her damned hardest to be a convincing emotional center for this movie and somehow manages to succeed at doing so. Dennis Hopper gets to have the most fun by being a completely over-the-top asshole, and I’m pretty sure he just agreed to appear in the film to score drug money – but his performance is memorable nonetheless and one of the saving graces of the film. And for all the silly antics and ridiculous occurrences that happen, the movie is actually smart enough to give Mario and Luigi character arcs – Mario is portrayed as a sort of average Joe everyman, someone who doesn’t believe in supernatural phenomenae or wild stories until he finds himself in the middle of one, while Luigi is portrayed as a goofy younger guy who has trouble talking to girls, until he falls for Daisy and eventually gains confidence…ok, I might be reaching with that one, but it’s still a small semblance of an arc nonetheless. My point is, things actually happen in this movie, and the characters have things to do and are developed semi-well. It’s not complete garbage, as most people who see this movie would have you believe. It’s harmless popcorn entertainment, just smart enough to provide some inspired moments but ultimately an unfocused, flawed production. I’d only recommend it to those who like to sit around with friends and watch subpar movies for fun, but other than that, I can’t really recommend it in any serious fashion – even though I personally like the film for what it is. What could have been at least marginally great is now instead one of the biggest blunders in recent cinematic history, and it set the stage for even more atrocious video-game-to-film adaptations that are still being made to this day. I guess there’s something about the interactive experience games provide that gets lost in translation to movies – or maybe the people who make video game movies think that the movies themselves have to be like actual video games, instead of actual movies. Whatever the reason is, it’s definitely been one of the worst genres to exist in film history – and it all stems back to Super Mario Bros.

   Oh, I almost forgot to mention the best part: the movie ends with Daisy running back to our dimension to fetch the Mario Bros. for another adventure, ostensibly setting up a sequel which would never, EVER come. Such high hopes, yet nothing to show for it…in a tragic way, it pretty much sums up the entire movie.

Review: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Stefen Moffat, Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish
Produced by Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy
Cinematography by Janusz Kamiński
Music by John Williams
Edited by Michal Kahn

Yeah...Tintin's a pimp like that.

   So, it’s finally arrived. The one, sole film I was eagerly anticipating for alllll of 2011. And now that The Adventures of Tintin, the 30-years-in-the-making dream project of uber-director Steven Spielberg and big-budget adaptation of Belgian comic book artist Hergé’s brilliant masterwork has finally seen the light of day, there’s only one real question left: was it worth the wait?

   The answer, my friends, is an exhilarating & doubt-relieving “YES!”

   Spielberg completely knocks The Adventures of Tintin out of the park. It’s a nearly pitch-perfect tonal appropriation of the legendary and still-popular series of Tintin comics, the first of which was published in France in 1930. Spielberg, co-producer Peter Jackson and their army of technological wizards at WETA (the special effects company behind the Lord of The Rings trilogy….need I say more?) have turned the beautifully simple yet stunning 2-D line drawings of Hergé into fully three-dimensional animated lifeforms through the still-evolving artform of motion capture filmmaking, and the resulting visual effect is sincerely mind-blowing. Spielberg and his team have not only made one of the most exciting and cinematically pleasing films of 2011 and adventure films in general, they’ve also made the absolute best motion-capture animated film thus far. It’s still a relatively new technology, and only a few such films have been released, but this movie easily sets the bar of quality at a very high level for any more to follow.

Ah yes, good shit, let me peep this further.

   Before I continue, a little history lesson – because I’m almost certain that the average American citizen out there has little to no idea as to who or what the hell Tintin even is! Steven Spielberg wasn’t a fan of Tintin until 1981, when a French review of his new film Raiders of the Lost Ark compared the thrilling adventure flick to a series of comic books known as The Adventures of Tintin. Curious, Spielberg looked up the classic books and instantly fell in love with the tales of Tintin, an upbeat young reporter with a flair for mystery-solving and adventuring, as well as the other characters that populated his world. And get this: Before his death in 1983, Hergé himself declared Steven Spielberg to be the only one capable of appropriately adapting Tintin to the big screen – and with an endorsement like that it’s safe to assume some kind of creative energy was going to go along with these proceedings. Once he managed to get the film rights in his pocket shortly after Hergé’s death, Spielberg set about a 30-year quest to bring Tintin to life on the big screen – a quest which has finally come to fruition with The Adventures of Tintin.

   I’m quite happy to say that Tintin factors quite heavily into my life as well. I was about 11 years old when I first came upon the comic books. They were available to check out from the library at Brichta, the fondly-remembered elementary school I attended at the time. As soon as I completed my first book I was hooked, ever-fervently returning to the library as often as possible to try and get my hands on a new Tintin adventure. Herge is easily one of the best storytelling talents of the last century: his stories were intricately plotted out and unfurled with a captivating pace, his drawings were detailed yet stylistically cartoony enough to please the eye, and his characters were so richly defined and developed. Tintin’s travels took him all over the world, allowing him to explore all sorts of places a young lad like myself would only dream of seeing, and what’s more, he had an always-questioning nature and a devotion to figuring out what was really going in his surroundings – something I identified with heavily then and now.

This is the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

   So when news came that two excellent filmmakers – Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson – were collaborating to create a trilogy (that’s right! There’s gonna be 2 more! Oh joy!) based on the Tintin books, I nearly leapt in the air and shouted “yippee!!!” but then didn’t because such a thing would be considered silly. And just my (and everyone else’s) luck, the two die-hard Tintin fans – Jackson being of the lifelong type – have created a film with so much love for the source material that it shines brightly as a triumph in visual medium adaptation. Tintin pretty much gets everything perfectly right – the tone, the character’s personalities, and most importantly, the sense of pure, unapologetic adventure. You feel the rush of the film as you’re watching it, and get swept up in its grandiosity. It’s really an experience like no other.

   One thing that really needs to be pointed out is the way this film is shot. It literally feels like it was filmed in a cartoony reality, a place that exists on planet Earth where these cartoon people exist and go about their lives – such is the realism of the camerawork done by the extremely talented Janusz Kamiński, Steven Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer since they worked together on Schindler’s List in 1993…and if you’ve seen that movie, you know why Spielberg’s doesn’t let this guy out of his sight. The film looks like it was shot in a physically tangible realistic environment, but was in fact completely created in a digital world. The technological wizards I mentioned earlier created the digital environment, giving Spielberg the ability to literally control the camera with his thumbs via a small, Game Boy-like monitor. And what’s great about this is that because of this new technology, Spielberg can get shots that he could only dream of before – shots that would be utterly IMPOSSIBLE to achieve through conventional camerawork. Shots such as having the camera point directly into a mirror, shots where the camera hovers above a speeding car, or shots like the genuinely epic and complex chase sequence through a Moroccan port town that weaves in and out of buildings while all sorts of chaos happens at once – seriously, one of the best sequences in the entire film. And it all happens in one shot!

"I say, ol' chap, this appears to be quite a bitchin' interactive whatsit!"

   Because of this blend of realistic and extravagant camera styles, the hyper-real looking animated characters look even better. The producers did a brilliant thing by making the characters look, as Peter Jackson says, “exactly like real people – but real Hergé people!” The characters’ designs are stylized to be what a person would look like if Hergé was the one makin’ the humans. The effect is pretty breathtaking, even if the character designs seem kind of awkward-looking at times. One of the biggest concerns about motion capture animated films is that the human characters portrayed in them often come off as more creepy than realistic – as human beings we can sense when something else is human or not, and seeing something fake and digital trying to closely mimic a human is a little strange for the mind to experience. This is a big reason why films like The Polar Express and Beowulf didn’t really resonate with a lot of audiences – it’s hard to make your digital characters emulate all the specific and intricate details that make us human. The Adventures of Tintin sort of falls prey to this problem at some points – mainly in scenes with a wide variety of people – but I can happily say that for the most part, Spielberg has attached a sense of human relatability to his digital characters. Facial expressions are KEY in this, and Tintin’s characters have a wide variety of authentic-looking expressions and emotive qualities. There were a few moments where I could actually see Daniel Craig performing underneath the digital puppet that was his character Ivan Sakharine, the antagonist of the film – the way his eyes moved, his movements. I definitely got the impression that a real, live human being was underneath all that digital makeup.

   Which brings me to the most crucial aspect of this film – the performances. All the technical wonders would be for naught if the actors portraying the characters didn’t convey the vibrant personalities of Hergé’s creations, and thankfully, everyone nails it right on the head. Jamie Bell is impressive as Tintin, perfectly capturing his youthful eagerness for adventure and positive, intelligent outlook on all situations. Andy Serkis, the motion capture titan who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, has the honor of being the most memorable character in the film: the hilariously drunken Captain Haddock. As a fan of the original comics, I can say that Serkis perfectly gets everything about Haddock right, and it is wonderful. Comedic dynamos Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Shaun of the Dead fame portray the bumbling Thomson and Thompson, two identical detectives who are high in the running for the title of Dumbest Duo in Creation.  Everybody does their respective character justice, and as a fan of the books, it’s a truly delightful thing to see!

"Aw dude, what hell happened last night? Look at the plane, man! Aw, my dad's gonna kill me!"

   The attention to detail and deft direction by Spielberg show that he has a love and deeper understanding of what exactly makes Tintin work. He’s made a live-action animated film, one that seems like it jumped off the comic book page and implanted itself into the movie genome. The unfortunate downside to all this is, while the movie is definitely good, I’m worried of it finding an audience in America. The movie has already been out for 2 months overseas, where it is being very well-received as the Tintin series is very popular in other parts of the world. But while still being relatively well-known here, American audiences might not be the type to flock out in droves to see this very different looking movie based on a Belgian comic book. The film and comic book series are generally for younger audiences – this being the first PG-rated film Spielberg has made since 1991’s Hook.  The film carries over the abundant slapstick humor present in Hergé’s comics, and while it was a treat for a fan of the series like myself to see, I kept wondering if somebody who wasn’t already affiliated with Tintin and was just seeing these characters for the first time would even know what the hell they were watching. It’s not the typical modern American film, which is one of the most complimentary things I can say about the movie, but also something which might hurt its chances here. There weren’t that many people in the audience with me when I saw it – I’d say around 10 to 14, including myself. It’s not bad, but not nearly the amount of attention I feel Tintin deserves. Time will only tell if the movie resonates with audiences – but, I do feel that the sheer power of Hergé’s characters and story plus Spielberg’s strong directive vision will be enough for audiences to identify with and appreciate.

   So bottom line? Tintin is WELL worth your time and money. I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who is a fan of fun, mind-blowing cinema and thrilling adventure stories. We’re in the hands of Hergé, Steven fuckin’ Spielberg, and Peter fuckin’ Jackson here! There’s really no way this movie could be bad! It’s a film that was brilliantly handled by above-average filmmakers who not only blew every other motion capture film out of the water, but perfectly translated a timeless and precious universe of richly defined characters onto film in the process! And what’s more, the movie is just fun to look at, even if there weren’t incredible performances and involved storytelling going on at the same time (which, thankfully, there are). The Adventures of Tintin is an expertly crafted film-going experience, and it did the awesome task of living up to my VERY high expectations. For that alone it is my favorite film that’s been released in 2011, and probably one my favorite Spielberg films overall.

   Now it’s time to see him bait the Oscars with War Horse. Two huge movies coming out in one month? And in this year in cinema? No one else should even bother coming to the Academy Awards next year.

Review: SUPER 8

SUPER 8 (2011)
Written & Directed by JJ Abrams
Produced by JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg & Bryan Burk
Cinematography by Larry Fong
Music by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey

I didn't know they remade Star Wars with little kids!

   For my very first review on this site, I have chosen a very recent film directed by the quite talented JJ Abrams. It’s actually the review which sort of inspired this entire website, so I think it’s a fitting place to begin for a variety of reasons. Primarily, Super 8 is a movie which exemplifies everything that is wholly thrilling about the art of cinema and also inadvertently displays several things that are wrong with it. In essence, Super 8 is a confounded labor of unabashed love – it’s completely adherent to a style of filmmaking and thoroughly well-composed, but is overall crippled by its own reverence. For what it’s worth, I think JJ Abrams’ intent with the way this film ends is in the purest of best intentions – but he unwittingly betrays the very conceit his film is based around, and it’s slightly disappointing to watch.

   Before I go any further I just want to state for the record that I actually really enjoy this movie for the most part – I think it’s exceptionally well made, the child actors are all talented and have great chemistry together, it has great special effects, and it successfully evokes that sort of 80’s movie feel of ordinary people taking part in something extraordinary. It’s also very funny; I found myself laughing quite a bit, even during some of the more intense action scenes – Abrams’ characters are just that good. But after I saw it for the first time, I left the theater with a sort of conflicted feeling….something that was poking at my inner film critic incessantly. I wasn’t really sure why, but now I’ve put my finger on it and can accurately put it into words.

   Now before elaborating on all of that, I’m going to elaborate a bit on JJ Abrams first, because I think it applies to how his art can be understood. JJ Abrams is a wunderkind. The dude straight up knows, understands, and respects the art of storytelling through motion pictures. His passion and devotion to cinema is truly a humbling thing to see, and it shines apparent through everything he touches. He’s very well known for being the brainchild behind many hit shows on television – including Lost, which admittedly, is one of my absolute favorite shows of all time. He directed the pilot episode of that show, and let me tell you, I would be very comfortable with saying that it is one of the best first episodes of any television series in history. (The last episode, however, is another debate entirely, harharhar….) One thing that stands out about Abrams’ style is that he is VERY good at making things intense. The guy can wring excitement out of actors standing in place and pretending to run while he jiggles the camera around – it sounds silly but the guy can make it work! He’s an artist who finds the means to get the fucking shot he needs, when he needs it, and he does it like a boss. He is truly a director born, filled to the brim with creative ideas and the pathos to execute them.

   So now that I’m done kissing his ass, I’m going to emphasize his knack for making things INTENSE!!! Abrams has clearly seen a jillion movies with characters and situations that command focused attention; he’s learned how to build character enough to make you care about if they’re in danger or not and he knows how to manipulate this to his advantage. The way his action scenes are shot and edited are key in this, and what’s better is he uses the story to add emotional heft to what’s happening in them. I’m going to use a positively fascinating scene from Super 8 as an example – the train crash sequence.

Yeah....you're probably gonna want to run now.

   This is my favorite scene in the entire film, and it leaves me jaw-dropped and speechless every time I watch it. I’m almost certain that no other train crash in the history of cinema has been as intense as this one. In the movie, the main cast – a group of young friends who we’ve spent some time getting to know – have arrived at a lonely train station in both the middle of nowhere and the night to shoot their zombie flick on a Super 8 film camera. *Note to all – this is where the title of the film comes from. Ya get it?* While shooting a crucial scene with a train rolling by (for “production value” the lad director specifies), the hero of our film – a boy named Joe (Joel Courtney) – notices a truck turning onto the tracks and driving straight towards the oncoming train. Train and truck collide, and the train starts to de-rail violently – right next to these kids. Scared beyond all recognition, the kids run for dear life while the train literally rains from the sky all around them. If you haven’t seen this train crash, you’re just going to have to take my word on it – it is scary. The raging speed and deadly velocity with which the impacts of the derailing train are imbued with are truly a sight to behold; it’s really quite frightening. And what’s more, these kids who we’ve come to know and (hopefully) like are caught RIGHT in the middle of it!!! RUN, GODDAMMIT!

   The train wrecks in such a violent fashion you kind of roll your eyes a bit when absolutely nobody dies in the scene – not even the dude who ran his friggin’ truck into the train in the first place. And I’m NOT saying that somebody NEEDS to die, like movies are better when characters are getting mowed down left and right – but c’mon, if there was a group of REAL people caught up in a swirling mass of metallic carnage and mayhem like the one we just witnessed, I’m pretty sure SOMEBODY would perish, or at least be mortally injured – but this is getting beside the point!!!

   The point is, in this scene Abrams raises the stakes for his characters by putting them in a death-defying situation that not only sparks the plot of the flick, but also sets the precedent for what is going to follow. The reason this train crashes is so the creature can escape and get the story moving – and if you’re going to crash the vessel which carries your main plot point/focus of the film in such an intense and violent manner, it sort of hints that the creature in question will itself be intense and violent. And it is!…..for a while. What I’m saying is, if you’re going to introduce something so pants-wettingly intense into a film, it would only be wise to continue with that same tone of intensity whenever the creature is around, so the rest of the movie doesn’t pale in comparison to that one scene. And Abrams, for a majority of the movie, does an excellent job of this. Whenever the creature attacks, we only get fleeting glimpses of it, and we are given a sense of its power and attitude towards human beings through its destructive actions.

   Weird things also start happening around town after the train crash: dogs start evacuating town in large numbers, the engines are torn from all of the cars at the local dealership, microwaves and other electronic devices are starting to go missing – and people are as well. To us, this is clearly the work of the monster, doing whatever its pissed off alien creature heart is intent on doing. As the plot chuffs along, things continue to get complicated for the characters, situations occur, and things start to come to a head when the town is evacuated and the military rolls in to go to war with this extraterrestrial nuisance. While all of this is happening, the kids uncover information about the monster and its plight: it’s bein’ held prisoner by the government and just wants to go home goddammit! During this information download, we are told by a very reliable source (the former government scientist turned high school teacher/dude who ran his truck into the train and started this whole crazy mess) that the monster has come to despise all humans and has developed a pretty surly attitude. And this holds true, because we’ve seen the creature murk any and all humans he comes into contact with thus far. But there’s a crucial moment near the film’s end that drives a hard, rusty nail into its own heart – and there’s no coming back for the poor little monster flick.

I swear, this image is a lot less hilarious when viewed in context.

   So Joe and his buddy Cary (Ryan Lee) are traversing through the beast’s underground lair, where Joe’s kidnapped crush Alice (Elle Fanning) is being stored as an afternoon snack alongside a bunch of other townsfolk who have disappeared. When Joe and Cary get there they see the alien with a leg literally dangling out of its mouth – this alien digs on human flesh. After creating a distraction, Joe saves Alice and some of the other adult humans and make an escape, but the monster finds them and picks off the two adults in a manner most becoming a pissed off subterranean alien (and he’s homesick too….you think Radiohead has a right to be miffed here?)

   The film begins its unfortunate decline from a glorious sprint to a saddening limp when the creature backs the kids into a corner menacingly. It is at this moment in the movie where things begin to make an almost preposterous turn for the warmhearted. Joe, understanding the alien creature towering before him, bravely steps forward and imparts upon it the knowledge that not everyone is horrible. The monster picks Joe up and examines him carefully, presumably making a psychic connection with the boy, as we’ve been given such information numerous times at this point. It’s at this point the monster sees the overwhelming goodness in Joe and – in a moment of “humanity” – the monster’s eyes change to that of a happy puppy (seriously…it’s almost enough to elicit “awws”) and he lets Joe and his friends leave with their lives. The kids are then reunited with their parents, all is well with the world, and the alien rebuilds its ship and takes off into the night sky while everyone watches solemnly.  Sounds pretty happy and cathartic, right?

   Well, it is. But see, the thing is – up until that point, the movie was NOT that type of movie. That monster had every inclination in the world to rip those kids limb from limb (like he had done to pretty much every other human he came in contact with) but through the power of childhood innocence he changes his mind and leaves without harming a hair on their heads. I think I’m sounding a little more critical than I intend to, but this is basically what happens at the end of Super 8.

   Now, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing ever. I GET that Abrams is saying that the power of good and understanding is a universal thing, and even the most savage of beasts can be calmed if only they get a little empathy from somebody. I GET that it’s all well and good that the kids are reunited with their fathers, who have come to their own moral victories. These are all strong thematic choices that are perfectly capable of resonating effectively with an audience – but one thing I ALSO get is that a movie shouldn’t compromise its own stylistic integrity to satisfy the sappy resolution the filmmakers think the audience needs – that is just bad storytelling, and worst of all, it’s insulting to the audience.

   Super 8 seems to operate on this principle that if you conjure up images of catastrophic calamity and danger and then wrap it up at the end with a safe, risk-free bow, it’ll all work out to cinema gold. But even though Abrams’ intentions are good, his film doesn’t seem to realize that it’s pandering to its audience by doing so. The fact is, he expects us to do away with all of the information we’ve been told about this creature and its behavior and accept its newly found heart of gold. It doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, merely because the script wants to get to its sugary, please-everyone conclusion. It’s almost like Abrams created this powerful, angry, truly terrifying movie monster to raise all hell but then put a leash on it, domesticating it so he can impress the guests coming over for dinner. The doe-eye scene that Abrams gives the monster makes it look downright cute – and that is NOT something you want your big, scary movie monster to be!

The Super 8 monster, seconds from unleashing its unspeakable terror

   So what am I saying, exactly? That JJ Abrams should have had the kids who we’ve come to know and root for torn to shreds and ended the movie that way? Well, yes and no, actually – I believe if you’re going to create that kind of situation, then the characters need to be true to themselves and react accordingly. Quite frankly, I feel that the monster would have torn the flesh off those poor little kids and gone about his merry way – that’s just the kind of intensity I picked up from this savage creature. But, the characters didn’t necessarily have to BE in that particular scenario – I feel that there might have been a more effective way of getting these characters to confront that stayed true to the nature of the monster and also provided the kind of wonderful closure Abrams was striving for. What could that scenario have been? I dunno, maybe there could have been a dramatic standoff with the military where the kids come between the war of the worlds and convince the trigger-happy Americans that this alien came in peace and just wants to leave in the same vein! It’s just as believable as Joe reaching into the monster’s heart and convincing it to spare him. The fact is, there’s a gaping logical flaw in the movie’s climax solely to get to the happy ending Abrams wanted, and it sacrifices all the artistic choices he made in the first 90 minutes of the flick to do it.

   My main beef with this turn of events in the film is I know Abrams is a smarter filmmaker than this. I know that he’s a dude who likes to push boundaries, and I know he’s the kind of dude who likes a good, thrilling story – his work on television and as director of Mission Impossible III and the new Star Trek is evidence enough of this. So why does the immeasurably strong and volatile creature that kills humans on sight have a completely inexplicable change of heart when it comes to gobbling children at the end of Super 8? Because I think JJ wanted to remind us that – hey, monsters are people too, and in movies, children never get hurt! It’s just been predetermined that we (the audience) would choke the ending down better that way, even if it’s completely contradictory to everything that came before it. And again, I’m NOT saying that the kids HAD to be killed in that scene, or that the movie would have been BETTER if they did – I’m just saying that if you’re even going to put your characters in that situation, don’t have one of them (the monster) act completely against its own motivation just to satisfy our “need” to see the children go unharmed.

   I’ve been singling out Abrams for the way this all turned out…and in being the director I do think he fields most of the blame…but I think it might be a little more fitting to lump producer Steven Spielberg into this paradigm as well. Spielberg is well known for having noble, sappy, Hollywood-friendly endings in his films, and hey, that’s just his cup o’tea. But it seems his knack for making the end of his films look like Norman Rockwell paintings has bled over to this venture, and it has completely neutered what could have been a wholly satisfying cinematic experience. I can’t say anything for sure, since I am not privy to the process behind how this film was made, but I’m willing to bet Spielberg’s influence is (ironically) a key factor in the harming of this film’s potential.

Like father, like illegitimate son!

   So final verdict? Super 8, overall, is a pretty decent movie…certainly one of the best to come out of this foul year for cinema, the year 2011. It captures a feeling of excitement and wonder that is admittedly absent from mainstream cinema these days, and it’s because a talented director was at the helm. There are true, heartfelt character moments in the film that other films would give their right arm for! But the glaring flaw in storytelling logic cannot be overlooked, and even though I believe the film is trying to pass along a positive message and provide the audience a good ol’ happy ending, it ends up betraying its own conceit and is therefore weakened as a whole. It’s really quite a shame, because the movie IS good and it stands up on its own legs – they’re just kicked out from underneath by overzealous good intentions.

   But at least the dogs knew to get the hell outta there! There wasn’t even potential for one to become a snack in this movie – that’ll show that flesh-eating alien!