Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Zack Snyder's Man of Steel

Just realized I never cross-posted this one from my other location. Mea culpa.
IntroductionOne of the most anticipated movies of the past two or three years has been Man of Steel, the reboot of the Superman film franchise under the guidance of Zack Snyder at the director's helm, written by David S. Goyer, and with Christopher Nolan producing. The latter two are currently known for being the duo in charge of the recent blockbuster Batman trilogy reboot.
With whispers of a Justice League film in the works by DC, following in the footsteps of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, it was vital for Man of Steel not only to have legs, but to somehow thematically and tonally fit with Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, while still feeling like Superman. Did the film succeed? In short, the answer is yes and no. Let's take a look.

Before I go on, I should mention that this review will contain spoilers for the film, so if spoilers aren't your thing, you might want to skip to the summary section at the end.

Now, without further ado, let's look at Man of Steel. 

The GoodIf superhero action films are your thing, you'll dig this movie. There's enough action in it to satisfy even the most jaded lover of explosions and destroyed cityscapes. The film begins with a massive sci-fi action and battle sequence in the waning days of Krypton, and aside from a bit of exposition, doesn't let up all that much. In fact, it's so much action from start to finish that the action itself starts to feel slow, but we'll get to that in the next section.

The biggest plus I can give to this film is the casting. The casting was brilliant all around. Henry Cavill needed to be able to pull off the face of Superman, his morality, his dual nature as a child of two worlds, his noble bearing, and his place as a being who walks among, but always separate from, humanity. He does this in spades. Some folks may feel that the brooding nature given the character in this film doesn't fit Superman in general, but as a re-told origin story, I think it carries well. The way he says Lois's name and delivers a half-smile as he says it tugged at my heart strings a bit, because to me he really sounded like and emulated the mannerisms of Christopher Reeve, so that was a very nice tribute.

There is a scene near the end where Superman takes an action that has enraged many fans of the character, who feel that it was something he would never in a million years do. Without getting too spoiler-y, I'll just say that he kills someone. While it's true that Superman is a hero who doesn't kill as a rule, there have been situations in the comic where he has been forced into situations where he had no other choice, and I feel that this was also presented in the movie. What he does, he does because there is no other option, and his reaction to what he's just done is 100% in keeping with the character's nature and morality.

Amy Adams is excellent as Lois Lane. That's a major compliment from me because I have a really hard time imagining Lois as anything but a brunette, but Adams made me forget that fact because she has the perfect bearing, determination, and attitude to carry the character over. Likewise, Lawrence Fishbourne is a fantastic Perry White. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a solid and stand-up job as Clark's human parents, John and Martha Kent.

As Jor-El, Russell Crowe is brilliant and brilliantly bad-ass, which I appreciated, though some fans did not. The general feeling has been that since Jor-El was a scientist, he shouldn't have been so good at, well, being a warrior, but to me Superman has to get it from somewhere, and let's not forget that in the comics it was Jor-El who banished Zod to the Phantom Zone to begin with.

Which brings us to Zod. I never would've chosen Michael Shannon to play this role. To me he's not the type of actor I envision as an epic villain, but man, did he pull it off.

So overall, the casting was excellent.

The back story was also covered very well--rather than make us sit through a slogging hour of "Clark grows up" in sequence, the back story is told in flashbacks during the main storyline. This works out very well as a narrative device.

Some folks didn't like the sheer level of carnage and devastation that results from the conflicts in this movie (they essentially level both Smallville and Metropolis), but my thoughts on this were twofold. First, what would you expect when a whole bunch of Kryptonians throw down right here on Earth, and secondly, it rang to me as borrowed from the Death of Superman arc in the comics, wherein Superman's battle with Doomsday results in pretty much the same thing. I was okay with it, though I'd love to see the sequel begin with some information about Superman rebuilding or helping to rebuild both battlegrounds.

The film is well-written in the sense that the characters are engaging and interesting, the story moves along, and keeps you invested. There are some issues with the writing, however, which we'll now discuss in the next section.

The Bad
As much as is good about the film, there's a lot to not like as well. I think the producers, writer, and director tried far too hard to make this fit with Nolan's Dark Knight films in tone, and in that sense it fails, because while Batman can afford to be dark, brooding, and sinister, Superman loses something when it takes itself too seriously. That's not to say there can't be high stakes and drama in a Superman movie, but this film went so far in the other direction that it is in many ways even darker than Batman, which is a problem.

In some ways, the writers and director went so far in presenting Clark as an outsider that it ended up making him look like a mash-up of the Hulk and Spider Man rather than Superman. Every time Clark had to falsify his work history, get a new job in some fringe area of society, then disappear when his gifts manifested, I kept expecting to hear that sad walking away music from the 1970's Increcible Hulk TV series. Some of the fight scenes were very much of the "Hulk SMASH!" variety, and the speeches Jonathan gives to Clark echo just a little too closely to Uncle Ben's "With great power comes great responsibility" monologues to Peter Parker. It's understandable that DC would look at everything that Marvel has done right to try and emulate that success, but in the end it's kind of like looking at The Two Towers and deciding that all you need to be successful in a fantasy film is gigantic battle scenes.

Which brings me to the story. While I said the film was well-written, there are some problems with the story. Clark comes across as possibly the single most incompetent superhero in history insofar as hiding his identity goes, and this creates a lot of issues. It's really hard to swallow that as many times as he's screwed up, Lois was the first one to ever track him down. Hell, it's pretty much established that everyone in Smallville knows all about Clark Kent and his god powers. Someone in that town is going to sell him out sooner or later. I'm not sure what the writers were trying to do with this, but it almost feels like a big, "oops!"

The action sequences, as I mentioned earlier, are relentless and nearly constant. It does get to a point where the building smashing becomes a bit gratuitous, and without very many breaks in the action, it can get a little tired. Also, Zod is rather incompetent for a brilliant general, since he spends far too little time exploiting Superman's weakness for loving humans--that is to say, he doesn't deliberately put people in danger to force Superman to save them instead of focusing on the battle, nearly enough.

The writers also took a great deal of liberty with the mythology, having Lois discover who Clark is so early on, with the back story of Krypton, etc. While every superhero movie I've seen over the past ten or fifteen years has done this sort of thing, somehow it seems harder to swallow when it's Superman. There's something a bit more sacrosanct about that character than any other character, even if you're not a fan of him overall.   And while the characters are well-written, I think in some cases they were written wrong. I was disappointed to see certain characters die who in the comics are still alive and well to this day. And I felt that far too much time was spent repeating ad nauseum that Zod was only doing what he thought was best for Krypton because he was genetically engineered to be that way. I don't necessarily want to understand Zod's motives. I want to know that he has motives, but I think he plays far better as a megalomaniac than as someone who cares so much about his people that he'll take things to extremes to protect them. I don't want a shred of sympathy for that character, and the film took too much time to try and give him a sympathetic air on some level.

So, there's too much dark and brooding, too much of the wrong stuff borrowed from the Hulk and Spider-Man, and a questionable approach to the mythology. 

The Ugly
As far as the visuals and aesthetics go in the film, it's really a mixed bag. There's a lot to like: the special effects are top notch. I didn't see it in 3D so I can't speak to that but I have been told the 3D was very impressive. I liked the design work: the Kryptonian technology, though far from the crystal-based tech to which we've become accustomed, is very neat and alien looking. Superman's costume design--indeed, all the Kryptonian costume design--was really well done and I'm glad, even though it doesn't match the comics, that they got rid of the red panties.

Unfortunately, the overall look of the film, in terms of the muted colors used and the blue-gray wash over the whole movie, really fails as a Superman story, which needs to use a brighter color palette. As I said, it feels darker than Nolan's Batman films, which just doesn't work. It looks like the sun never comes out on Superman's world, even though the guy is powered by, you know, the sun. Even in scenes where they're in the desert or he's using the sun to "power up," the light and palette is muted instead of clear and colorful. The film overall looks deliberately grainy or washed.

There's also lot of use of shaky-cam and quick cuts, which I always dislike. I think the intent was to give the idea of "guerrilla" filming techniques, as though this was being captured by an amateur journalist, but again, for Superman it doesn't really work, despite the fact that the mythology is full of reporters. It just ends up waffling between depressing and chaotic/hard to follow. So the aesthetics of the film are really a mix of good and bad. I find myself hoping that now that they've got the "I'm trying to figure out who I am in the world," part down, they'll look to a brighter and cleaner approach in future installments. Zach Snyder is known for both 300 and Watchmen; in the end, the visuals in this film look more like 300, where a Watchmen approach would've been preferable.

SummaryWhile Man of Steel certainly is not the best superhero movie I've ever seen (The Avengers fills that slot and sets a very high bar), Neither is it anywhere near the worst I've seen. It succeeds very well in some levels (casting, pacing, action sequences, characters) and fails in others (overall visuals, borrowing the wrong elements from other genre films, changes in mythology, poor story choices). In the end, however, it does succeed well enough that I'll be eager to see what they do with future installments of the series, and I think, at least, that the character is in very good hands with Henry Cavill's performance.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Kernels.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Due to some interest from the editor over there, I'm going to be re-starting and moving this blog over to the Dormont-Brookline, PA Patch website at http://dormont-brookline.patch.com/.
The direct address to the blog itself will be http://dormont-brookline.patch.com/blogs/overpriced-popcorn .

As I think about it I'll try to cross-post any articles here, but that will be the home of this blog from here on out.

I'll likely re-post most of the entries from here, over there, to get things going and I will also be adjusting the format to cover older films, both classic and cult, and films on DVD and Blu Ray. I'll also post articles about the film industry as I see it.

So, feel free to check it out over there and feel free to comment!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

The biggest buzz in movie news these days is the release of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The film slammed the box office this weekend, dominating in a way that even its predecessors in the Lord of the Rings trilogy did not. The film pulled in nearly $223 million at the box office its opening weekend, and that was with a traditional Friday opening rather than the oh-so-trendy "Wednesday opening to pad the numbers" tactic.

The movie is news for several reasons. The obvious, of course, is that it's the long-awaited completion of the story of the Baggins clan as written by J.R.R. Tolkien, an adaptation of the prelude (not prequel, for this book was in fact written first) to the longer, epic Lord of the Rings. The second is Jackson's decision to shoot the film in 48 fps "High Frame Rate" (or HFR) format. For around 100 years now, films have been shot in 24 frames per second; the argument in favor of HFR is that the faster frame rate reduces motion blur and strobing, thus clarifying images, especially in 3D, and that it gives a "hyper-realistic" look to the movie. I'll look at whether that succeeds in my "The Ugly" section, below. For now, suffice it to say many directors are closely watching the reaction to this audacious experiment, with such luminaries as James Cameron coming out in favor of the format and expressing potential plans to use it in the future.

Finally, Jackson's (late) decision to split what was originally two films into a trilogy, ostensibly to fit more material from the appendices of Lord of the Rings into the overall narrative has created some controversy surrounding the film, with some claiming it's nothing but hubris on Jackson's part, or a cheap money grab by New Line. Now I can't argue that money had something to do with it--New Line is, after all, a business and in order to stay solvent, they kind of have to make money (that's the point of being a business, more's the pity for fanbois who froth at the mouth over the idea of *gasp* profit). However, I do firmly believe that Jackson is trying to tell the best, grandest story he can, and adapt as much of the source material as possible. I also have faith that he'll do it well.

So, how does the Hobbit live up to the earlier films in the series? Spectacular, I say, and in my opinion it's only blinded, overly-jaded film critics with their fingers far from the pulse of the community (which pretty much applies to all film critics) and whiny, spoiled textual literalist fanbois who will dislike this film. And yes, I abhor textual literalists and fanbois with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, so if you're insulted by that, well, too bad.

As for critics, well, once again we've proven they as a group are pompous academics with no clue what audiences want or appreciate, with a major disconnect in ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (65% fresh for critics, 81% fresh for actual audiences).

The Good
This movie easily stands up to the other films in the series, though the tone is somewhat different, because we're in a different era, sixty years earlier in the Third Age. At this point in time, Middle Earth is at peace. There have not yet been whisperings of the Return of the Shadow and most races live in relative harmony. The orcs and goblins have been driven underground, and evil does not plague the world.

The pacing in the film is, despite some critics' claims to the contrary, excellent. It does not drag, and even the exposition scenes are well-performed and contain interesting dialogue that moves the scenes forward. There is plenty of action to go around, and a good juxtaposition of the good humor of a band of merry adventurers with the rising threat of a roving pack of orcs that have ventured into the West, and the appearance of a Necromancer in the forest of Mirkwood.

The performances are uniformly excellent and it's refreshing to see the return of Sir Ian McKellan, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchet, Christopher Lee, and of course, Andy Serkis playing very different versions of their Lord of the Rings characters--remember, this is a time of peace and hope, before Saruman has betrayed the Free Folk (though there are indications of his early slide herein). It's nice to see Elrond smiling and hopeful, and Galadriel with an ethereal and mischievous smirk on her face, far different than the semi-threatening and unreachable figure we got in The Fellowship of the Ring. These are elves the way I pictured them when I read the books, and I very much enjoyed the performances. Andy Serkis steals the show as Gollum, as one might expect, and slides back into the role he originated eleven years ago, as though no time at all has passed.

The new characters are equally impressive--Martin Freeman's Bilbo is well-rendered as a simple country gentleman who is in way over his head but gradually is learning that there's far more to him than even he knew. Richard Armitage's Thorin possesses all of the dignity, wounded pride, and anger that his character needs, and while we did not get to know all thirteen dwarves individually in this film, those that we did get to meet are very well differentiated in terms of attitude and personality. Sylvester McCoy (of Doctor Who fame) holds his own as Radagast the Brown, even when sharing the screen with McKellan.

The Bad
 I have very little to criticize regarding the direction, writing, or acting in this film. Perhaps the biggest criticism I can make is in regards to the disconnect between the "new" material adapted from the appendices, and the direct adaptation of the base source material from The Hobbit. The reason for this is that the LotR appendices don't contain (obviously) as much detail as the novels, and instead include sketches of events that occurred to bridge the two stories. In adapting these sketches, Jackson was forced to fill in a lot of blanks--something to which many textual literalists take great umbrage. It does result in a slight disconnect between the new sequences, written in the voice of Walsh, Boyens, and Jackson, and those sequences adapted from Tolkien's actual voice. That is to say, the script writers' original dialogue has a different tone than that taken from Tolkien. While they screenwriters do an excellent job of creating a pastiche of Tolkien's voice, the mimicry is not perfect and can be somewhat jarring at times. Part of this is due to the dialogue style, and part of it is the often-forced relocation of Appendix scenes into the greater storyline of the film--the meeting between Radagast and Gandalf, for example, does not take place in the company of the dwarves in the text, but Jackson has moved it there in the film, for pacing and plotting reasons. It works well; it can simply be a bit jarring at times.

Also of irritation to me is Jackson's continuing association of pipe weed with, well, weed. This is not something Prof. Tolkien ever intended--indeed, he is very explicit in Lord of the Rings that pipe weed is "a variety of tobaciana," that is, tobacco. The hobbits mix and smoke custom tobacco blends, something any pipe connoisseur or habitual pipe smoker (such as myself) can tell you is an art form unto itself. Sometime in the 60's the hippie movement latched on to the term "weed," and we got stuck with the association ever since. There are two rather unnecessary drug references in the film, and that rankled me a little.

Next: the CGI. I'm an unabashed fan of practical effects. CGI almost never looks better than practical effects, if the latter are feasible--for example, Smaug would look awful done with practical effects on the budget any film has. But Orcs? there was no excuse for doing Azog and the Great Goblin entirely CGI. They looked CGI, which is a shame in contrast to the stark realism of Gollum. Jackson made a huge mistake deciding to use so much CGI for the goblins and orcs in this film.

Finally, there is a scene near the end which I will not detail for the sake of avoiding spoilers, during which Bilbo performs an action that I felt was far out of character for him, but in the end it worked for the overall storyline, so that's a nitpick.

Textual Alterations
I'm putting this in its own section as there's a lot of controversy over it, so while I am a fan of what they did, many would consider it "Bad," rather than "Good."

Jackson leaps right into the inclusion of the LotR appendices into the story of the Hobbit, with varying degrees of artistic license. Thus, we get to see the White Council (moved here to Rivendell during the period the dwarves are visiting) and Radagast's encounter with the Necromancer and his meeting with Gandalf (moved also, to the midst of the dwarves' travels). In addition, we are given an enemy for Thorin--the albino orc known as Azog the Defiler, who is hinted at in the appendices (which imply that the orcs in the Hobbit have a specific grudge against these dwarves) but never fully detailed. Many are complaining that the added material does not further the story, but I would point out that we're only a third of the way in, and it's very premature to make such claims.   Personally, I thought the "new" additions were well-executed and blended nicely with the overall story. Nothing felt extraneous to me, and I am pleased to say that nothing in my memory was actually removed from the story--the adaptation is quite faithful to the text overall, and the actual alterations to specific events are minor, with the possible exception of Radagast's involvement with the dwarves.

In the end, I didn't feel these elements were added to "pad" the story for financial gain, but out of a desire for Jackson to adapt as much of the source material that he had license to adapt. Also, kudos to him for not inventing names for the Blue Wizards.

The Ugly
The aesthetics of the film are something of a mixed bag.  I went to see it in the controversial High Frame Rate 3D presentation. It was, I will say, quite pleasant to see Middle Earth rendered on screen again, and it all looks wonderfully consistent with the Middle Earth in the earlier trilogy--nothing was changed or "updated," and the consistency is appreciated. When one gets something right the first time around, there's no need to fix it, and Jackson realized this. The Shire is still the Shire, and Imladris is still Imladris. It was easy to get swept back up into the grandeur of Middle Earth.

As for the HFR presentation--I think this has to be regarded as a failed experiment, at this time anyway. I don't see the technology being up to snuff for the presentation. This is not to say it was awful--I just think that while it didn't take anything away from the film, really, it also didn't add anything. It also, to our sensibilities, looks somewhat cheap, which is ironic since it cost Jackson double the film to make. The problem, I think, is that in looking so hyper-realistic, it breaks the illusion and thus ends up paradoxically looking a little fake. It also creates an illusion of characters moving in fast-motion because we are not used to watching characters on film move at real-time speed; 24fps creates a tiny bit of strobe and a slight slowing-down of action, whereas 48fps is so smooth and real-time that when someone moves at normal speed we are subjected to an illusion of them moving really fast.

It does, however, achieve its goal of reducing eye strain in 3D. A friend of mine who gets violent headaches at 3D films did not have a headache or even sore eyes at the end of this film. So that's a plus.

The use of 3D itself in this film is very subtle--there's not a lot of "things being thrown at the audience from the screen." It's just used mostly to provide depth perception, and when it works, it works well. I think as much as I enjoy it when it's done well, 3D is about played out. Either it's a gimmick, now, which everyone hates, or it's just used to provide subtle depth perception, which while pretty, isn't necessary to enhance one's enjoyment of a film.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an outstanding first entry into the prequel (prelude) trilogy to Lord of the Rings. It is well-paced, excellently acted and directed, and the visuals are consistent with the Middle Earth we all have come to know and love. The Appendix elements are skillfully worked into the overall narrative to give us a nice linking story to the darkness that is to come, and I am looking forward to future installments.  On the down-side, a disconnect in the fleshing out of sketchy appendix elements combined with the somewhat cheap (but expensive) looking high frame rate can be distracting and create a disconnect from the overall illusion.

Final Rating: Four out of five kernels.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review: Tykwer/Wachowski/Wachowski's Cloud Atlas

Okay, perhaps I was a bit premature in announcing the closing of this blog, but this is a review I had to write.   It doesn't use my usual Good/Bad/Ugly standard, but I beg your indulgence on that.

So last night my wife Julie was working late and I decided to go to the movies by myself, which I do on occasion - I rather enjoy the experience. I went to see Cloud Atlas, and I absolutely had to write something about it.

Cloud Atlas was written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. It was adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell and stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, James D'Arcy, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, and a veritable who's who of other character actors in a stellar ensemble cast. It is, at a budget of over 100 million dollars, one of the most expensive independent films ever made.

I am not exaggerating when I say I think this was one of the greatest films I've ever seen. Certainly some of the connections between the characters' lives over the ages were a bit tenuous, but it's rare that a movie really affects me and I walk out of the theater feeling changed. This movie did that for me. It took me from confused to horrified to joyous to awed to overwhelmingly hopeful and contented, and back.  I really, really want to read the book, now.

If you're just looking for explosions, one-liners, body counts and action in your movies, if you don't like to think and you don't like drama in your sci-fi, if you just want a popcorn movie, don't go. You'll hate it. But if you like movies that are really going to make you think, if you like intricately drawn plots with threads upon threads intertwining until the end, when you just let out a long sigh, this is the film for you. Outstanding. It's a shame it's not going to last because the marketing for it was so piss-poor.

Also, if you're a Blade Runner fan you should see this because there are a lot of not-so-subtle hints that parts of this are the future of the Blade Runner universe (people escaping a global catastrophe by fleeing to off-world colonies, genetically engineered "fabricants" serving the needs of "pureblood" humans, etc.)

So what is this film? Is it drama? Comedy? Where does it fit?  Technically, I suppose, it's science fiction or science fantasy. It ranges from very hard-realistic historical dramas set in the 1860's and 1930's through a gritty corporate espionage story in the 70's, to a farcical 2012 story, to a very cyberpunk (see Blade Runner, above) tale set in the 22nd century, to a post apocalyptic future set decades "After the Fall," which is implied to be a nuclear war, presumably as the ultimate outcome of the cyberpunk storyline ("Fall" = "Fallout": they mention Halle Berry's character taking on too much radiation at one point).

The film consists of six stories, all inter-related and intertwined, with the same souls playing out different parts in this overall story in various past and future lives. Each soul goes on its own centuries-long quest which is unique to the character - One character, for example, goes gradually, life-to-life, from a vile murderer to a hero.  Each actor plays their soul throughout all of the lives presented, which does require a bit of suspension of disbelief in some cases - see my comment about the supposed racism that's not really there, below.  The film is masterfully written, superbly acted, and wonderfully complex. At the conclusion of the film, I really, truly felt hopeful and uplifted about the future, even as dark as things got near the film's climax. I felt like there's a chance for everyone, no matter who or what they are. That chance may not happen in this life, but in the future, no one can say. We're all on a journey, and it's the journey that is as important as the conclusion or destination. That's what I took away from this film. Not the most original message, I'll grant, but masterfully delivered in this context.

A Note about Accusations of Racism
I have noted that some people have accused the film of being racist because it has white actors in makeup portraying Asians in the futuristic scenes, but I would argue there's nothing racist about it - in the overall context of the film it's important to recycle actors to make it clear these are the same souls, and I also noted nobody is calling racist or sexist for having Susan Sarandon playing a man in one life, Hugo Weaving playing a woman in another, Halle Berry playing a blonde-haired, blue-eyed German woman in 1936, Bae Doona playing a red-headed Irish girl in the 19th century...it goes on and on.  That doesn't even take into account the assumption that it's more than possible that what we're seeing in the future, given the implied setting, are a lot of mixed-race people.

Such reactions are ludicrous and all-too-common these days where we're all so damned eager to find something - anything - to be offended and outraged about.  Cloud Atlas is a beautiful film, and I think anyone who loves philosophy and wants to be uplifted with a movie that's far deeper than its surface visuals (which are unto themselves stunning) is cheating themselves for not seeing it.

Rating: I give it 5 out of 5 kernels.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ending this blog

I have decided, at least for now, to end this blog.

Why?  There are several reasons.  Firstly, I have only 13 followers here. Word of mouth never took off to get me enough followers to make it worth continuing on.

Second, movie-going enough to maintain a film review blog is beyond expensive. I just don't have the funds to pursue it. I'd need to have people send me to the movies to review films they want me to review, which would require donations from followers, which, see "only 13 followers," above.

Finally, a lot of times after I do go to see a movie, I just don't sit down to write the requisite review, which is my fault, but if it's not going to get done, well, there you have it. 

I'm sorry to those of you who enjoy the blog. I'd like to continue it, but I just don't have the cash combined with the time and energy to be an independent film reviewer. I'll leave the reviews I have written up, and maybe from time to time I'll post something film-related here. If the day ever comes when I can support it, then we shall see.

Until then, it's been an interesting experiment even if it showed me that there's not enough interest in MY thoughts on movies to continue the pursuit.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Good morning, Blogosphere!

So I have been very neglectful of my blogs over the past, oh, year or two. My postings have been infrequent at best. The reason for this, as many of you know, is that I've been going through a very dark place in my life. Very stressful, very depressing, just generally not a good place to be. Thanks to the mercy of St. John's Wort, I got to a point where I could cope, but I still wasn't getting things done outside of my soul-crushing job at the time.

That's all changing. I am at a new job now, and so far it's going great. It was a major step up, a lot of really nice people, but a lot to learn and a ton of new responsibility. As such, I'm much happier, but I'm also tired a lot from all the learning. Still, the positive outlook gives me more energy to spare, and just in time, as I've got some new projects coming to fruition to which I need to devote time and energy.

What this means is, I'm really hoping to kick my blogging back up soon. So I appreciate everyone that's stuck around through the darkness, and keep your eyes peeled; hopefully I'll have some good new stuff coming soon on all of my blogs.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Prometheus (Ridley Scott)


It's been a whopping thirty-three years since Dan O'Bannon and Ridley Scott gave us a seminal film in both the science fiction and horror genres: the classic (some say masterpiece) Alien. The film was not only a commercial success, but has gone on to near universal accolades, including a laundry list of award nominations and wins in 1979. Wins include the 1979 Oscar for visual effects, and a nod for art direction.  It won Saturn Awards for best sci-fi film, best director, supporting actress, and got a nod for Sigourney Weaver.  It also was nominated for best makeup, special effects, and writing. I could go on--there were nominations for the BAFTAs, Hugo Awards, Golden Globes and on and on and on.

The film spawned three sequels and two spin-offs with "Sister" franchise, Predator.  In general, and with the arguable exception of Aliens, the sequels are all considered generally inferior to the original. Aliens is an interesting case, in that it smartly took an entirely different approach to the subject matter, delivering a film that was gruesome, hard-hitting, and action-packed in addition to horror. It was, in many ways, the forerunner of modern survival horror films and can draw lines to the 2003 remake of Dawn of the Dead, amongst other things.

Alien, however, was purely a psychological horror film. It was a movie with a loping pace, a slow burn at both ends that delivered a few climactic and shocking payoffs. It's a film about how when we go too boldly into the unknown, we not only sometimes get bit, but eaten alive. It's about a technician on a commercial mining ship who finds her inner toughness and becomes one of the greatest sci-fi heroines of all time. It's about the struggle between civilization and the primordial chaos at the heart of everything.  It's quite literally mythic in scope.

Now, three decades later, Ridley Scott has chosen to revisit this bleak landscape, and tell another story that is equally mythic, and even moreso when one considers the questions he asks (some of which he quite deliberately fails to answer). Despite his admonishments that the film stands on its own, one's understanding and appreciation for the movie is certainly enhanced by having seen its cinematic predecessor, and given that it in some way tells the story of the mysterious derelict alien pilot that the Nostromo's crew finds with its chest exploded, it is indeed a full-on prequel.

So, did I like it? Yes, I did. However, this is absolutely not a film that's for everyone, and Fox's marketing campaign for the movie actually hurts it in the long run, rather than helps it.

So, let's get to the nitty-gritty: the good, the bad, and the ugly of Ridley Scott's Prometheus.

The Good

Most of you by now have figured out that I tend to like a lot of movies--it's tough to get a bad review from me.  That's largely because I tend to be pretty good at picking flicks I know I'm going to like. No doubt if I were getting paid to do this, and going to see all the new releases every weekend, I'd have a lot more negative reviews. That being said, I found a lot to like in Prometheus.  This will be an interesting review, because you'll see me spin a lot of the same points I make as Good in the Bad section as well.  We'll get to that in a minute.

First up are the characters. I found most of the main characters (not all, but most) to be wonderfully nuanced and complex. They all had intriguing motivations for being there, and for doing the things they did.  Even the bad guys in this film weren't really bad guys.  For example, if you've seen the original Alien you know that robots are trouble. The android David in this movie is no exception; he causes no end of disaster, but instead of it being because he was ordered to make "all other concerns secondary," it's because he's amoral and insufferably curious.  The line seen in the trailer where he looks at his finger and whispers, "Big things have small beginnings" is wonderfully creepy, as is a rather unsettling conversation he has with one of the characters about who made whom and why. David is a character who wants to know who he is, and he doesn't have the moralistic compunctions of humans to stop him in his quest for answers.

Our main character, the Ripley-esque heroine Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, is both an anthropologist and a devout Christian. When someone suggests that if aliens engineered humans, that means God doesn't exist, she simply responds, "Who made them?" Shaw is insatiably curious, indelibly heroic, and she's got a set of brass balls the size of Texas, if you'll excuse the colloquialism. She is eminently likeable, even in her folly.

One of the most interesting characters, to my mind, is Charlize Theron's Meredith Vickers. She's the corporate suit in charge of the expedition, and if you've seen Aliens, you know that Weyland Corp executives are trouble. However, unlike Paul Reiser's character in Aliens, Vickers is not just a two-dimensional sleaze ball.  She's definitely a dark character, and something of a villain, one who will inevitably choose herself over others, but she's wonderfully nuanced and this is in no small part due to the fact that Theron is an outstanding actress.

Beyond the actors, there is the storyline. This is definitely a classic hard sci-fi storyline; it's not space opera and there are not dogfights and explosions in space (well, there is a somewhat massive explosion at one point, but I'll avoid spoilers). No, this explores the classic themes that good science fiction is supposed to explore--the nature of humankind. Who are we? Why are we here? Who is God and can we find him out there somewhere? And finally, the big question: do we deserve to live? The film is extremely ambitious for the themes it tries to explore, and to a large degree it succeeds.  Much like its predecessor, it is a slow burn that builds suspense until some of those questions are answered in shocking ways.

However, I have a degree in religious studies and I get off on those kinds of things.  Not everyone will appreciate or enjoy what Scott is trying to do.

The Bad

Many of the things I found to be good about the film, others will (and have) dislike intensely. This is particularly evident in the pacing of the film.  While I found it to be deliberate and suspenseful, others will absolutely see it as simply slow paced and boring. I have made comments online that this is because we live in a society where everyone gets their information instantly at light speed in 140-character chunks, and I stand by that. However, Fox's marketing campaign does not help this at all. The trailer for this film is rapid-fire. It's fast-paced and heart-pounding and makes it seem like it will be a pulse-pounder thriller rather than a philosophical and psychological horror film. It's really no wonder that many are going to see it expecting Aliens more than Alien, and given that the mini-review I posted on facebook may have seemed rather harsh towards those who didn't enjoy the film, I should offer apologies and qualify that it wasn't intended to be so but was (alas) written at lightning speed after I'd seen one too many complaints about how badly the film sucked.

Back to the review, however. So the film is paced very deliberately and for those wanting a more pulse-pounding thriller, it just isn't there. I'm going to mark it down for the poor advertising that presented the film as something quite different than it actually was. That I knew what to expect was more a factor of me having followed this film closely from inception to release, and not at all because of the marketing.

Next, the characters. I said earlier that many of the characters are wonderfully nuanced. Unfortunately, this isn't true of all of them. There are two scientists aboard the Prometheus, a geologist and a biologist, who appear to be there for no reason other than to be victims in the Rosencrantz and Gildenstern mold. Indeed, we have a biologist who encounters a dead alien body of the sort nobody has ever seen...and turns around and runs back to the ship.  Yet later, when a living (and rather frightening-looking) critter rears up threateningly in front of him, he admonishes it as "cute" and tries to touch it. Again, avoiding spoilers I won't tell you how that plays out, but it's an incredibly paradoxical approach to a character with no depth whatsoever. His geologist compatriot is apparently distinguished purely by his mohawk and Scots accent, and really adds nothing whatsoever to the plot. These characters were hackneyed to the extreme.

Finally, story elements. Some folks will no doubt find it exceptionally irritating that many of the philosophical questions put forth (with promised answers) are not only not answered, but are quite deliberately left unanswered, and the film is patently set up for a sequel. Some just won't care about the philosophical questions at all, and it's questionable whether or not the marketing campaign makes it clear how important said questions are to the overall story.  Indeed, there are so many questions raised to ponder that a 2-hour film simply can't do them all justice. Some are simply sidelined after being posited once or twice; others are explored, but only half-heartedly. It would be interesting to see a director's cut of the film but one wonders just how long it would have to be to properly explore all of the territory that it opens up.

Fortunately, it's very pretty to look at.

The Ugly

Visually, as one would expect of a Scott production, this film is breathtaking and arresting.  The special effects are well in keeping stylistically with the original Alien, but easily accessible to (and taken up a notch for) 21st-century audiences. Everything from the cryo-pods to the ships themselves are gorgeous, as are the bleak alien landscapes.  I was completely blown away by the opening sequence of the film and desperately want to know where on Earth it was shot (if indeed it was shot on location) because those waterfalls are amazing.

If you have ever seen a Ridley Scott film, it's no surprise for me to tell you that the set design and visuals are just out of this world (no pun intended); if you haven't and you just want to see a film for its visual beauty, this is a film to see.

I will say that the 3D was largely unnecessary in this film. While it's used to great effect for things like holographic displays and viewscreens (one particular scene with David took my breath away) overall it doesn't add a thing to the movie and I get the sense that like far too many films these days, it was done at the insistence of a studio who demanded 3D for the sake of 3D.  Ridley Scott likely put all of his 3D budget into a few shots that he thought would be worthwhile, and didn't worry too much about it elsewhere. So if you missed this flick in 3D...don't worry about it; you're not missing much.

Aside from the 3D, I've nothing bad to say about the visuals. They're crisp, clear, and even in the most chaotic scenes are easy to follow. Ridley Scott is a master director, there's not even an argument about that, and it shows.

Conclusion and Rating

Prometheus is a visually stunning potboiler with a very slow burn and shocking payoffs that is a worthy successor (or predecessor, as it were) to Aliens.  Future outings, if the box office warrants, have great promise. However, the film is not for everyone, and a poor marketing campaign that promised a high action thriller has many people being disappointed with the gradual build of the actual film. Characters are an even split between nuanced and interesting, and dull and insipid. The film asks some great questions, but tries to tackle way too much for one film to effectively handle.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 kernels.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: The Avengers (Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios)

First things first: I apologize for the lateness of this review. I saw this flick opening night, but life has been crazy the past week. That being said…

Every once in awhile a film comes along that ignites a true craze, becomes a true phenomenon, and takes the idea of “phenomenon” to the next level. In my life there have been several. The first one I remember, of course, was Star Wars. The science fantasy epics by George Lucas and Co. ignited mainstream fandom in a way I don’t think anything else ever had. The original trilogy was the first true motion picture phenomenon that I can think of, though I’m sure arguments could be made for some other, earlier films.

The next one that I remember was Tim Burton’s Batman. The Indiana Jones films were wildly popular, but Batman swept the nation with such a craze that it was dubbed “Bat-mania.” This was the first big-budget and dark superhero film, and the first one beyond Superman that took comic books as a serious property, showed us what could be done with comics movies beyond white knights in spandex fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  Batman was really the first effort at making a superhero flick for grown-ups.

Of course, as the 90’s wore on, studios become obsessed with creating the next big phenomenon, and we got properties of varying quality that drew the attention of the mainstream in increasingly grandiose ways, from Titanic to The Matrix to the Star Wars prequel trilogy to Lord of the Rings to The Matrix to Harry Potter to Twilight and The Hunger Games. I’m sure there were others in the mix there, but you get the point.

Now, Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame has come along and given us the Next Big Thing ™: The Avengers.

So first things first: what differentiates the Avengers from the X-Men or the (perhaps) better-known Justice League? In many ways—and this is why I have always loved the Avengers—they are a more believable group of disparate crime fighters than many others. The X-Men are bound together by their common battle for equality; while there are interpersonal conflicts, they are constantly presented as a family.  The Justice League—DC’s version of the Avengers—are also consistently portrayed as best buddies, which when you consider the egos involved (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman) is pretty well wholly unbelievable. The Avengers, on the other hand, hate each other a lot of the time. Pure and simple. These are a group of egotistical superheroes, each of which who does just fine on his or her own, and each of which only grudgingly admits that teamwork is better in certain situations. They’re not best friends. They don’t live together in a big hall of justice or special school. They “Assemble” when the call goes out. They come together, defeat a threat (often fighting amongst themselves the entire time) and go their separate ways.  With good writing, this kind of interaction makes for very compelling storytelling. With bad writing, well, admittedly it can be a disaster of boredom and annoyance for the reader.

I’ll admit, I had my doubts when it was announced that Whedon was on board to write and direct. I was a huge Buffy and Angel fan, and I followed his run on Astonishing X-Men all the way through.  I came to a couple of conclusions about him as a storyteller, which I was certain would bleed through into The Avengers.

1.       Despite his flag-waving for feminism, Joss is something of a misogynist. He likes to have strong female heroes…but he also really likes to screw them over, often and especially as soon as they have sex. He made a habit of this in Buffy for seven seasons—Buffy didn’t just have challenges to overcome, she would get repeatedly beaten down by the world at large.  When she had sex the first time, her boyfriend became evil and spent an entire season emotionally raping her. In the same series, Willow fell in love with a girl named Tara, and their relationship was fraught with crap from the beginning until Tara was punked right in front of Willow by a stray bullet.  In his run on Astonishing X-Men, Joss had Kitty Pryde “die” after having sex with Colossus by randomly not being able to un-phase and getting trapped inside a giant hunk of metal…for no apparent reason.  So yeah, Joss doesn’t like his strong female heroes to, you know, remain strong female heroes.

2.       This is a guy who has proven time and again that he can’t write an ending to save his life.  He lucked out with Buffy, which ended on a decent note, if a Deus-ex-machina one, but Angel ended on a bloody cliffhanger (which astonishingly Joss’s fans defended as being somehow in keeping with the show), and Astonishing X-Men ended with the aforementioned punking of Kitty Pryde.

So I had little faith in the choice—I thought we were going to get a wildly entertaining movie which would be full of random female deaths and featured a piss-poor ending.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, I’m delighted to say, and Avengers has restored my faith in Joss Whedon.

This film has been released to near-universal critical acclaim, and fans seem so rabid about it that one reviewer even got threats for posting a negative review (which—by the way—way to go, geek culture; nothing like validating everyone else thinking we’re weirdoes and crazies.)  It currently sits at 93% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 96% among fans.  I, dear readers, am little different—I loved this film from start to finish, and I fear that this posting may be a bit more of a rave than a review. I found very little wrong with this movie; it was near perfect.  So, without further ado, here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Marvel and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.

The Good
There is a ton of good about this movie. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are both portrayed brilliantly, and completely in keeping with their prior appearances. And as much as I dug The Incredible Hulk, and felt Edward Norton did a stellar job, Mark Ruffalo is hands down the best of the three Bruce Banners—and the decision to finally do the Hulk as 100% motion captured was a major “about time” moment. Some people felt this movie would just be The Tony Stark Show—I disagree; if anything, Hulk stole the show. I will endeavor to avoid spoilers, but Hulk’s one spoken line (voice acted, as in The Incredible Hulk, by Lou Ferrigno) is gold, and the interplay between Ruffalo and Downey Jr. as Banner and Stark is picture perfect. In fact, all of the interactions are great, be it Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, or whoever. One of my concerns at first was that they would have a hard time making Hawkeye and Black Widow work in with a group of players who have legitimate super powers, but there are no worries, there, either—the two master assassins easily hold their own alongside their fellow Avengers, and there is a scene between Black Widow and Loki that nearly had me leap out of my seat and cheer.

Sam Jackson as Nick Fury is great, and it’s nice to see him finally get a chance to stretch his legs in the role. This Nick Fury is just as he should be—a spy. He’s cold and hard, he keeps secrets and lies, and plays his reasons close to the vest, but in the end, when his own superiors step out of line, Fury is portrayed as absolutely one of the Good Guys.  Agent Phil Coulson is back again for another appearance (he has appeared in some capacity in all of the setup films thus far except—for obvious reasons—for Captain America) and he is a delight in this, having a far more central role to play.

The plot is a standard fare alien invasion storyline wherein a group of scary high-tech aliens led by Loki, now exiled from Asgard after the events of Thor, seeks to conquer the Earth. Loki, for his part, wants to rule the world and see a lot of stuff blow up while he’s at it.  This turn of events, of course, is what brings Thor back to Earth, and sees him join the Avengers. For the few reviewers who have complained about a thin plot, I have to wonder what they wanted out of this movie. It’s not Shakespeare’s Henry V; it’s quite simply the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. The plot is secondary to this movie, which is driven from start to finish by the characters. And drive it forward they do.

I think what I  dug most about this is that no one member of the Avengers is spotlighted over any others—each and every one of them gets their moments in the spotlight, and the actors consistently hit it out of the park. This includes the main villain, Loki, who has more than his share of scene-stealing moments as well. As my wife pointed out, Thor and Loki are outstanding in this film, and are way better presented than they were in the Thor setup movie—Joss Whedon not only knows Marvel comics, he did his research on Norse mythology and hits it out of the park with the presentation of these two characters.  That the acting is stellar across the board doesn’t hurt, either.  Where Tony Stark butts heads with Captain America the tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife, but the two characters (with a liberal amount of well-placed foreshadowing) come to greatly respect one another by the end of the movie. The quiet concern and deep friendship between Widow and Hawkeye is for the most part quietly understated but so omnipresent as to be masterful. Steve Rogers is definitely a guy from 1944, but not one who is cheesy about it (he never, thank God, says “gosh” or “golly,” which is the WORST common and untrue cliché one can pull for an out-of-time character.)

Again, avoiding spoilers, I will say that if you haven’t heard it yet, and really, you should know this by now if you’ve seen any Marvel flicks—stay all the way through the credits. The Avengers 2 setup scene halfway through the credits is not the end.  There is a scene at the very end of the credits which is probably the greatest payoff scene ever put into a movie.

The Bad
As much as there is good about the movie, there’s that little bad. In fact, probably the only complaint I have about the entire film is that if you have not seen the setup movies—especially Thor and Captain America—you may well be lost at the beginning of this movie, as it literally jumps right into the action which centers squarely upon the Tesseract, an artifact seen and established in the aforementioned setup films. The movie does an okay job of establishing what the Tesseract is, but if you’ve missed those two setup films you’re going to feel like you’re coming into a story that’s already half told…and you are. A friend of mine compared it to seeing Return of the King without bothering to see Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers first. Unfortunately, where that particular analogy falls apart is that although it holds true, Avengers is billed as a stand-alone film, not as the fifth or sixth film in a long series. Still, it’s a minor gripe in that the movie does do a very good job of explaining the artifact for those who haven’t yet seen it, and it does tell you everything you need to know, as long as you’re willing to roll with things a little.

The Ugly
Everything about the look, direction, effects, and cinematography in this movie is gorgeous. I mentioned earlier the decision to do the Hulk in full motion capture—why it took them three movies with the Big Green Guy to come to this conclusion is beyond me, but it shows. The action scenes are fast-paced and chaotic, but never hard to follow, and there are so many little fan nods tucked in that you could see the movie a dozen times and still not catch everything.  Watch, for example, for a split-second shot that features Tony using Cap’s shield to ricochet an energy blast.

I saw the film in 3D iMAX, which is always my preferred means of movie-going these days, and the visuals did not remotely disappoint. The 3D is excellent, tasteful, and not gimmicky, and most of the shots that you want to be 3D are. The clarity is great, the sound shook the theater, and the CGI nearly indistinguishable from live action and practical effects. It’s top-of-the-line production all around.  Indeed, Whedon and Co. do so much with the $220m budget that it makes me ashamed for other films that don’t do half as much with the same amount of money.  Of course, I look at other films like The Hunger Games that do almost as much with less than half the money, and it makes me wonder where a lot of the budget goes (in this case, likely into star power), but still, I’m impressed that the high budget was money well spent.

Recap and Conclusion
The Avengers is a near-perfect movie. It deserves the title “blockbuster” in spades, and is deservedly setting records at the box office. It’s a shining example of how to do a big-budget action movie right; it is wonderfully character-driven, expertly directed, smartly written, and gorgeous to look at. Plus, it introduced the word “Shawarma” into the general public consciousness, something that’s going to see Middle Eastern restaurants get a huge profit bump. It restored my faith in Joss Whedon as writer and director, and cemented Marvel’s dominance of the Super Hero box office (and maybe even the overall box office). Outstanding flick from start to finish.

Rating: five out of five popcorn kernels.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Been a bit quiet of late...

Sorry for the lack of posting; as everyone’s no doubt aware, movie going is an expensive hobby these days, and money is nigh onto nonexistent for me at the moment.  However, there are a veritable spate of awesome-looking flicks coming out over the next three months, so hopefully, and with any luck, you’ll see a lot of reviews coming out from this site in the coming weeks.

In the meanwhile, maybe I’ll throw out a few reviews of films on Blu Ray, DVD, and Netflix, just to keep things going.

Also, please continue to spread the word about OP—I really need more followers to get this to take off. I have plans, but those plans can only come to fruition if I have visibility out there. If you’ve got a Facebook profile, blog, website, whatever, please link back to Overpriced Popcorn and tell people to follow!  All you need is a Google account to do so, and really…who doesn’t have a Google account these days?


Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Neveldine/Taylor's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


In 2007, Marvel comics continued its assault on the world box office with the release of Ghost Rider, a film based on one of their darker properties. In it, a cocky, Evel-Knievel-like stunt rider named Johnny Blaze (portrayed by Nicholas Cage) makes a deal with the devil to save his critically ill father, and in so doing becomes possessed by a demon that, whenever he is in the presence of evil, transforms him into the Ghost Rider, a spirit of vengeance with a flaming skull for a head. The Rider is hungry for the souls of sinners, and has no sense of scale—if you’ve done something shameful, he’ll swallow your soul and send you screaming to Hell.  Of course, Blaze hates being the Devil’s man-bitch and constantly fights against the demon inside (like any good Marvel character), but even in serving Hell, he is doing good work by sending evildoers Down Below.  I described Ghost Rider to my wife Julie as “the Crow meets Spawn,” and if you’re completely unfamiliar with the character that’s close enough for government work.

I missed the first film in the series in the theater and only saw it months later on cable. I’ll be honest; I rather enjoyed it, but I will be the first to admit that I am not a regular reader of the comic—I know little about the mythology of the Ghost Rider, so I can’t speak as to its faithfulness to the source material. As an actor, Nick Cage kind of lives in a box; when he’s playing a nut-job with a heart of gold he does a good job, and the role of Johnny Blaze suited him well.  What I did not realize is that the first film in the franchise (such as it is) apparently was a minor hit at the box office, more than doubling its budget.  I thought the film was fairly poorly received (which it was, if you listen to critics). However, as I’ve said before, I often wonder what critics want out of a superhero movie. Of course there’s going to be cheese, over-the-top heroics, and somewhat stilted dialogue—it’s a trope of the genre.  I’m sure there will be some folks that are dying to illustrate how that’s no excuse, but I respectfully disagree and feel that I expect such things to a degree from superhero movies, and am rather disappointed when they don’t feature goofy one-liners, big explosions, people leaping at helicopters from motorcycles, and such things, even when the hero in question is a brooding hero like Ghost Rider or Wolverine.

That, however, is moot.  The point is, I didn’t realize that the first Ghost Rider film had made enough money to merit a sequel, but apparently it did.  On February 7, 2012, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance hit theaters.  The budget of the sequel was roughly half that of its predecessor, only $57 million and change, which in today’s market is a pittance, and I’m not sure whether such a low budget allowed the film to make a profit, or hurt its earnings by ham-stringing its potential. Hollywood walks a fine line with these things, and it’s hard to say in a situation like this if they were correct.  Spirit of Vengeance has taken in a worldwide box office that has allowed it to make back double its budget, but had the film been given a higher budget, allowing better production values, better visuals, and more time to be spent on it overall, the end result may have been higher quality and thus increased its earnings at the theater.  Again, it’s hard to say.

I missed the boat on the sequel when it was in first-run, but I had a chance to catch it at the local maxi-saver this past Saturday with Julie. Since it’s been a week or so since I posted here, I thought I’d offer up my review. By way of a brief summary: this movie was okay; given that I only paid a buck to see it I wasn’t sorry to catch it on the big screen, but had I paid $7 or $15 to see it, I may have felt cheated. The low production values and choices to completely ignore important elements of its predecessor hamstring the moments of good on the screen, and the story is somewhat trite. It’s kind of a shame to see Marvel’s darker heroes consistently get mistreatment when Nolan’s Batman series has shown us it’s possible to take a dark hero and do him justice on screen.

So here you go: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

The Good
There are a few bright points to this film, and they reside in the core cast.  Nick Cage acts in a box—he’s very much a character actor, and while he takes some flak for that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so long as you do it well, and Cage does it well. Nobody gives Jack Nicholson crap for playing Jack all the time, or John Malkovitch for playing Makovich all the time—why does Cage get crap for playing Cage?  He shouldn’t.  Cage is a good choice to play Johnny Blaze, a loosely-sane hero with a penchant for over-the-top antics. He does a good job as the tortured soul struggling with the madness inside.

Peter Fonda has been replaced with Cirian Hinds in this film, playing Roarke, a.k.a. Mephisto. I’ve been a fan of Hinds ever since his role as Caesar in Rome, and I’m pretty sure he can do no wrong in my eyes. He does a good job with the Machiavellian demon who is subtly but brutally evil, and looking for a body in which he can use his powers unfettered by mortal weaknesses. Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan do a good job as Nadya and Danny, the objects of Roarke’s desire, and I rather enjoyed Idris Elba as Moreau, Johnny’s sidekick and spiritual guide in this outing.  There’s an amusing exchange between him and Johnny, where Moreau has been waiting for years to uncork a 2,000-year-old bottle of wine, and when he does and drinks he says, “Not bad!” and passes it to Johnny, who takes a drink, makes a face, and says, “That might be decent on a salad.”  So the interplay between characters in some places is pretty well-done.

I also rather enjoyed seeing Anthony Head and Christopher Lambert on screen; both are always fun.

In the end, I think that the cast, for the most part, did the best job they could with the script with which they had to work.  And the script itself is not all bad—it has some intriguing elements in it, like the revelations about the nature of the demon inside of Johnny, which I won’t reveal as they are spoileriffic.

The Bad
Unfortunately, despite a few good elements, the script for this flick is pretty bad overall.  Not awful, per se, but incredibly “blah,” and somewhat schizophrenic.  It’s also really problematic if you’re a fan of the first film, as it patently ignores important story elements set forth in the first movie. For example, at the end of the first film, Mephisto offers to remove Johnny’s curse, and he refuses; yet, at the beginning of the second film he’s in Europe and we’re told that he’s stuck with this curse that he’s desperate to get rid of ever since he chose to sign his soul away, which, he says, he did out of selfishness.  In the first film, he accidentally sells his soul out of love.

Perhaps even worse than ignoring the first film’s story is the fact that the storyline is just tired. We’ve all seen “son of Satan” stories a million times, which isn’t to say you can’t pull one off.  The problem is, if you’re going to do it, you need to go all out with it, and this film just doesn’t.  The story’s presentation is rote and contains very little to make it stand out from other films featuring similar ideas. It seems almost like the screenwriter just mailed it in after they’d gotten one too many studio executive notes. Indeed, coming from David S. Goyer, I’d expect more.  I mean, this is the guy who gave us Dark City, Blade, and Batman Begins.  To be fair, he’s also given us Blade: Trinity and The Crow: City of Angels, so his track record isn’t 100%.

In any case, the storyline is poor in this film, full of clichés and lazy writing, and ignoring major elements from the first film to set up its story, rather than incorporating such elements within the story.

Finally, the use of Blackout in this film is wasted. He comes off as a second-string player at best, and he doesn’t really accomplish anything as a bad guy, when you know that Satan is standing right behind him in the shadows all the time.

The Ugly
The visuals in this film are as lazy and mailed-in as the screenplay.  While I’m sure part of it is that the projection was pretty awful in the theater where I saw the film, the actual visual style of the film itself is schizophrenic and can’t decide whether it wants to emulate Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, or David Lynch. The presentation of Blackout’s powers over darkness is randomly psychedelic and cheap, and the use of Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare is absolutely nonexistent.  That’s not to say that the Rider never uses the power…just that there’s no visual to show it working, and since it’s used on glorified extras for the most part, the actors aren’t good enough to really express what the stare does to a person. At times it feels like the directors are trying to emulate the other Marvel films in the style of Raimi or Singer (which are quite divergent directorial styles to begin with), and then someone will use a power or there’ll be a dark effects scene and the whole thing shifts to something out of Wild at Heart. The editing is straightforward and no frills.  There’s very little of any kind of fingerprint or signature on this movie that shows a commitment to the project.  I admit to being utterly unfamiliar with the other efforts of Neveldine/Taylor, so it’s possible that all of their films are like this; I couldn’t say for sure.  A quick scan of their credits reveals pretty much all films that have been universally panned by critics and fans alike.

Again, this isn’t to say that the visuals are bad.  They’re just mediocre.  They are no-frills, straightforward, and utterly un-engaging. Superhero films—even dark ones—need spectacle, and Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t deliver.  Given the low overall budget, my guess is that the whole FX budget was spent on the Rider effects, with precious little left to spend on the rest of the film’s look.

Summary and Conclusion
There is absolutely nothing special about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This film reminds me of the kind of made-for-TV miniseries that used to run on Saturday afternoons during the “Action Pack” hour alongside The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, and Vanishing Son. That is to say, if you’re sitting at home on Saturday afternoon and this comes on cable, there’s worse ways to waste your time, but it was a very poor effort for Marvel, and a shame to see it likely be the nail in the coffin of the Ghost Rider franchise.  I wasn’t sorry to have paid a buck to see it, but had I paid full price first-run I may have been a bit irritated.

I didn’t hate this flick, but there’s very few flicks I hate.  I also very much did not love it.  Catch it on cable for free if you can, or Netflix it if you’ve got nothing better in your queue.

Rating: 2 out of 5 kernels.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Jonathan Liebesman's Wrath of the Titans


Let’s face it: I know you’ve all been dying to have me review Wrath of the TitansI know; I hear your cries of desperate desire, and I throw myself in front of the bus for you.

So here’s how it happened: Yesterday morning, for some odd reason, I was struck with an overwhelming desire to be sitting at the café at Barnes & Noble. No idea why, but it stuck with me all day.  So after work yesterday I decided to head down to the Waterfront to do just that, and maybe get some writing done.  For those not from Pittsburgh, the Waterfront is a development that contains a huge shopping plaza there.  I hesitate to call it a strip mall because it’s really not a strip.  It’s more like a full-on mall, just not in a building. There is an AMC Lowe’s movie theater there, which while the most expensive theater in the area, also has the best projection, the biggest screens, it’s just the highest quality theater in the area.  In addition, there’s tons of boutiques, clothing stores, Starbucks (obviously) a ton of bars and restaurants, comedy clubs, even department stores (Macy’s, Target, Lowe’s Home Improvement), as well as Barnes & Noble.

So I kicked around B&N for awhile, took a seat with some coffee, and tried to write.  However, as I discuss over here, I just couldn’t get the words out, so I ended up doing a brief blog post about it, then sat, frustrated, as I finished my coffee.  At some point I decided on the spur of the moment to go see a movie.  Yes, it’s true, though it doesn’t happen that often, I have no problem going to see a movie by myself.

Walked over to the AMC and scanned the marquis.  It was either see The Hunger Games again (which was tempting), or see something I could review.  The only two remotely viable options for that seemed to be Mirror, Mirror or Wrath of the Titans. I couldn’t bring myself to go see the former, as it just looks really horrible. I’m holding out for Snow White and the Huntsman for my grown-up fairy tale fix. Wrath at least seemed like it might be a spectacle.  So that got the call, and $21 later ($7.50 for the ticket, $13.50 for the Overpriced Popcorn), I’m in the theater with a large popcorn and large drink.

Before I start, let me just say that finally getting to see the trailer for The Hobbit on the big screen was worth the $7.50 ticket to me.  Also, I did not spring for iMAX or 3D on this one—I got bit by the bad 3D on the Clash of the Titans remake, so I didn’t risk it for this one. Part of me wishes I had.

As a quick pre-review summary, I wasn’t overwhelmed by this movie, but nor was I really sorry I saw it. I find the idea of a brand spanking new sequel to a remake to be intriguing.  I can’t think of any other property where this has been done (though I’m sure they’re out there). One could argue that The Fly II and Halloween II were that, but I’d argue that these were at least nominal remakes in their own right of Son of the Fly and Halloween II, respectively. The Dark Knight? Again, I don’t think it counts thematically, given that there have been multiple Batman series in the past, and Batman Begins as such doesn’t really count as a remake, per se. Hopefully you get my point. I guess a few screwball comedies like Cheaper by the Dozen or Father of the Bride might count…

Should you see this film? Yeah, I guess I can recommend it if you’re looking for a night out with little else to do.  It’s not a must-see by any stretch.  I think that if you see it on the big screen, I’d spring for the iMAX 3D presentation, just to enhance the experience; otherwise it can probably wait for video.

So without further ado, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Jonathan Liebesman’s Wrath of the Titans.

The Good
It occurs to me that if you’re into fantasy and particularly fantasy gaming, this isn’t a half-bad D&D film. The story, while pretty rote, is easy to follow and interesting enough to carry you through the flick: the idea (sans any real spoilers) is that the power of the gods is waning. Indeed, they are flat-out dying.  This is due to the fact that mankind is turning away from the gods, and since gods need prayer to have power, their power is waning and with it, their immortality.  Since the gods are losing power, the walls of Tartarus are breaking. Tartarus is presented as a kind of Hell dimension, wherein are imprisoned the Titans, the forebears of the Greek gods. Most dangerous among these is Kronos, the head Titan and father of the major Greek Gods.  If Kronos escapes, he could bring about the end of the world.  The only thing that can stop him is a combination of three weapons forged by Hephaestus and held by Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, respectively. But since the gods are weak, Zeus goes to find his son Perseus to help them out. Perseus, who has been quietly living as a fisherman for ten years with his son Helios (his wife Io died in childbirth) wants no part of it. Of course, when danger shows up on his doorstep, Perseus answers the call, and thus begins an epic quest into the underworld to save not only the gods, but all of mankind.

While it plays extremely fast and loose with Greek mythology (keeping pretty much only names and a few basic concepts), the story is fun and engaging enough.

By far the highlight of the film for me was Bill Nighy’s performance as Hephaestus.  He sinks his teeth into the role with a great deal of relish, and plays the god as a half-mad fallen deity who talks to his broken inventions and is only barely in the world anymore. Nighy is great in almost anything, and his performance in Wrath is no exception—he steals almost every scene he’s in and watching him play the role alone is almost worth the price of admission.  I wish I could say as much for the rest of the cast. Toby Kebbell’s performance as Agenor is also quite entertaining; he plays the role of your typical D&D rogue extremely well.

The Bad
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast’s performances are not as impressive as Nighy and Kebbell.  The film for the most part plays out like the cast signed on and then was handed a disappointing script that they were contractually obligated to perform. The performances, by and large, seem mailed in.  Liam Neeson as Zeus says most of his lines with very little emotion; this I suspect is partially due to the fact that the gods are supposed to lack human emotion (his character is constantly taunted by others to “cry like a mortal”), but it ends up just feeling flat.  This type of delivery extends to the “mortals” in the cast, and as such there is no emotional impact whatsoever in a scene at the end of the film that should really be a tear-jerker.  Likewise, the love story between Perseus and Andromeda comes off about as stilted and out of the blue as that between Aragorn and Arwen in the Lord of the Rings novel.

Ooooh, I know: that’s going to get me in a lot of trouble with Lord of the Rings fans, but let’s face it: as classic as that novel was, writing a love story was NOT Tolkien’s strong suit, and Arwen really doesn’t even show up till 2/3 of the way through Return of the King. Hers and Aragorn’s story is never developed in the novel proper, only in the appendices, which you read after the novel. It’s similar here: the love between Perseus and Andromeda isn’t really developed or explored—it just kind of happens in the last 10 minutes of the film, as an afterthought.  Indeed, it’s almost like someone at the studio saw a rough cut, and went, “You’d better have Perseus kiss a girl—how about Andromeda?  Isn’t he supposed to end up with her anyway?”

The story itself, as interesting as it is, also has some pretty major inconsistencies, such as villains suddenly turning good (including a very bad Star Wars ripoff line—“I know there is still good in you; I feel it”) for no apparent reason; as such the sudden rise of the heroic former villain comes off with little punch, though it does lead to some fun to watch sequences.  Also, Bubo from the original shows up again, but this time he’s somehow been miraculously transported to Hepaestus’ lair and forms a sort of idol with which Hephaestus argues (though being broken down, Bubo doesn’t argue back).

Length and pacing are another downfall here.  For a special effects spectacular, the movie was quite short, clocking in at just over 90 minutes. Some critics feel this is a benefit; I personally would rather see a 3-hour epic, given how much I pay for movies these days.  And yet, even for as short as the film is, it really does drag in some places.  There’s not nearly enough fighting in this movie; there’s a lot of classic D&D-style dungeon traps and running, though.  I kept thinking of Doctor Who while watching it: “We ran, you and me.  Didn’t we run?”

My final “the Bad” is about the gods themselves—specifically, There weren’t enough of them. What happened to all of them?  We’re told early on that they’re dying off, or at least becoming mortal, and at one point Hephaestus says that Andromeda reminds him of Aphrodite, but we never see Aphrodite. Or Hera. Or Apollo.  Or Hermes. Or Athena. Athena, for cripes’ sake!  If ever there was a need for a goddess like Athena, it was in this movie, though I can’t say why without revealing major spoilers.  I would’ve liked to see more gods.

Oh, and also: why is it that every single female lead role has to be a badass these days? Did we really have to make Andromeda a warrior for her to be a strong character? Wouldn’t her being a wise and powerful queen be enough? I’m just saying, there’s plenty of ways to create strong female characters without making them all wear armor and expertly wield swords.

The Ugly
Wow, there’s a lot of FX in this movie.  As I said earlier, I’m kind of sorry I didn’t pay for the 3D, as this flick was clearly made to take advantage of 3D effects; there are sequences left and right that probably look awesome in 3D, and while they are of the, “camera zooms through a tunnel” gimmick, they aren’t of the stupid, “someone throws something at the audience” gimmick that I hate. For the most part the effects look very cool; the Chimeras look great, the erupting volcano and Kronos effects are cool, the look of the gods’ powers looks great.  My only complaint about the effects are the Cyclopses, which look very CGI.

The camera work in this film is a bit frenetic and schizophrenic, jumping between standard Steadicam and “documentary-style” handheld shots.  The latter are not well done at all and during the initial Chimera battle at the beginning I had to close my eyes a couple times to avoid getting dizzy and ward off headaches from the sheer motion of the camera. Seriously, I didn’t even get sick watching Cloverfield, but that scene in Wrath gave me a pretty hardcore case of motion sickness, and during a scene I really wanted to enjoy.

Overall the fight scenes are well done, action-oriented and easy to follow and get into, and it’s in the fight scenes that the film shines.  These are well-choreographed, expertly shot and edited, and the performances during the battles are as good as they get in the film.

Aside from the frenetic camera work in the handheld sequences which added to a degree of visual schizophrenia, I don’t have a whole lot of problem with the look of the film overall.  Again, since it seems to have been shot specifically to take advantage of the 3D effects, and I didn’t see it in 3D it’s really hard to give a good, complete breakdown.  I do feel that it loses something if you don’t see it in 3D, which in and of itself could be problematic. 3D used properly should enhance a film, but the film shouldn’t rely upon it for its visuals, and I suspect that Wrath does, in many ways.

Conclusion and Summary
Liebesman had something of an Herculean task (pun intended) with this film: it’s no small thing to attempt a brand new sequel to a film that was a remake, and a film that, while it made a lot of money, was also pretty universally panned by critics and audiences alike. So I give him absolutely an “A” for effort, here.  It was definitely an intriguing experiment, and it does succeed to a degree, though certainly it is not a universal success. Flat performances by most of the cast, combined with schizophrenic camerawork and an over-reliance on 3D FX detract from stellar performances by Bill Nighy and Toby Kebbell and a fun Dungeons-&-Dragons-like plot.  I can recommend this film as a moderately engaging time-killer, but if you see it in the theater make sure you’ve got money to burn because it’s only worth a theater jaunt if you’re going to see it in 3D IMAX, which between the ticket and the Overpriced Popcorn is rather expensive. Otherwise, catch it on HBO.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Popcorns.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Things I Don't Hate on Principle: Michael Bay and Remakes

There’s a lot of things and people in the film industry right now that it’s become somewhat chic to hate.  For many of them, there’s strong and valid reasons to hate them. However, I’d like to post in defense of a few things.

First up, Michael Bay.  People—especially those in the SF/F fan community—love to hate Michael Bay.  Yet, his movies make millions upon millions of dollars and to my mind the hatred of him seems unreasoning. I’m going to go out on a limb that will likely place me at odds with the rest of the geek community and say I actually dig Michael Bay.  Unlike many, when I hear he’s attached to a film, especially a licensed project, my first reaction is usually “thank God.” I’ll admit to some (pretty serious) trepidation about his altering of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be aliens rather than earthly mutants, but in the end I think raging about it because the word “mutant” is in the title is foolish, and it doesn’t mean that the film is going to suck. Indeed, if you are a fan of the original comic, you’ll recall that the turtles were mutated in the first place…by alien goo from T.C.R.I. – the Techno-Cosmic Research Institute, which was operated by the Utroms, who were stranded on Earth and seeking a way to get home. What if, in Bay’s script, the Turtles come from a species of mutant turtles that were harvested by the Utroms for experimental purposes?  This would preserve their status as mutants and maintain some faithfulness to the original idea behind them.  Of course, since there’s not even a finalized script for this flick yet, the “alien” thing could’ve been an off-the-cuff remark by Bay that won’t even see the light of day.

In any case, I think Bay did a great job with the Transformers franchise—the second one was the weakest of the three, but I didn’t even hate that.  His remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street were, in my mind, quite good, and far superior to Rob Zombie’s hack-job abortion of a Halloween remake.  Yes, I’m aware he didn’t direct those three, but he was directly involved and is often thought of as responsible for the creative direction of those remakes. If nothing else, Bay knows how to make a huge blockbuster that is a lot of fun to watch, and isn’t that, in the end, what movies are for? To be fun to watch? We spend far too much time these days looking for some sort of reason to pick films apart: there’s not enough character development, the plot isn’t as deep as War and Peace. It’s not faithful enough to the source material.  I think a lot of the time people need to just shut off their brains, suck down some popcorn, and enjoy what’s going on in the larger-than-life spectacle on screen. I have defended such films as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and the Star Wars prequels on this exact argument: so what if the dialogue was bad? They were fun to watch if you weren’t looking for something wrong with them.

This brings me to the next hated trend in Hollywood: the reboot/remake trend.

I’m not even going to try to defend this as a trend: it’s tired, played out, and irritating.  Not everything needs to be remade, especially given how bad some of these remakes are.  The aforementioned Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is a prime example of a piss-poor remake - it strips Michael Myers of all of his fear-factor by spending an hour showing us how the poor kid was abused by his father who also raped his mother, and driven to madness and psychosis was something for which Zombie should be punched. I don’t want to feel bad for Michael Myers.  I don’t want to understand his psyche.  The entire point of Michael Myers was that there is no psyche to understand.  He is evil.  Pure, unadulterated, unstoppable evil.  Loomis says it in the original: “I met this six year old child with this blind pale emotionless face and the blackest eyes. The devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply...evil.”

On another angle, some of these reboots are completely unnecessary: the new Amazing Spider-Man is a prime example.  While I am forced to grudgingly admit that the flick looks like it’s going to be really good (and I like that they’re going back to the mechanical web shooters), there was no reason to reboot the series this soon. Because Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst walked away is fairly meaningless in the long run. They could very easily have re-cast the main roles and moved forward with the continuity. There’s no reason they couldn’t have done the Curt Connors/Lizard story or Peter’s parents as government spies storylines without re-telling the kid’s entire back story.

So yes, it’s high time Hollywood started taking a risk on new ideas again and stopped playing it safe.  However, one can see why they would be loathe to do so in today’s market. Movies are getting ever more expensive to make as well as to see and it certainly doesn’t help that a lot of the new ideas that are being made simply bomb at the box office.  This, however, all-too-often goes right back to the studios’ fear of new ideas. They sabotage themselves by failing to really market fresh movies—my earlier blog that discussed predicting movie failure through trailers is an example of this. Studios sink a budget (often, but not always, a fairly small one) into a new idea for a movie. The movie gets made, and someone decides it’s not worth marketing, so they put out a slap-dash trailer which advertises the film’s title and release date at the top of the screen throughout the entire two minutes in hopes that people will notice it—unfortunately, what people notice is that these trailers look cheap and they don’t bother to see the movies. Since no other marketing budget is proffered, the film sinks like a stone. It’s self-sabotage at its best. Granted, some of these movies are pretty bad, but not all: that John Carter had absolutely no marketing at all aside from those bad trailers was criminal. If ever a film was ripe for a McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, a toy line, and every other form of marketing you can think of for a sci-fi epic, it was that one.  So Hollywood fails itself by poorly marketed self-sabotage, then points its finger at its own failures and says, “See? This is why we stick with safe properties.”

That being said, some remakes are actually quite good, and the inspiration for this blog was seeing the trailer for the new Total Recall. I admit, I’m really looking forward to this. Many have said “Arnold did it better,” and I’m afraid I have to disagree with that statement just on principle. It’s not as though Schwarzenegger is a remotely good actor. He plays himself in everything.  The cast in the new flick, which includes Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, and Colin Farrell, is pretty top-notch.  I’m really looking forward to this film as I’m a fan of Colin Farrell and, well, I’ll go to see almost any movie that includes Kate kicking ass. I’m shallow that way (and fortunately, so is my wife). As I said earlier, Bay’s reworking of the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were in my opinion quite good.  I enjoyed Universal’s remake of The Wolf Man as well, except for the obligatory and gratuitous werewolf-on-werewolf battle at the end.  And to tell the truth, if Hollywood is going to remake movies, I’d rather see them go back farther than the 80’s.  Grab some old Hammer horror films and give them a big-budget treatment.  Hell, remake The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and give it a full-on Lovecraftian twist. That’d be pretty cool.  And for the love of God, everything old doesn’t need to be redone with camp. I’m really hoping the trailers we’re seeing for Dark Shadows are misleading as far as the level of slapstick that Burton has put into it (though as an avowed hater of Tim Burton I don’t have high hopes). What they’ve done with the 21 Jump Street movie makes me sick to my stomach. One of the more underrated big screen treatments of a classic property over the past ten years, in my not-so-humble opinion, was the treatment of Miami Vice, which I thought was pretty awesome.  I also thought that the A-Team movie was pretty top-notch, faithful to the source material, just right for the over-the-top action, the humor appropriate without being farcical, and the characters well-translated.  

In short, if you take a classic property seriously, you can do a good big-screen treatment of it. Any screenwriter who says, “when dealing with a licensed property, I generally scan the book really quick, then throw it away because I don’t want to be distracted by what the writer originally wanted,” shouldn’t be allowed to adapt properties. Ever. While you need to make changes to a print or even classic screen project to translate it for the modern movie audience, being openly dismissive of the original is a bad position from which to start.  I forget who it was who I read recently said that—I think it was the guy who is adapting Catching Fire for the screen (and thankfully, he was mandated to stick to the text in this case), but I remember it pissed me off.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. My point is, don’t hate remakes instantly just because they’re remakes.  Yes, the trend is irritating, but many of these remakes are really quite good and well-worth seeing.  I just believe in judging a film on its own merits, and not comparing it to what came before (except where obvious comparisons are invited for review purposes). It is possible to both compare a movie to its source, and judge it on its own merits. John Carter, for example, was woefully unfaithful to the original book, but was a brilliant science fantasy epic in its own right, and stuck to the mythology of Barsoom pretty well.