My Summer Box Office, 2011

(OCCASIONAL SPOILERS BELOW; IF IN DOUBT, DON’T READ)

***

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER 

(07/24 – 2:25 pm) 

Before I rant, let me say this, I liked it.

*stresses in the voice of Pee-Wee Herman* I Liked It !  LIKED It!

I definitely didn’t love it.  But I wasn’t too disappointed and didn’t leave bitter or feeling cheated or … ya know that funky feeling you get when you leave the theater after seeing a movie you just didn’t like at all ?   Like you need a shower ?  And a nap ?   Yea, it didn’t do that to me, thank Christ.

Now, moving forward, let me say this: being a definite improvement over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in the milieu of “Adventure” film, Joe Johnston’s movie of Captain America, is still essentially a kid’s movie.  A fun one, filled with toy tie-ins and heroics and general contrivance to facilitate serial-like adventure, the movie manages to hold its own magic, while still remaining slightly inferior to Johnston’s other comic book movie attempt, The Rocketeer.  Johnston’s 1991 film may have its flaws, but it manages to reach and move its audience a bit better, by successfully romanticizing adventure.

Next, this IS NOT a film that attempts to compete with Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards.  A wrong assumption I’ve read by many bloggers and critics, who are clearly disappointed that this was not a darker film.  I mean really dark — have you seen Inglorious Bastards ?  Holy shit, not even the same genre — or ballpark for that matter.

What Captain America is, is clearly an improvement over some of the other comic book movies you’ve seen [some this very summer,] as well as an improvement over many of the updated attempts at period serialized adventure you’ve seen over the years.  [In addition to the aforementioned Indiana Jones film, this film also seems to be a lot closer to the kind of film audiences were expecting in The Shadow (1994,) and The Phantom (1996).]  Just don’t expect to be wow’ed or try and take this movie too seriously.  This is a generic matinee, only filled with lots of high-tech CGI hi-jinks. One with a “watch carefully or you’ll miss it” moment, that attempts to cleverly tie its  mythology into Raiders of the Lost Ark; still the film to beat in this genre.   I reference the comment made by the Red Skull regarding Hitler searching for trinkets in the desert, in lieu of perusing bigger fish, so to speak.  

Next, it should be noted that there are certain … “resemblances” to the 1990 21st Century Film Corporation (not to be confused with 20th Century Fox — roflmao) release of Captain America.  Specifically: the lab where Cap is given his special serum is again entered via a Diner, and again the camera reveals the woman behind the counter has a gun handy.  There is the saboteur which attempts to kill Cap immediately after his creation.  There is Cap and the Red Skull on a catwalk together, there is this, there is that.  Some of these similarities are from the original comic book origin.  Some, are definitely not.  The point being, the filmmakers definitely viewed the 1990 version, and made themselves a list. 

As an aside, I should address that there are certain things which define this movie as inferior to a previous Marvel outing this summer, X-Men: First Class.  Namely the writing, which is clearly inferior.  The dialogue is at such a level that a kid with a writing hobby could easily have accomplished it.  [Probably not the fault of the credited writers, given that they were being instructed what to type by Development Executives.]  Also, the themes, while important, are barely visible in any mature way.  By this, I mean for example, the theme of patriotism.  It is nice to see a movie that is generally unafraid to show its patriotism.  Actually, it’s unavoidable; it’s all over Cap’s body — and that shield is a wonderful analogy for America as a County defending itself against attack, as opposed to a Country designed “to” attack.  But … it would have been more exciting to have seen these powerful ideas brought to the surface and lead to something other than comic book hijinks.  It would have been powerful to watch these ideas illustrated for the world.  Without being insulting to other Nations, and including them at their leisure.  To remind people everywhere what this Country stands for, how this Country started.  To remind them that it’s worth it to come here, unafraid and proud to be a citizen of the USA.  That they can be an American like any other, if they choose to be.  And if not, that we will still be there for them, to do what we can to stick up for the little guy.  No matter what.

It sounds ridiculous to some, even smelling of “Flag Waving.”  But where does concern over “Flag Waving” end, and remembering actual American principals vs. politically argued American principals begin ?  You see what I mean ?  Not only an intriguing conversation, but a wonderful core idea for a film called Captain America.       

And, of course, I’m leaving out the more modern invasion and infestation of crass commercialism now covering every nook and cranny of every Country in the known world.  Please forgive me for that, and try and remember, I’m trying to only reference ideals of the Nineteen-Forties, and attempting to demonstrate how they could have been made palpable in this film without too much controversy.  

End of Rant.

By the way, no one will blame you if you elect to forgo the typical Marvel “button” after the credits, which turned out to be nothing more and nothing less than a corporate product placement ad for another in-production movie, having very little to do with Captain America.  Just lots of very, very brief cuts, yelling out, “BUY OUR PRODUCT AGAIN !”

Yes, if feels like that much of an insult.  Yikes !    

I give it a solid B — for B-movie.  And three stars for effort and entertainment.  But it’s never going on the American Film Institute’s most important list.  Not gonna happen.  Could have … but didn’t.  I say this in advance, praying that the AFI list doesn’t yet again get longer.  We have to have standards, people.

***

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II 

(07/17 – 2:30 pm)

The spellbinding charms I learned from the “Last” Harry Potter film.

I was impressed, and enjoyed it quite a bit.  I read through comments in forums, and I have to agree that I would have liked to have seen a bit of Harry repairing his own wand with the elder wand before he destroyed it, along with the three girls going against Bellatrix — and the house elves fighting.  More intercutting during that whole prolonged sequence would have generated a better response from the audience.  And made certain deaths more dramatic and meaningful.  However — this is part II of an interlocking picture, and given what it is, I think it’s the best of the series. (Though my personal favorite will always be the first one)

I enjoyed the CGI; thought it was some of the best I’ve ever seen.  I did “not” see it in 3D, and am very happy I didn’t.  I hope the blu-ray has extended footage, allowing more time for the peripheral characters.  I still don’t understand why Malfoy’s mother said what she did when she leaned over Harry’s body.  I’ve read quite a bit of vitriolic argument on the net over this, but from my own p.o.v., it certainly didn’t sound like a question about Malfoy, but rather a question “put to” Malfoy himself.  And he wasn’t even there.

I wish John Willaims had scored it.  Nothing against De SPLAT, but his music just didn’t quite do it for me — especially at the end.  I didn’t buy the make-up, or CGI, or whatever that was they used to attempt to age the kids to “pushing forty”

It was a very involving story and very well produced, in my opinion.  And I am unexpectedly sad that it’s over.  I saw the first one not long after 9/11 and the magic of that children’s film really brought me back to life. Now they’ve graduated to a mainstream fantasy/thriller, and I think they’ve done it very well.   I give it an A- and four and a half stars !

Mischief managed.

***

CARS 2 

(06/26 – 2:25 pm)

Who’s driving these cars ??  That’s seriously all I kept thinking all the way through the movie.  I’m sure every five year old in the world enjoyed it.  There’s not really much else I want to say about this one.  Though I suspect even 6-year-olds were insulted by the generic mentality of this movie. 

I “would” consider this an embarrassment for Pixar, but truthfully, I don’t personally consider this their first misfire. 



***

GREEN LANTERN … Sort of 

(06/26 – around 4:30 pm)

You see that look on his face, that was the look on mine.  I stepped in after CARS 2 and watched the final 10 minutes of this one —  and normally, I would never comment this negatively or try and influence anyone’s opinion on that basis of that brief experience, but I’m sorry, that movie looked like a total steaming pile of shit to me.  Nuff said.

***

SUPER 8 

(06/19 – 2:00 pm)

Guess I should’ve known when the trailer used the music to Cocoon, and the fucking poster turned up sideways, that the movie would just be a gimmick.  I was dubious and rightfully so.  Marketed as an homage to Spielberg’s early work as a director, the actual film was an homage to movies Spielberg “Executive Produced” in the mid 1980’s — and that was oddly paired with a sort of prequel to the J.J. Abrams produced “found footage” film, Cloverfield.  A film I only saw once and on cable, and even that made me nauseous.  For more of my personal impressions and criticisms of Super 8, please click the highlighted link below.  And to get back here, just look in the calendar for August 25. 

UPDATE: 01/21/2012

Would it surprise you to hear that after watching this one on home video a couple of times, I’ve changed my mind about it a little ?  Well, I have.  As long as I watch it as a B-level Spielberg, or rather, the kind of movie that Steven produced in the mid 1980’s … I seem to fall right into it and enjoy it just as much as anyone else who liked it.  Not sure what that says about me, or what is says about the movie, but I believe in being honest about these things and the truth is the truth.  It’s grown on me. 

https://jamesallder.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/super-8-aint-all-that-super-dammit/

***

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

(06/12 – 2:10 pm) 

Completely took me by surprise.  I went in to see this one, expecting little more than another X:-Men: Origins – Wolverine.  That one was a real piece of useless cinema.  But Wolverine certainly cheered me up.  Probably cheered up every wannabe filmmaker alive, as a matter of fact.  Given how bad it was, “we” were most likely the only ones in the audience not entirely dissatisfied with that experience.  But forget about the Wolverine movie. 

Matthew (Kick Ass) Vaughn’s X-Men prequel is filled with enough verve and humor, and just enough creativity, that it was legitimately (in my opinion) the best of the big summer movies.  And it has a good lineage.  There is ample evidence in previous 1990’s interviews that this was the story that Bryan Singer wanted to tell with the original X-Men movie, but he eventually wound up being overruled on it.  Which is fine, really.  His initial film was good enough and served its purpose.  And he had quite a bit more fun, and a lot more creative control with X2, anyway.  And that pic worked out just fine.  But this prequel, is … distinctive.  It stands on its own, and while it doesn’t really reinvent the X-Men movies, it nonetheless acknowledges the universe, before rocketing off on its own tangent.  Like a good comic book ! 

I’ve read about complaints over January (Mad Men) Jones’ performance, as Emma Frost.  I don’t completely understand their protest.  I mean, she was playing an aesthetic character and did what she was told.  Why the F would you blame her ?  And besides, within the context of the story, her performance works fine.  The same can be said for Kevin Bacon.  Not the best performance of his career, but he did what he did well, and what he did was dictated by the screenplay.  So wtf is the problem??  

Among the stand outs, there is of course Jennifer Lawrence, a really too-sexy kid — also in the upcoming film, The Hunger Games — who was really well cast in this as the young Mystique.  (Who’s character btw turns out to be a lot older in the original X-Men film than her appearance would lead you to believe.)  Then, there was James McAvoy as the young Professor X, and Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto.  Two men who clearly started out as friends, and due to diverging sociopolitical stances, became enemies.  And there are cameos by Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn.  Both of which are really well timed; come out of nowhere in fact, and serve their purpose without being superfluous.

My favorite scene was easily Eric’s killing of the German’s in the bar.  Very effective.  And sadistically funny, given what he experienced as a child.  The movie actually begins as more of a film and becomes a “comic book movie” along the way.  And this helps.  Some of the more comic bookey stuff seems to build exponentially, and with greater impact, as a result. 

Loved the devilish Azrael character, the way the 60’s era in general was portrayed (some critics likened this to the 60’s Bond films,) some great montage’s, and a really wonderful music queue at the closing credits. Which was well primed — and leaves you wanting a sequel, specifically about Magneto.  (This film began in development as a stand alone Magneto movie, before they merged it with Singer’s original 60’s script for X-Men, and voila.)  

Like I said, I really liked it.  As comic book movies go, this is easily one of the best.  A real Godsend.   

***

THOR

(Sometime in May; Lost the Ticket)

I’m still not sure what to make of this one.  It felt like one-part Epic comic-book movie, and two parts circa 1999 made-for-Sci-Fi Channel TV movie.

I do have a feeling that my opinion of it will improve (mainly because I saw it in 3D and the 3D was really bad,) but I don’t think it could ever improve by much.  It just isn’t a very good movie.  And my suspicion is that over time, everyone who gave it a recommendation will figure this out on their own.  Personally, I felt all the way through it that there was a much better movie in there somewhere, so maybe the deleted scenes on the home video package will reveal the filmmaker’s original intentions.  Shit, I dunno, maybe not.

Director Kenneth (Dead Again) Branaugh’s rolling in his grave, guy’s not even dead yet.  It seems to be a conceit among filmmakers now that if it’s a “comic book” movie, then the bad cliche’s rapidly associated with such films are the norm, to be accepted, and possibly even to be intentionally placed among the DNA of the film.  And even “Valley Girls” are utterly horrified by that.  “Like Oh Ma God, they’re just gonna keep making STUPID comic-book movies, when they could be making GOOD comic-book movies; Like Oh Ma God !”

The film had a few scant attributes.  I’m told it was much more atmospheric in 2D.  And there was some humor and storytelling involved.  But I myself noted the clone-like appearance of a film, which simply looks and feels too much like other comic book movies of late.  In fact, a lot of the Marvel stuff now seems to be, as Corporate America would put it, “on the same page.”  And that is killing these things, whether they realize it or not.  The bottom is gonna drop out of this cash cow, trust me.  The public will have enough and stay away in protest, or someone will provide a more worthwhile replacement.  i.e. another studio with another tent-pole franchise, or lo and behold SOMETHING NEW !  Hey !  That would be nice.

I haven’t heard whether or not the kids liked it.  And that’s really the acid test.  And from what I saw, the toys didn’t sell really well.  But then neither did the toys for Captain America or Green Lantern.

***

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES 

(May, Lost Another Ticket)

Just about everyone who went to see this movie had high hopes.  Will this make up for the over-bloated contrived plotage of the previous 2 sequels ?  Will it be more Captain Jack Sparrow and less those two kids nobody really ever gave a shit about to begin with ?  Will it be as clever and inventive as the initial film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl?

The answers to these questions were not what many had hoped — BUT, to be fair, there is plenty of argument on the topic of this movie.  Quite a few people liked it.  That’s obvious by the fact that it made a billion bucks worldwide.  And it is filled with some great set pieces.  The problem is that they are all linked together by an all-too-thin storyline, without much purpose, or meaning, or relevance, or consideration for the audience’s intelligence, or even random common sense.  It’s a very contrived movie.  Not too complex, mind you.  Just not a focused story.

Johnny Depp is adequate here, though he doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of his character.  Probably something he was intrinsically aware of.  He initially demurred when asked if he’d already signed to do a 5th one, citing concern over the quality of the “story” for a fifth film.  Smart guy.  There’s also an issue with questions the audience still has which have yet to be answered.  This film would have been a perfect opportunity to answer those questions — that in fact, could have been the story.  What’s with that compass ??  Why is the Black Pearl Captain Jack’s beloved ship ??  What is the secret behind that ship, where did he get it, and why does he always want it back, as opposed to just stealing a new one ?  Where are all the rest of the pirates we’ve read about.  Yea, ya showed us Blackbeard, but can you explain the absence of others ?

Reportedly, the movie was based on a Pirate novel, titled “On Stranger Tides,” and material in the book was adapted to the already existing Pirates of the Caribbean Universe.  And it’s obvious that the adaptation didn’t go quite as planned.  ROFL  There’s no real sense of drama in this movie, mainly because the mentality is that of a story in which the plot and character relationships play second banana to the happenings on the screen — which are mostly dumb action.   In fact, with the exception of the aforementioned set pieces and the mermaids, the story is … pretty lame.  Still a step up from Indy 4, but not by much.  Captain America had more of an actual story than this film did.   And Captain America seemed to go by really fast without much happening at all.

These movies all have the same primary issue in common: lack of depth.  There’s no real reason for the movie to exist, other than commerce.  The filmmakers aren’t really into it; they’re into a paycheck.  And the audience gets left holding the responsibility of “pretending” that this is enough to entertain and fill them up.  Which many fanboys and people who power-watch too much TV are more than happy to do.  The rest of us, are just left hanging.  In want of a much better movie, and leaving the theater with that sluggish, drunken, dazed feeling, like we’ve just given blood.

Probably play endlessly on cable TV, because that’s mainly what it feels like.  More bad TV.

***

COWBOYS & ALIENS 

(Blew It Off, Completely)

Nope.  I did not eat green eggs and ham, I did not …    Sorry, I can’t think of anything that rhymes with that offhand, and I really don’t care to labor on it.   Which begs a greater question.

My disinterest in this movie, is very much a curiosity to me.  Why didn’t I want to see it ?

I wrote a western.  At the very least, you’d think I would be more willing to watch the film.  If only to write a review and cross-post my blog on other websites for better traffic, and hence, more publicity for my book.  But when the time came, I just did not want to watch Cowboys & Aliens.  And I don’t really know why.  In fact, I wrote an entire blog post on it: https://jamesallder.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/why-is-cowboys-aliens-not-doing-better/

And as I told others, I will probably see it when it airs on the USA Channel, or TNT.  Mainly to study the film, against it’s marketing campaign.  And that will be just fine.  However, I was surprised that the same audiences who paid to watch certain other films in previous summers, which I won’t name (which I thought were shit,) — also chose not to see it.

Most of the people I talked to who saw it, liked it.  So what happened ??

I still don’t know the answer to that one.

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