Thursday, January 10, 2013

Movie Guy: Once More Unto the Breach

Hey, gang, it's movie time again. Today I'm going to feature seven films I've watched (or re-watched) recently that are sequels, prequels, reboots, and retreads of familiar (and less familiar) material. Some are pretty successful in my opinion, some . . . less so.
So let's jump right in, shall we?

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
"Who's Bill Hicks?"
I was more than a little surprised to see that Spider-Man was getting a big-screen re-boot just five years after Spider-Man 3, especially when there are so many Marvel comics book characters who haven't made it to the screen yet: Doctor Strange, comes immediately to mind. However, that's not how it works for the movies these days. Sony owns the movie rights to Spider-Man, not Marvel, and the only other superhero Sony has is Ghost Rider. Since most of the major players had moved on (or had been moved on) from the previous Spider-Man series, and the third film had been so savaged by critics and fans alike (I liked it), a reboot seemed the best way to go, I guess.
I'd say it paid off pretty well, and not just at the box office. I'm a big fan of Emma Stone, and her Gwen Stacy is written far above your typical comic book damsel-in-distress. I also like Denis Leary much better as an actor than as a stand-up comedian ripping off Bill Hicks jokes. The film is well-made, well-acted, and the story evokes (similar to Spider-Man 2) the truth that always made Spider-Man my favorite comic book hero: at the end of the day, he's just a kid trying to do the right thing.
If you want to read about my theories on the shadowy figure in the after-credits scene, go here.

Dredd (2012)
"This helmet smells funny."
This is the second attempt to bring the ultra-violent comic book character Judge Dredd to the big screen, the first being the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version: Judge Dredd. This one more accurately conveys the feel of the comic book (garnering it an R rating). For those who've never read the comic or seen the 1995 version, it might be a little confusing, since the film starts without much explanation about what the Judges are, where and when the story takes place, or who Dredd is in the context of this world. However, that confusion would likely subside quickly as viewers are drawn into this gritty, nigh-anarchistic, dystopian future.
The effects are incredible. The violence is disturbing. (As it should be, right?) It is a curious choice, cinematically, to have Karl Urban, as Dredd, never remove his helmet throughout the film, but it is certainly accurate to the comic book. Thankfully, the writers got rid of the lovely Olivia Thirlby's helmet right away. (And she's more than lovely. She's very good in this.)
Good film, but not not not for the kiddies.

Men In Black 3 (2012)
"Make another 'dick-tation' joke. I bloody dare you."
So, what do you do when you have a sci-fi action-movie franchise you want to revive after 10 years but the elder of the two leads (Tommy Lee Jones) is now in his sixties? Concoct a time-travel story that takes the younger partner (Will Smith) back in time for an adventure with a younger version of his elder (Josh Brolin). I confess that I dismissed this sequel as gimmicky and unnecessary, and I really had no plans to see it anytime soon. However, upon the recommendation of a friend whose opinion I value, and with the discovery that this movie would feature one of my favorite English lasses (Alice Eve), I decided to give it a look.
It may be the best of the series.

The Expendables 2 (2012)
". . . and for a flaky crust, add a dash of apple cider
vinegar to the pie dough."
If you saw the first one, and you liked the first one, I cannot imagine that you will not also like this one. Testosterone-driven action sequences, lots of one-liners, extended cameos aplenty from classic action stars, and a sneering, evil villain (Van Damme): this is a near-perfect tribute to the high-octane action films of the 80s - perhaps even more so than its predecessor. It's just fun.
Bruce Willis gets all of the best quips, and he nails every one of them.

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009)
"Whichever of you is humming 'Darth Vader's Theme':
. . . louder."
This is the third Underworld film, but takes place well before the others. It takes the Vampires vs. Werewolves story into swashbuckling territory and explores an earlier story between Lucian (Michael Sheen), leader of the howlers, and Viktor (Bill Nighy), commander of the bloodsuckers. This chapter's main purpose seems to be to further muddy the waters about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this series, and I'm still undecided about whether that's a good  idea or a bad idea. Shakespeare it is not, but it is entertaining and, at times, moving. If you haven't seen any of the Underworld films but want to, do keep this one in the third position for viewing order. Even though it's a prequel, it really requires the context of the first two films, in my opinion, and could even give unwanted spoilers.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)
"Thicker than a Magnum,
Ace of Spades. . ."
The reasons for this semi-sequel without Matt Damon or director Paul Greengrass are as convoluted as the Bourne conspiracies of the stories. Basically, it looks to me like the studio wanted to make another Bourne film, wanted to find another movie vehicle for Jeremy Renner, and decided to kill two birds with one stone. So now we have a separate but parallel rogue agent from a separate but parallel black ops organization running for his life - at the same time as many of the events in The Bourne Ultimatum. I should really be annoyed that this film even exists, but I'm not. I really like Jeremy Renner, and his Aaron Cross is different enough from Damon's Matthew Bourne to avoid accusations of copycatting. In fact, this adds to the intrigue of the earlier films, and has me anxious for a "Bourne Conclusion" in which Bourne and Cross meet. I liked it. I have heard Matt Damon's criticism's of it, and I don't agree.

The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)
"This is a picture of my grand-daughter:
Blurry Quatermass."
Professor Bernard Quatermass was a British science fiction hero of the 1950s. Created by Nigel Kneale for the BBC, Quatermass protected the Earth against hostile alien threats again and again. Most of the  films and serials depicting Professor Q's exploits are next to impossible to find, but the 1979 revival/conclusion serial is available on DVD. This film is a 100-minute edited-down version of the four-part serial, in which a now elderly Quatermass is trying to find his missing granddaughter in a dystopian near-future London. The youth of the world have become either thugs or flower children cultists who worship some unknown force that they believe will carry them away to another planet. Professor Quatermass begins to suspect that what's happening is far more sinister.
The serial plodded along a bit at times, but the shorter movie skips over what I feel were fairly important plot elements, so it is difficult for me to recommend one version over the other. both have strengths and weaknesses. Sir John Mills is compelling as Quatermass and Simon MacCorkindale as astronomer Joe Kapp becomes his able sidekick - before his performance devolves into complete melodrama. I can recommend this - either the serial or the film - as more than just a curiosity, but . . . not much more.
As always, feel free to let me know what you think.

By the way, congratulations to Yale Stewart on the 100th strip of his brilliant comic JL8 (nee Little League) that imagines the Justice League as eight-year-olds. If you haven't checked it out yet, you really must. It's on Tumblr here.

And, for your listening pleasure, I found this live acoustic version of "Gifts and Curses" by Yellowcard. The original version was featured on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack and is sung from Peter Parker's perspective. (It's a favorite of mine.)

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