Monthly Archive for May, 2012

Melancholia

Melancholia (5/31/12) Netflix (2011 ***) Written and directed by Lars von Trier, starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland and Alexander Skarsgård. Chronic depressive Justine and her sister Claire face the extinction of mankind thanks to an errant planet named “Melancholia.” This is a challenging film to review, and whether I’d recommend it or not would absolutely depend on the psychological makeup of the individual. In other words, it’s not for everyone. The film begins with several minutes of super-slow-motion images that are haunting and visually stunning. The story structure of the film is unusual, in that it is divided into two halves entitled “Justine” and “Claire.” Each half takes as its point of view character one of the two sisters. In spite of the pending destruction of the earth, there are long stretches that are fairly dull. The first half, in which Justine (Dunst) gets married and “puts on a happy face” while simultaneously experiencing a crippling depressive episode, contains some sub-plots that don’t quite seem to contribute to the thematic whole. For some, Lars Von Trier’s film will undoubtedly offer a complex, respect-worthy, non-Hollywood-ending experience with lots of familiar faces. For others, it will undoubtedly be a slow-moving, yawn-inducing bumfest. As for myself, I found myself caught somewhere in-between. This is one of those films you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Glee, Season 3

Glee, Season 3 (5/31/12) TV-FOX (2011-2012 ***1/4) Series created by Ian Brennan, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, starring Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Jane Lynch. 22 episodes, originally aired 9/20/11 – 5/22/12. Spanish teacher Will Schuester and acerbic cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester team up to lead McKinley High’s “Gleeks” to compete in a national show choir competition. The dramatic core of Glee‘s third season was that about half its cast of characters were graduating seniors. What would they do after high school? Would Rachel and Kurt get into NYADA? Would Puck and Brittany even graduate? Would those characters moving on from high school also leave the show? For me, this show — which has a far younger target demographic than I fit into — has always been a guilty pleasure in exactly the same way that kept me watching Smallville, only with music instead of angsty teen superheroes. I’ve got to be honest: The quality of this season was a bit of a roller coaster, with a lot of lows. The episodes started to feel pretty “samey” and I either lost interest or stopped caring about many of the characters and the musical drama that made up their lives. However, I’ve got to hand it to the show’s creators and writers. Somehow they really pulled it off toward the final four or five episodes and definitely ended the season on a strong and satisfying note. But with so many of the characters “moving on,” they’ve got their work cut out for them. Will they be able to keep my interest past, say episode five of season four? We’ll have to wait and see.

Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots (5/27/12) Blu-Ray (2011 ***) Directed by Chris Miller, featuring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis. Everybody’s favorite swashbuckling tabby teams up with Kitty Southpaws and Humpty Dumpty to kidnap the golden goose from its home in the clouds. I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t gotten around to watching Puss in Boots until now, long after its release. If it’s any consolation, I still haven’t gotten around to watching Rango, which beat Puss (and Kung Fu Panda 2) for the 2011 Oscar for Best Animated Film. And so, to my many friends and colleagues who worked on Puss in Boots, I apologize for taking so long to watch it… and for my middling 3-star review. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure I would have appreciated the film far more had I seen it in the theater. As it was, the smaller screen diminished the action and miniaturized the scope of the spectacle. But in my defense, I’d like to point out that while Banderas was as charming as ever, the story didn’t offer much in the way of a clear villain. And you know what they say: An animated film is only as good as its bad guy. And so, I’m afraid to report that in my absolutely, 100% objective opinion, my favorite animated film of 2011 (that I’ve seen) was… Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda 2. If you’re looking for a good… What? What’s that you say? How dare you impugn my critical objectivity! I assure you, the fact that Kung Fu Panda 2 (available on Blu-Ray and DVD) just happens to have my name in its credits… Well, that’s totally beside the point.

Men in Black III

Men in Black III (5/27/12) Beach Cities Arclight (2012 ****) Directed by Barry Sonnenfield, written by Etan Cohen, starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Jemaine Clement. When Boris the Animal escapes his lunar prison and erases Agent K from existence by killing his past self, Agent J must get “back in time” to the summer of 1969 to team up with young(-ish) Agent K to prevent his death. You know what? Summarizing time travel movies can sure be a challenge. My wife and I went into this film with modest expectations and we both really enjoyed it. In fact, we thought this Memorial Day-opening film deserved far more box office than it received. Unfortunately for the MiB gang, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers really cut into their business. What made the film especially good was that it followed one golden rule: If you’re going to tell a time-travel tale, you’ve got to make it work on an emotional level. Even though I saw the film’s third act “sucker punch” coming about an hour before it happened, it still packed a wallop. Another, related highlight of the film was Michael Stuhlbarg, who played a small role as Griffin, a man with the ability to see into the future of multiple parallel universes simultaneously. His gentle character was surprisingly touching. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying Men in Black III belongs on a double bill with To Kill a Mockingbird or anything, and it wasn’t quite as awesome as its Marvel franchise blockbuster competition, but it was still well worth the price of full-priced admission, even at Arclight-level ticket prices.

Flashpoint

Flashpoint (5/26/12) Comics (2011 ***1/4) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope. Originally published in Flashpoint #1-5. Barry Allen finds himself in a twisted parallel dystopian universe where he has no powers and everything has changed for the worse. I think I must still have a bad taste in my mouth from DC’s Blackest Night. Flashpoint has one of those “large in scope” storylines that could have easily been turned into yet another Geoff Johns / DC Comics / “gotta collect all fifty issues across sixteen titles” event, and I was so very thankful it was not. The premise was fun and felt fresh, offering a look at several DC characters in a new, alternate reality kind of light, particularly Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas Wayne as an older, Clint Eastwood-inspired Batman.

Rumor Has It…

Rumor Has It… (5/26/12) Netflix (2005 ***) Directed by Rob Reiner, written by Ted Griffin, starring Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Mark Ruffalo and Shirley MacLaine. On the eve of her sister’s wedding, a woman learns that her Pasadena family was the basis for a famous 1960s book and movie about a young “graduate” named Benjamin Braddock and an older woman named… Mrs. Robinson. Not many movies can get away with a plot involving a woman who may or may not have accidentally slept with her father. The only reason it didn’t get completely creepy was due primarily to the fact that the characters were played by Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner, two actors apparently coated with an invisible layer of “creep-factor-resistant Teflon.” Aniston’s likability was further demonstrated when her character cheated on her loyal and adoring fiancé (Ruffalo) without turning the audience against her. Shirley MacLaine was wonderful in a smaller but important role as the main character’s grandmother, the original inspiration for Mrs. Robinson. For his part as director, Rob Reiner seemed to be doing his best to deliver a commercial, popular romantic comedy. There was, however, a point during this film when I wondered aloud to my wife whether Reiner had Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in mind while directing Ruffalo and Aniston.

The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues

The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues (5/26/12) Comics (2011 ***1/2) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Francis Manapul and Scott Kolins. Originally published in The Flash #1-7 and The Flash Secret Files and Origins 2010. Barry Allen has returned from the grave… or the “Speed Force” or something, and he’s immediately accused of a murder he’s yet to commit by a group of 25th Century law officers that bear a strange resemblance to the rogues. After reading five volumes of Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and FF, Geoff Johns’ writing was a welcome relief. The storytelling and characterizations were clearly and authoritatively presented and there was a good balance between punch-ups and ongoing drama. I did get a sense that Johns was still trying to figure out what makes Barry Allen tick, but overall the story was a nice, easy ride.

FF by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 1: Tomorrow

FF by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 1: Tomorrow (5/25/12) Comics (2012 ***) Written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Steve Epting and Barry Kitson. Originally published in FF #1-5. Following the death of The Human Torch, The Fantastic Four expands its ranks (including one well-known webslinger) and rebrands itself as “The Future Foundation.” Its first mission: Joining forces with Dr. Doom, Diablo, The Wizard and other brainy villains to come up with a plan to defend their universe against a band of alternate reality Reed Richards…es. Except for the brooding Ben Grimm (who understandably blamed himself for Johnny Storm’s death), it was storytelling business as usual, not only for Reed and Sue, but also for Hickman. In other words, there were long stretches where nothing much seemed to really happen. One of my favorite moments in this collection came early on as Spider-Man was introduced to the FF’s new black and white costumes, which were made of “third generation unstable molecules.” But I gotta tell ya, even though they’re changeable, they’re still not nearly as cool-looking as the “simple but fantastic” classic blues designed by Jack Kirby.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 4: Three

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 4: Three (5/25/12) Comics (2011 ***1/4) Written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Steve Epting and Nick Dragotta, originally published in Fantastic Four #583-588. When the Fantastic Four’s forces are split between multiple catastrophies, the result is the death of one of them. (SPOILERS AHEAD) I found the well-publicized death of Johnny Storm, The Human Torch, torn apart by denizens of the Negative Zone, to be fairly unsatisfying, actually. The issue following that event was presented almost entirely sans dialogue. This is a gimmick Hickman had used at least once previously during his run. I wish I could say I thought it was effective. It may possibly have been more powerful in the hands of an artist with stronger storytelling skills. As it was, I was frequently unclear about what actions and emotions were being depicted.

Arthur

Arthur (5/25/12) HBO (2011 **1/2) Directed by Jason Winer, starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner and Greta Gerwig. A rich, irresistable, boozing playboy with a Batman fetish and a magnetic bed is in danger of losing his wealth unless he marries a woman he doesn’t love. While this wasn’t an unpleasant movie to watch, it was clear while watching it that there was no need to remake the 1981 Dudley Moore original. Much of the new film’s failure can be traced to its casting: Russell Brand (who seemed so destined for a meteoric rise to stardom) demonstrated in this film that his ability to carry a commercial film should be questioned. Helen Mirren, clearly the best actor in the film, delivered a fine performance but still suffered from the inevitable comparisons with John Gielgud, who won an Academy Award for the same role in the original. And finally, whose bright idea was it to cast relative unknown Greta Gerwig in the “quirky love interest” role originally played by Liza Minelli while simultaneously casting better-known Jennifer Garner in a lesser role? Not a particularly smooth move, Ex-Lax!