REVIEW: Fantastic Four

5 08 2015

Fantastic FourIn an world where comic book adaptations are becoming bigger and louder, “Fantastic Four” stands out.  Somehow, it manages to turn exciting material – which worked just fine a decade ago, I might add – into a dull movie that arrives stillborn and never gains a pulse.

Despite a cast of rising stars whose accomplishments and skills easily outweigh their counterparts in the 2005 iteration, writer/director Josh Trank never lets them achieve liftoff.  Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell are all better actors than “Fantastic Four” lets them be.  Every scene plays out like they were each slipped an Ambien right before the camera started rolling, inhibiting chemistry and numbing emotion.

Their energy would have served as a necessary component to make the film pass as even remotely serviceable.  Trank, working with frequent “X-Men” writer Simon Kinberg as well as Jeremy Slater, essentially stretches the plot of a typical Marvel first act to feature length.  What should take about 20-30 minutes plays out over 100 minutes in “Fantastic Four,” and the pace feels appropriately molasses-like.  Trank’s big climax would function as a precipitating event in a normal film.

Apparently no one at Fox paid attention to the cratering of fellow Marvel property “Spider-Man” when Sony rebooted it in 2012.  The diminishing returns of that franchise are largely attributable to the fact that audiences do not want to sit through a slightly altered retread of a story they liked just fine ten years ago.  “Fantastic Four,” like “The Amazing Spider-Man,” returns to the tale of heroic origins to issue a slight corrective that will eventually set the series on a different course.

There is simply too much vying for audiences’ attention, not only on the silver screen but also on televisions, tablets, and mobile devices.  If the creative minds that be want to do something new with familiar material, they had better go ahead and do it.  No one wants to wait around for them to get their act together as they rejuvenate it.  So, naturally, “Fantastic Four” inspires listlessness as it makes us consciously realize the drain on our time as it slips away from us.  D1star

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REVIEW: Snowpiercer

3 07 2014

SnowpiercerDirector Bong Joon Ho, like many cinephiles, is a big fan of Tilda Swinton.  And at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, he tracked her down and professed his admiration at a brunch.  Afterwards, they mutually decided they would work together on something in the future.

Joon Ho was in the process of writing “Snowpiercer,” and he feared there would not be a part for Swinton in the script.  But then he had a stroke of genius: he would cast Swinton, no stranger to playing some rather gonzo roles, as the authoritative Minister Mason.  This part, however, was initially written for a man.

Swinton gets made-down quite amusingly by the hair and makeup department, pairing her with a drab wig and some nasty dentures.  She’s not her usually chic self, but Swinton isn’t identifiably masculine, either.  Joon Ho doesn’t change any of the personal pronouns in the script, so Mason is still referred to as a he.

Swinton’s performance, then, is not one that doesn’t choose a gender but seems to transcend our understanding of the binary altogether.  As a whole, “Snowpiercer” relishes in this spirit of breaking boundaries.  It can’t necessarily be tied down to one genre, constantly surprising us with each turn.

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REVIEW: Man on a Ledge

5 12 2012

I think a more appropriate name for “Man on a Ledge” might have been “Baby’s First Thriller.”  By that, I do not mean that you should go show this film to your infant.  Rather, I am making a statement on how rudimentary and textbook Asger Leth’s film is.

His color-by-numbers genre pic is not the worst thing in the world to watch.  There are plenty of predictably thrilling instances where the action heats up and the plot begins to sizzle.  But it’s just so unambitious, reaching for all the buttons that so many better filmmakers have already pushed to death.

Even though I can’t think of any movie that shares the specific plot of “Man on a Ledge,” it felt nonetheless familiar and banal.  Sam Worthington’s Nick Cassidy goes and stands on a ledge and puts on a show for a captive audience in the streets of New York City.  He’s  left to be talked down by archetypical police officer haunted by guilt of a prior incident, here played by Elizabeth Banks.

Meanwhile, a giant diamond heist occurs with Nick’s brother Joey and girfriend Angie (Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez) inside the building across the street to prove his innocence.  And of course, the greed of the big bad capitalist, played by the menacingly frightening Ed Harris!  Both plots are interesting enough to keep our eyes on the screen, but neither really captivate at the level we have come to expect from say, a Soderbergh thriller.  It does what it needs to do and nothing more.

And if that’s all you want from a movie, then perhaps “Man on a Ledge” is the perfect background music to you doing chores around the house.  You don’t need to be paying too much attention to know what’s going on here.  Because after all, you know the narrative.

Ultimately, what I walked away from “Man on a Ledge” with was nothing about the story or the presentation.  To my surprise, it was that superb actors like Elizabeth Banks and Anthony Mackie were still being reduced to this kind of auto-piloted stock studio schedule filler crap.  Casting agents, please sit down with a copy of “People Like Us” and “The Hurt Locker.”  You will find Banks and Mackie, though not nominated for an Oscar (yet), are far above this type of movie.  Find them something suitable for their immense talents, please!  C+





REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin

7 01 2012

You don’t need to know who Hergé’s Tintin is to enjoy the “The Adventures of Tintin,” all you need is to be primed for an exhilarating and fun adventure with the man who introduced many of us to adventure itself, Steven Spielberg.  Whether it was “Jurassic Park,” an “Indiana Jones” movie, or “E.T.,” the director – whose name has become synonymous with cinematic virtuosity – has once again vividly realized the power of technology to invoke an old-fashioned sense of wonder in movie watching.  With the motion-capture technology looking more real and life-like than ever, it makes for an interesting paradox that “Tintin” removes you so easily from reality while so seamlessly replicating it.

Thanks to Spielberg’s partnership with Peter Jackson and his visual effects team at WETA, the two filmmakers take leaps and bounds from the early Zemeckis films like “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” to fully capture the complexity of human anatomy and emotionality.  As a result, there’s nothing to distract you from getting fully engrossed in this old-fashioned Spielbergian adventure, no moment where you can think that a character looks fake or like an out-of-place animated replica.  It has been remarkable to watch this technology improve over my lifetime, and “Tintin,” along with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” makes 2011 a landmark year for its progression.

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