Category Archives: Dispatches from Cinematopia

Dispatches from Cinematopia: And So Begins the Summer of My Discontent – Men In Black III and Prometheus

As I had mentioned before, I was cautiously optimistic about Summer 2012 films.  Sure, I loved The Avengers.  Maybe that lulled me into believing that this would be a completely kick-ass summer for movies.  Then I saw Men In Black III and Prometheus.  You hear that sound?  That’s me, banging my head on my desk.

Now I should have stuck to my initial assumptions about Men In Black III.  That is was going to be 1) As craptacular as MIB II, 2) A movie that didn’t need to be made, and 3) Horrible based on the trailer.  Even though I had these assumptions, the film got some decent reviews and somewhere in the dark, jaded film-goer’s heart of mine, I hoped that it would be as good as the first Men in Black.  Let me return a minute to MIB II, a film that was so bad that it diminished my enjoyment of the original.  How many films manage to that?  This one did.  It’s almost as if I was a little embarrassed to even enjoy the first film after laying eyes on the disastrous sequel.  So, here along comes part 3.   I won’t belabor the plot points since it has been out for quite some time, but it was pretty lame.  Biggest issues:

  • Why is Will Smith still playing J as some punky 20-something?  It just felt sad.
  • Tommy Lee Jones totally phoned it in.
  • Jemaine Clement and Emma Thompson were totally wasted.  I like both of these actors, but they were given hardly anything to work with
  • Oh and enough with all the aliens.  At least make them important to the story.  But that would be too difficult since it’s much easier to CG a bunch of creatures than actually write them into a coherent story.
  • Speaking of story, it was completely predictable

One shining bit:

  • Josh Brolin playing a younger Agent K.  He was great though the screenplay got a bit carried away with all the name calling: Slick, Cochise, etc.  We get it.  Enough.

I didn’t walk out of Men In Black III angry.  Just a bit disappointed, though I should have just trusted my instincts.  Now Prometheus . . .

Oh what can I say, aside from, “WHY?!?”  I know.  I shouldn’t have had such high expectations.  I should have learned my lesson by now.  But I love Alien so much and the trailers for Prometheus looked so cool.  And Michael Fassbender.  And Noomi Rapace!  Alas,  none of it mattered.  Prometheus felt incomplete and ill thought out in terms of story and plot.  I won’t even go into all of my issues.  It makes me too depressed.  I really, really wanted to like this movie, but instead I felt a bit punk’d.  So much pseudo-coolness but for what?  Characters that behave ridiculously?  A story that is at best meh and at worst incoherent?  Viral marketing videos that were far, far better than the film itself?  Sigh.

Well, at least there are still some other films that I am looking forward to this summer (I’m looking at you, Dark Knight Rises).  I’m going to dial down my expectations, but all I have to say now is – Moonrise Kingdom, you better not let me down!

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Dispatches from Cinematopia: (Not) Dark (Enough) Shadows

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening of Dark Shadows.  Having watched a few episodes of the original 60s/70s show, I was interested when it was first mentioned that a film version was in the works.  The show was an interesting, if sometimes melodramatic mix of the supernatural and paranormal – something unprecedented when it aired.  I guess I was hoping that Tim Burton‘s new film would be in that gothic vein.  The trailers that I have seen in the past few weeks were disheartening in that it looked like the film was a broad, almost slapstick comedy with Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) as a fish out of water in the early 70s.  The good news is that it wasn’t that bad.  The bad news is that it still wasn’t all that good, paling in comparison to the original show.

The film does follow some of the general plot lines of the original show, namely the main conflict of the film, Barnabus’s spurning of the witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and her subsequent revenge (though even that seems to be played rather broadly).  The set pieces  are quite beautiful with the interiors of Barnabus’ home, Collinwood, being way more elaborate and detailed than the original low budget soap opera version.  Overall, the cast was quite good (particularly Chloe Moretz as disaffected teenager Carolyn Stoddard and Helena Bonham Carter as the pill popping alcoholic Dr. Julia Hoffman); though I felt  that Depp and Green were a bit hammy and over the top in their performances. I don’t know how the late Jonathan Frid would feel about Depp’s Nosferatu-eque caricature of Barnabus Collins.  Frid’s Barnabus was the original vampire crush of many girls and women in the 60s and 70s, not unlike what we see today with a certain pale modern vamp.  If given the choice, I would choose the cool Barnabus as played by Frid over the lame, sparkly Edward any day.

I had two big issues with the film, the first being the plot – or lack of one.  Like so many big budget films these days, I didn’t really feel like it had a strong plot.  It was more of scenes that were strung together for entertainment’s sake, but nothing cohesive comes out of it.  At no point did I ever really feel compelled by the story.  Sigh.  This is more the norm than it should be in cinema today.  At least I didn’t pay to see it.

My other issue was that it seemed like it wanted to be a dark comedy but didn’t quite make it.  At times it reminded me of one of my favorite dark comedies, Death Becomes Her (1992).  Though it wasn’t adored critically, it remains a guilty pleasure of mine with a perfect mix of pitch black comedy, the supernatural, and camp.  Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith seemed like they weren’t comfortable going full throttle dark comedy, relying on the source material alone for the darkness.  Despite the melodramatic nature of the show, the film did not go that route either.  Again, if Burton had hearkened back to some of his earlier work like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands, where there was definitely a gothic bent, but there was strong characters and a true genuine sense of oddness and glee, Dark Shadows could have been a success.  Latter Burton films just seem artificially weird.  And though I still like Johnny Depp, I feel like so much of his work as of late is him as some sort of oddball character (Jack Sparrow/Mad Hatter/Willy Wonka/Sweeney Todd/Tonto) chewing scenery under tons of make-up.  If you dig that sort of thing, you may like Dark Shadows; however the best thing I can say about it is that the 70s soundtrack is quite groovy and that it has made me want to watch more of the real Dark Shadows on Netflix.

Dispatches from Cinematopia – The Avengers Assemble!

Like so many other people, I saw The Avengers last weekend.  I went in pretty cautiously optimistic , because I have to honestly say I wasn’t too excited.  I know.  I should have been itching to see this film.  Joss Whedon? Of course.  The Avengers? Well yes.  But for some reason I had been left cold by the trailers.  Perhaps it had to do with being utterly disappointed with Thor.  OK to be honest, I saw Thor opening weekend in 3D (ugh) after a couple of Mint Juleps (getting my Kentucky Derby on), so maybe that had something to do with it.  I also was pretty lukewarm on Iron Man 2. If you asked me what it was about, I couldn’t even say.  It was THAT forgettable.  I did like Captain America a fair bit.  But then again, it could have just been Chris Evans’ abs blurring my perception.

The trailers did little to whet my appetite as well.  I just couldn’t get excited about The Avengers.  Despite this, I wanted to see it to make up my mind before the hype machine went into overdrive and my expectations grew.  And guess what?  I liked it.  No, I LOVED it.  Maybe it was due to the fact that I saved my Mint Juleps until AFTER the film this year.  Or maybe it was just that good.  So good, that about 30 minutes in, I thought, “Hmm when can I watch this again?”  This truly was the culmination of all the other Marvel films that came before it.

Some of my favorite moments were those when  Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk),  Robert Downey, Jr (Tony Stark/Iron Man) and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) were in the same scenes.  Ruffalo and Downey killed it with their jargon-y banter while Evans plays Cap with an earnestness that I adore.  The fact that all three are easy on the eyes is not to be underestimated as well.  I feel like Chris Hemsworth makes a decent enough Thor, but in my opinion, he was given little to do in the film besides look good.  The same could be said for Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.  I’m not a huge fan of hers, but I felt she was OK in the film.  I’m guessing that Whedon had to dial down his desire to make her the ass-kicking hero of the film.  As a fan of Jeremy Renner, I had hoped for a bit more Hawkeye, but overall I enjoyed his performance.  By the time he had his hero moments, I felt he had been Legolas-ed (hang around until there is something awesome to do with a bow and arrow).  I don’t want to leave out Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and the always entertaining Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) as they were all pretty damned awesome.

The strength of this film (and what I often find lacking in other blockbuster type films) is that it had a snappy, well-written script.  Thank Odin for that!  I know I should have trusted that Joss Whedon would deliver, but as I get older my tendency is to not get my hopes up, else I’ll be disappointed.  Of course my expectations are rather high for Prometheus.  Maybe too high, but if The Avengers is a harbinger of what’s to come, I have a good feeling about this summer.