Monday, March 19, 2007


Lots of movies starring the cast of The Lord of the Rings; curiously enough, they're (almost) all based on comic books graphic novels (and none of them are The X-Men):

A History of Violence: In which Aragorn totally pulls a major Brad Hamilton move on a couple of punks trying to stick up his diner in Nowhere, Indiana, and in the process reveals that he possesses the hair-trigger reflexes of a practiced killer. The rest of the movie teases out the reason why.

This seemed to be David Cronenberg's most recent attempt to show he can, too, make a conventional, commercial Hollywood thriller if he absolutely has to. Take a tight little story, add a hot, bankable star, throw in Ed Harris playing a mysterious tough guy for the eleventy-first time (with makeup straight out of Dick Tracy, too!), and top it off with William Hurt grating against type, and this could've been directed by just about anybody. It's kind of a shame. Except for one twisted sex scene on a staircase, there wasn't much of Cronenberg's usual perverse, detached touch here. Still, it was more than OK, propelled by Viggo's emerging star power and the natural energy of the story and Cronenberg's direction.

One note of semi-local interest: It's no wonder Aragorn never made it into Mordor, seeing as how he somehow managed to enter Philadelphia via 95 North despite the fact that he was coming directly from Indiana.

Rating: 3 Smeagols

Sin City: More pulp from clever fanboys Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and wait for the gore to start.

There were three semi-related episodes here, all set in the same heavily stylized noir-ish City.
Bruce Willis stars in the first, a generic tale of a cop facing the end of the line with heavy burdens on mind, body and soul. Clive Owen takes over in the last one, playing a tough guy in league with a band of killer hookers, or something, out to rid the City of a competing gang of thugs.

It's the middle sequence that earns the $3.50 rental fee. Frodo pops in midway through it, looking like Harry Potter's older, emo cousin, and gets turned into a quadraplegic by Mickey Rourke (rhymes with Orc). But that's just the narrative engine that provides an excuse to watch the character played by Rourke, in heavy makeup and all kinds of post-production effects, leaping around like a demented superhero. This section was pretty entertaining and looked great.

Rating: 3 Smeagols

V for Vendetta: This is the eleventy-thousandth movie to imagine a grim, dystopian future that's actually a funhouse mirror image of our own warped present society. This was one of the better ones -- if not quite Blade Runner or 12 Monkeys, at least superior to Johnny Mnemonic or, God Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid, Logan's Run. Put it around the level of RoboCop.

One difference between this movie and many others in this genre is that the characters here, or at least some of them, are fully aware of how crappy things are, and are well on their way to starting the revolution, with or without certain folks.

Elrond spends the whole movie in a big plastic Guy Fawkes mask, and still shows more emotional range than Natalie Portman did in The Phantom Menace. She was OK here, though, in a movie that depended on her to be at least OK.

There were a few overt references to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but mostly, the specifics of the political world in which this movie was set were a little fuzzy. I think that was intentional. After all, the Matrix sequels bogged down into perhaps too much administrative detail. Here, the Wachowskis seem content to show the mechanics of revolution for its own sake, without having to elaborate a precisely-detailed Ruling Entity and Opposition.

(Nice bit of stunt casting with John Hurt, who played Winston Smith in the 1984 version of 1984, featured here as Big Brother's second cousin once removed.) (Hey! He also played Aragorn in the half-assed animated Lord of the Rings feature made by Ralph Bakshi.)

Rating: 4 Smeagols

War of the Worlds: Gack! After flirting with Aragorn, striking down the Witch King of Angmar, and hooking up with Faramir, Eowyn ends up as the ex-wife of Tom Cruise (and is completely wasted in the role, with a total of about two minutes worth of screen time).

OK, maybe this wasn't exactly based on a comic book, although I'm sure it was adapted into one at least once in the last hundred years. Anyway, this movie was really, really bad. Tom Cruise caricatures a blue collar motorhead bad dad in the broadest possible outlines, all but grunting "dese" and "dose" while turning up his surgically-enhanced nose at takeout hummus ordered by his neglected, precocious daughter. The first ten minutes of this movie were so bad, I wanted to sell my DVD player. With, of course, the disc still in it.

Later, when the aliens attack the hero's blue collar, multi-ethnic Noo Yawk neighborhood, he decides to take his kids to Boston. That's right, the city that recently shut down for an entire day because some Lite Brites were hung on bridges. Somehow, I don't think that's going to be the center of an effective resistance against armed alien invaders from outer space.

It was recently reported that Steven Spielberg was discovered to have had a fake Norman Rockwell painting in his collection. Leaving aside his dubious taste in modern-ish art, this is ironic because WotW seemed like a fake Spielberg movie.

I am not particularly a Spielberg fan, but, you know, he did make Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Schindler's List, for starters. WotW wasn't even at the level of his other movie with Tom Cruise, Minority Report (which, to be charitable, was OK). This was more like the sloppy middle section of A.I. than anything else, and that ain't good.

Seriously, I was rooting for the aliens. This was as bad as Independence Day. The last sci-fi outer space movie I saw that was this bad was Battlefield Earth, which was also a Scientologist vanity project, come to think of it.

About those aliens. SPOILER ALERT! I don't know how faithful this movie was to the original story, but come on -- they get killed off within a week by germs! What the *&%^@? These guys were even less prepared than the Bush administration going into Iraq the alien invaders in Signs. A million years of planning, and they can't handle the flu? Is this even historically accurate? After all, when the Spanish invaded Central America, the germs worked for the conquistadors.

I think a good movie could be made based upon the alien congressional hearings that would have been conducted after a military blunder of this magnitude. And the narration (by Morgan Freeman!) says humankind has learned a valuable lesson, at a cost of a billion lives, or something like that. What lesson? Call before you dig? Keep watching the sky ground? Fortune favors the ill-prepared? Tom Cruise is an annoying, preening twerp who can't act? I already knew all that. Learning it all again cost me two hours of my life and several dozen brain cells. I want them back, but for that, I'd need a Time Machine.

This movie probably cost about $100 million to make, considering that they had to pay Cruise and Spielberg their enormous salaries, plus generate all kinds of special effects. Really, it would have been more entertaining if they had taken that same amount of money, put it in a big pile, and set it on fire. It could have been like one of those Yule Log DVDs people play at Christmas.

Rating: 5 Gollums

The Da Vinci Code: OK, I don't think this one was actually based on a comic book. In fact, from what I hear, I'm not sure the original "novel" had quite the force and depth of, say, the average Archie comic.

The best that can be said for this project is that it was not invested with an excess of forced gravitas. Not that it was campy, but there was a barely-repressed spirit of can you believe this? spread liberally throughout. Gandalf helped quite a bit in this regard -- just say the lines and collect the check. It was bad, but ultimately harmless, and anyway, it's not like it's messing with one of the great classics of world literature.

Rating: 2 Gollums

Stop The War.

1 comment:

anne said...

Seriously, you should be getting paid to do this.