Saturday, September 25, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Sept. 17-23

Runaway Train (1985) ***
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Writers: Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel, Edward Bunker, Akira Kurosawa (original screenplay)
Starring: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle T. Heffner, John P. Ryan, T.K. Carter, Kenneth McMillan

I can see how it might be easy to dislike this movie. It’s overblown. The acting is over the top, and many of the performances are just bad. But it seems to be striving for something beyond reality. It’s like some male testosterone driven experimental art form. Every character seems ready to test their manhood at any and every second. Women beware, as the depiction of our female counterparts in this movie is down right offensive, something beyond male chauvinism and into the realms of absurdism. I don’t think I should like it; but for some reason, it filled me with a strange sense of joy. Watch with caution.

Fred the Movie (2010) **
Director: Clay Weiner
Writer: David A. Goodman
Starring: Lucas Cruikshank, Jennette McCurdy, Jake Weary, Pixie Lott, Siobhan Fallon, John Cena

As my boys settled in to watch “Fred the Movie”, I assumed I would find something else to do. I found little appealing about the YouTube phenom character of Fred, whose greatest asset seems to be the ability to scream like a girl. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a stupid, stupid movie. But, there was something bordering on comedy gold in its ability to think in total absurdity. Fred’s daydreams were the best parts of this film, and the energy brought in by “iCarly” star Jennette McCurdy was well-timed by the filmmakers to save the movie from getting tired of Lucas Cruickshank’s relentless barrage as Fred. I also enjoyed Fred’s idealized image of his absent father as WWE star John Cena.

Watchmen: The Complete Story (2009) ****
Directors: Zach Snyder, Daniel DelPurgatorio (“Tales of the Black Freighter”), Mike Smith (“Tales of the Black Freighter”)
Writers: David Hayter, Alex Tse, Dave Gibbons (graphic novel), Alan Moore (uncredited graphic novel), Zach Snyder (“Tales of the Black Freighter”)
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Gerard Butler, Jared Harris

I know many people felt that a longer version of the already lengthy movie adaptation of the graphic novel “Watchmen” could only mire the story in more boredom. I was actually a fan of the theatrical release, but I can see why many weren’t. It was an oddly paced movie, a comic book adaptation with a brain that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a superhero movie or a philosophical rant about time and man’s penchant for self-destruction. Well, in a way it is both; except it’s a deconstruction of the superhero movie, not actually a superhero movie.

The extended version of the movie—now more than 3½ hours with a very dark and morbid cartoon called “Tales of the Black Freighter” edited into the main storyline as juxtaposition—feels more relaxed than the theatrical cut. This helps to clarify the underlying issues of the film, while relieving the action of the film from the task of having to pull the audience along. Certainly this is an experience only meant for the more cerebral film watcher, but it makes the movie worthy of the groundbreaking comic book upon which it is based.

Read my review of the theatrical release.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) ***
Director: Brandon Vietti
Writer: Judd Winick
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams

Anyone looking for “Batman: The Animated Series” is going to be very surprised with “Batman: Under the Red Hood”, a very dark tale that spins off one of the biggest events in Batman mythology—the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. The mystery of just who is under the Red Hood should probably be a bit more of a surprise than it is. The movie focuses more on the story’s action elements than the psychological ones, but this stuff is pretty heavy for superhero cartoon fare. It’s rated PG-13 for good reason. I wonder, though, if the animated format exposes itself as not being as inherently deep as the comic book source material it comes from. Now that the direct to DVD animated superhero films are becoming just as dark as their live action counterparts, I’m beginning to wonder just where the kids can get into super heroes anymore. I guess that’s Nickelodeon’s game now.

DC Showcase: Jonah Hex (2010) ***½
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos
Writers: Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Gray, Phil Noto, Jimmy Palmiotti
Starring: Thomas Jane, Linda Hamilton, Jason Marsden, Michael Rooker, Michelle Trachtenberg

Unlike the makers of the feature film, the people behind this animated short included on the “Batman: Under the Red Hood” DVD release understand how to keep it simple. Here we have a good dark tale. It doesn’t go into a whole bunch of super powered, paranormal western junk. It’s a simple tale of a bad operator getting her comeuppance.  The characters are painted in broad strokes as is necessary for a ten-minute film, but their actions are harsh and swift. The atmosphere is moody. The score is surprisingly good for such a short project, and the conclusion is fitting and satisfying. This is how you make a dark western.

No comments: