Saturday, May 29, 2010

Robin Hood

"Did I wrong you in another life, Will Scarlett?"

A disillusioned soldier, traveling under a false name, falls into a French plot to invade England.

When I was young, my friend and I snuck off to explore a plot of land in the process of being developed, one where my mother had expressly told me not to go. There were no buildings there, only tilled up earth and piles of sand. We didn't recognize the significance of the fact that it had just rained the night before, and we made it two jumping steps in before we realized it might have been a bad idea.

One sneaker clad foot sunk into the mud and it took all my strength to free it, which only drove the other foot deeper down. So far down in fact that another yank freed that foot, but left the shoe... Only a few moments after we'd embarked on our journey of exploration to the forbidden lands, we were returning to my house- carrying instead of wearing- our mud covered (and filled) shoes with our feet clad in socks and mud up to mid calf, and wondering how we could keep my mom from knowing. This is what came to mind as I watched Ridley Scott's re-telling of the Robin Hood legend, which unfolds in basically the same way: what you expect will be an adventure quickly becomes a quagmire of half hearted storylines, leaving you to walk home in shame- desperately trying to figure out at what point this became a bad idea.

I found myself surprised, for a movie that claimed to be the "Untold" story of Robin Hood in nearly all of it's trailers, just how much Scott's 2010 release had in common with Kevin Reynold's 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Russell Crowe is a long way from Kevin Costner I think we can all agree ("Not that there's anything wrong with that"), but both movies seem to bring the same humor, and many of the same emotional set-pieces- not to mention love stories that are virtually spiritual twins. You could say that's to be expected from two movies on the same subject, but to that I would ask exactly what about this is "untold" then? If it's the ham-handed political pseudo-commentary that this movie is rife with, then I would say we could have left that untold and lost nothing.

The two high points of this film are easy to spot. The first being Cate Blanchett, whom I am pretty sure could be cast as a rock and still be a memorable part a movie. Though her character in Robin Hood is set upon by horribly familiar/predictable scenarios, she manages to spin them into something interesting- at least until the final battle when everything falls apart anyway. The other thing that really struck me about this movie was production quality. The costumes and sets in use are top notch, so much so that watching them can occasionally be more interesting than the actually story. It's not often I am so impressed with reproductions of this time period. I cannot speak as to the accuracy, but the quality is top-notch.

That the apparel could out do a script written by the likes of Brian Helgeland is hard to believe, and I don't know that I would have it had I not seen it for myself. I don't know how a man with titles like L.A. Confidential, Man On Fire and Mystic River to his name could be behind this bramble patch. Maybe it's the subject matter? Maybe Robin hood just brings out the sugary-sweet hero side of anyone involved; who could say? It brought Scott Grimes back to the silver screen however, so for that I am thankful.

And so it seems that team Scott-Crowe's streak ends here. If Gladiator, American Gangster, and Body of Lies were all beautifully chiseled works of art, then Robin Hood is all the marble that's left on the floor. All the pieces are of the same quality, but they will never amount to a whole. As someone who's enjoyed all their movies together, and countless movies from them separately, I feel towards them how my mom must have felt after she found the mud splashed laundry room my friend and I had tried to wash away the evidence in: Not just mad at the mess, but mad because I should have known better.

The Reel Deal Reccomends
Master and Commander: Crowe in one of his best roles to date.
Babel: Brilliant direction featuring Blanchett in this ensemble piece.
Band of Brothers: Grimes in what is technically not a movie, but when you watch it you'll see why I made the exception.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dear Mr. Bay,

By now I'm sure you know that the Internet has been "buzzing" with the news that Megan Fox has been booted from your already scripted Transformers 3. If you aren't, read this- I'll wait. OK, all caught up? Good, let us continue. For the last week I've been reading posts and articles like that one, though not as hilarious. Some people say it was a terrible call. Others that it was a victory struck at the heart of evil. But one thing everybody agrees on is this: You better find a replacement- and fast! And then the rumor mills start anew. Whispers about this celebrities girlfriend, or this ex-pop star's daughter... Everybody has their opinion on who should replace her, but I say: Why replace her at all?

People probably don't assume this about me, but I actually like Shia LaBeouf as an actor. Sure, he's been in a couple bad movies here or there -and yes, one of them was part of a beloved franchise- but I challenge that assertion with one of my own. That the movies weren't bad because he gave bad performances. Even in the frightful Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, LeBeouf was trying to sell it. It, just happened to be unsellable. And let's not forget the solid, or even downright good movies he's been a part of as well. He's got the timing, he's got the exposure, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps hasn't made it to Chicago yet but the word is he blows it out of the water. My point is, the kid can act. So what if you ditch the flash formula, and the forced ogle-shots and you let him?

Now, Mr. Bay, I know that's not really your thing. Your more a camera-circles-the-hero-as-he-stands-in-slow-motion-and-the-sun-glares-into-the-lens sort of guy. I get that. But don't you wonder what it might be like? The truth is that buried deep (DEEP) within even the second Transformers movie is the story of a boy becoming a man. There are allusions to it all over the two films; when things aren't blowing up or humping assorted objects I mean... OK, I'm being rude. I'm sorry. But my point still stands.

So how could you go about this approach? One of my thoughts is: this is supposed to be a war, let Mikaela be a casualty. Push your lead into a dark hole and let us spend the third installment watching him crawl out. When he finally arrives he'll be deeper, darker, and more dedicated to the fight then he's ever been. Instead of pounding out a new script that quickly replaces Fox with another visual party favor, what if you let Fox's absence be the lens that brings Sam Witwicky into focus. The catalyst that realizes his transformation from reluctant conscript to confident hero.

The truth is that no matter how much I complain or mock, I'll go see whatever the next chapter in this series brings. Like I told my best friend not to long ago, I'm the kind of movie goer that looks too deep and hopes to hard. It doesn't matter how bad Revenge of the Fallen is, I'm always going hope the next picture is better- right up until the credits role and I know for sure one way or the other. It's a trait that's gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years, but it's one I don't think I could bare to part with. And I assure you, I'm not the only one with it.

There are a lot of things being said about you out here Mr. Bay, and, if you were to even care, I'm sure my way isn't the only way to start wiping them out. But think of all the potential fans you could reign in if you managed to deliver a truly great sequel this time around. It would take some work, sure, and some risk. But it can be done. And maybe the process begins with you looking at the empty space- and doing nothing.

Image Found Here

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just Wright

"I take hard earth and I make things bloom."

A physical therapist takes on her god-sisters fiance as a client. A client who just so happens to be the biggest star in the NBA, and the leading scorer for her favorite team.

Director Sanaa Hamri been hit or miss with me in her brief feature film history- the first of which was Something New, a movie I found myself rather impressed with as a first attempt. So when I saw that Just Wright was her newest project, Watcher X picking it as the first movie of this weekends double-header didn't strike me as a total loss. The fact that scribe Michael Elliot has definitely been more miss than hit not withstanding (I guess they can't all be Like Mike). I certainly wouldn't have guessed, however, that I would leave the theater positive it was the best Romantic Comedy I've seen this year.

Hamri's approach is one of simplicity, keeping the stories and characters simple, allowing them to speak for themselves instead of pushing on us her feelings on who might be wrong or right. Though a bit awkwardly, she avoids giving into the belief that there have to be true villains in a love story. That it has to be complicated to be worth smiling at when everything inevitably works out. I'm in no way saying that the end product is a revolution in the genre, just a welcome break from the usual.

Latifah carries herself with the air of sad confidence that we've come to expect from her in roles like these, a proud woman who finds her ways to be happy. Will she be getting any Oscars? No I wouldn't say so. But after watching Katherine Heigel desperately need a man in rom-com after rom-com, Latifah sells a content Leslie Wright, and I am happy to buy it. Placed on the same scale Common struggles to hold his ground, but in terms of rappers-turned-actors he's the new Robert Redford. The gorgeous Paula Patton turns in the best performance (another in a quickly growing line of them) as Leslie's selfish God-sister Morgan. Chief among the notable supporting actors in this small ensemble is Phylicia Rashad, a face I'm glad to see again outside of Jenny Craig commercials.

With no explosions or knock down drag out fights, no on screen vomiting or animated origin sequences, Hamri is left to keep the pace visually and does so with uncomplicated, yet interesting editing choices, and a fervour for pace keeping. Watching Just Wright I would assume that the director was no fan of basketball personally. The court action plays out in sequences that are clean and clear- if not a bit thin. They smack of the freshness that comes with an outsider being given the reigns, but also of someone who's not interested in the details. The game is a means to an end for her, nothing more. Is this the right approach? I don't know that I could say. It's no Hoosiers that's for certain, but it works for this story and that's enough for me.

Just Wright's success is bound inextricably to it's aversion to all things flashy. I've heard it said: "If you try hard, you die hard." I'm sure that's not something I believe in a galactic sense, but here it applies perfectly. Flying under the radar is this solid genre piece's greatest asset- Though I suspect it to be a double edged sword as I saw it within a week of it's release and the theater was all but empty.

The Reel Deal Recommends:
Stranger Than Fiction: Latifah plays a small part in a magnificent film.
Smoking Aces: A great action film, Common's best speaking role.
Deja Vu: A strong sci-fi romp, and the first place Patton stole my heart.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A rom-com rings true, and other miracles.

This weekend I found myself in one of those situations that even the most movie-shy of people has seen re-created at least a dozen times in high definition: A wedding. Not just any wedding mind you, a wedding in the family I'm about tomarry into... but that's a whole other story, with a whole host of movie tie-ins. This story is a simple one.

Sitting in the pew, watching as the ushers sat the mothers and fathers- I got to thinking. Thinking about movies as always. Thinking about all the times I'd watched perfect strangers pretend they were completely in love for a camera (to the more cynical of you, yes I am still talking about movies). The groom and the pastor made their way down the aisle, and I thought about the movies. The wedding party came through two by two and I watched my fiance look beautiful- and thought about movies. But this is where a strange thing happened.

The next part everybody knows well I'm sure- the music cues up, all in attendance stand, we turn and there at the end of the aisle is the glowing bride. But as we all anticipated the musical swell that would tell us the time had come, all the other titles fell away and I thought of one movie- 27 Dresses. While it was far from the worst romantic comedy I've seen seen in the last two years -Leap Year I'm looking in your direction- I wasn't a huge fan of the film. But with all that said it did have James Marsden, which automatically earns it points because I think he's just adorable (silly I know, but anyone who can make me even consider not hating Cyclops deserves my support), it showcased the song Benny and the Jet's, and it also took some well deserved shots at weddings in general- so all in all I can't excuse calling it a complete waste of time.

Good or bad, it certainly isn't a movie that comes to mind on a daily bases- but in this moment one scene was pinging around inside my head. A drunken Kevin (Marsden) admits, after spending the whole movie proving his complete hatred of weddings, that his favorite part is the look on the grooms face as the bride starts down the aisle. He tells Jane (Heigel) that when everyone turns to look at the bride, he looks at the groom.

So I tried it...

Not for long of course. I was in the second row and my turned head would have been rather obvious. Just a quick glance; enough of one to know that Kevin had a point. I turned towards the alter and saw the most sincere thing I'd seen the whole day. I can't say that this is always true at every alter, and I'm not trying to blow rainbows up everybody's... well you know. But the truth is that how they act when no one is looking is one of the truest measures of what people really feel. I don't know about all the weddings in all the world- but at this wedding, the groom was beaming. Way to be Kevin, way to be.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2 *Edited for fear of Spoilers*

"Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of SCRAPS!"

6 months after revealing his invention to the world, Tony Stark must deal with all the consequences of the thing he's created, and his choice to confess to his identity within it.

Almost exactly two years ago Watcher X and I sat down to see my very favorite super hero in his very first feature film- and were blown away. I felt a great sense of pride in knowing that, upon transitioning into a format even closer to my heart, my hero's film was among the best comic adaptations out there. Now it's 2010, and Director Jon Favreau has returned with Iron Man 2, a movie who's biggest flaw is that it's only good, and not spectacular.

Most of the original cast returns for round two: the uncontainable Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Gweneth Paltrow as the anti-Stark Pepper Potts, and Jon Favreau returning in front of the camera as Happy Hogan. Don Cheadle takes on James Rhodes for Terrence Howard, who left the franchise after contract and content disputes. I'm no hater of Terrence Howard, but Cheadle is a welcome member of the cast, playing the Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a slightly harder edge. Writer Justin Theroux was smart to focus as hard as he did on Tony and Rhodey's friendship, touching on some of my favorite story arcs from Iron Man history as he progresses towards Rhodes emergence as an armored hero himself.

As for new characters, I'm reminded of Meatloaf's musings on trio's. Sam Rockwell works his magic as Justin Hammer, managing to fill the "evil mastermind" role while still offering up a character that's equal parts entertaining and interesting. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko (a composite of multiple villains, the chief selections being Blacklash/Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo) is another good fit in his recent history of good fits. It's Scarlett Johanssons Black Widow that comes up short. She seems shaky in the bare bones role- unable to pull off Natasha Romanoff's trade mark "hard as stone, cold as ice" persona. For all the bells and whistles (insert joke here) and the small part of it that ties back into the story at the end, the character feels like time that could have been spent elsewhere.

And that elsewhere could have been shoring up the low points of the film. Iron Man 2's major failing is that it lacks the "ooh cool" effect of invention fromv the first. Those extra minutes spent watching Tony test and build the suit in the first film are spent on some extra action in the second, and a little of the wonder is lost. All the new things Tony "invents" in this film are talked about and then feel like they just appear, which just isn't as tasty. We get to see some enjoyable sequences of Vanko hard at work, but let's face it- we came to see Downey's Stark hammering red hot steel. The same from another character is, in fact, not the same at all.

Iron Man 2 has a great deal to offer fans of the original movie, but it lacks some IT factor that the original had. Some of what's lacking you can put your finger on- like an oddly shoe-horned scene of romance on the end- but others are just a feeling, or lack there of. This one has the booms to rival the original, but in it's quieter and more mental moments it can't always keep up.

So let's sum it all up with The Isit List

Is it a good sequel?
Yes. We find our characters slightly progressed. Still the people we loved from the first, but in new situations. The anti's are upped on all the action sequences, and the story harkens back to the original without leaning on it. In short, there's enough new to enjoy, and enough old to care.

Is it better than the original?
The answer to that my friends is a resounding NO. Iron Man 2 brings bigger and better to a lot of movie elements, but the key pieces just don't seem to gel as well.

Is it worth a third movie?
Speaking with out the fan side of me I still say yes. I think this is one of those middle pieces that could have it's overall score upped by where they choose to take the choices they made in the third installment. However, if the third movie backslides even a little, I can see it taking the whole thing down. Either way I'll be there.
All this could be a moot point however, amid rumors that a third movie wouldn't come until after Stark plays his part in the Avengers movie. There are some odd story arcs being followed in Iron Man 2- if they come back in whatever shows up next it could make it all click. Time will tell I suppose.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Five!! Things Every Super Hero's Significant Other Should Know

So as you surely know if you've turned on a t.v. gone to a 7/11, seen a movie or driven on the highway in that past few months- they've made another Iron Man movie. It opens tomorrow (or today, depending on when I post this) to what I'm sure will be clamoring masses. And yes, I will be among them. Whether or not this second entry manages to rival the Dark Knight in it's pure sequel excellence remains to be seen. But rise or fall, there is a #1 slot that Iron Man 2 is already occupying- most beautiful female lead.

Virginia "Pepper" Potts, a ginger on whom the crush I had was already approaching dangerous levels long before the lovely Ms. Paltrow made her flesh and blood. I can't think of my favorite ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. Director without flashes of the days when these two thrived on a "will they, won't they" roller-coaster ride. And with love interests in mind, I began to think of how hard it must be to the one waiting at home when the world falls apart. So in honor of Pepper and all the other Cape-Lovers out there, here are Five!! things every super Hero's significant other should know.

A Super Hero's significant other should know...

1.) always have a cover story on hand.
This seems obvious but I felt it was still paramount. There's no telling when your going to be put on the spot. And I don't just mean the "She was with me all night Mr. Reporter" kind. The inverse applies too, times will occur when you'll have to not know. "Oh hey random hero I have no personal knowledge of. No, I'm not sure which direction the bank robbers went."

2.) ...that if they start acting funny not to worry- it's a doppelganger... or an evil twin... or a Skrull...
Doesn't recognize life long friends? Doesn't know important facts about your daily lives? Thinks that Wolfy is just fine? Sit tight, and wait for the Calvary- your Love's been replaced! But know that this excuse does not apply to anniversaries and other general knowledge data- your cape is not a get out of jail free card Heroes!

3,) ...that jealous types need not apply.
Have you seen a super hero lately? Most of the men where skin-tight costumes that showcase their chiseled physiques. And the women, uh, tend to where less. You need to be aware that your suped up Mr. or Mrs. is going to be with some of these people all day and sometimes well into the night. If you don't have enough self confidence to shrug it off when you see him on the news with a blond who can bench press a semi and wears a scarf, knee high boots, and the equivalent of a one-piece bathing suit to work everyday, then no matter how much you love him- he may not be the one for you.

4.) ...that eventually you will be kidnapped, shot at, endowed with temporary super powers and/or wished/sucked into an alternate universe/timeline.
Let's face it, at some point everybody brings their work home.

5.) ...that in the end, they love you.
Be they a billionaire inventor, a psychic ninja, the super powered offspring of the world's most beloved hero, or just a college kid in the right place at the right time I think we can all agree that once you become a super hero, your romantic options open up. At the end of they day, they chose you for a reason. You can give them something nobody else can- even if that's just a quiet evening at home after a long day protecting the planet.
So when that super hearing, spider sense, or government ear piece tells them they can't finish dinner, don't take it personally. I guarantee, you wouldn't love them if they could just look the other way.

That's Five!! for this week. Thanks and I'll see you soon with my review of Iron Man 2
Image from

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Secret In Their eyes

"You know I don't speak Spanish."

An investigator revisits two pieces of unfinished business that have haunted him through his career and into his retirement.

I was a bit disappointed the first time The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos) came through town and I wasn't able (read: "was out voted when I tried to") see before it was gone again. However, one of the -admittedly few- great things about the Academy Awards is that the winners tend to do a victory lap after taking home a statue- the industries way of capitalizing on the added notoriety. As this movie won Best Foreign Language, I got a second bite at the apple- and OH what a delicious apple it was.

Frankly I'm not sure where to begin... or end... or middle... Am I allowed to just scream at the top of my lungs that anyone who even slightly enjoys movies needs to see this film? Would that be enough, if I promise never to do it again? ...OK, fine... I'll try to flesh this out a bit.

The Secret In Their Eyes is Juan Jose Campenalla's (he wrote and directed) adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri's novel La Pregunta De Sus Ojos (The Question In Their Eyes). I admit freely that I haven't read the novel, though if my Spanish were better I'd certainly be in (it's gotten pretty good this last year but it's still nowhere near novel ready). His execution with pen and camera is polished smooth. The brightest comedy and the darkest drama all flow together with no ado or pauses for affect.

The story is one of being haunted. Haunted by the horrible things one can see in their life, and haunted by the regrets that a life can garner. The darkest sort of crime is put juxtaposed with as "simple" a problem as feelings never shared. Somehow each feels both compelling and, at times, debilitating. The truth of how much weight each sort of haunting can have is played subtly but effectively here. Maybe that's a good sum up of the movie: subtle but effective.

Campanella's fixation on the eyes of his characters sounds like a gimic but blends just as evenly as every other piece of the whole. By the time you realize your looking directly into them, the characters face has already left the screen. And yet, not unlike the Peter Jackson's personification of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, each pair of eyes feels like it's bringing it's own story to the screen. There are multiple points in the movie where a character's gaze quite literally replaces the lines that might have been said. This is an effect that is intentionally executed on the part of both director and the superb cast- led by Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darin.

To keep this short, I'll just say that perfection is a word I try to avoid in my reviews. But occasionally the temptation does arise. Movies like The Secret In Their Eyes represent, to me, the moments when I get reminded why I love movies so much. They're a break from looking for the bright spots in shallow under takings. Breaks when we, the watchers, can let loose the full fury of our expectations and be repaid in utter satisfaction.