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The “Extended Cut” of Green Lantern Still Stinks

October 31st, 2011
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I was really disappointed by this summer’s Green Lantern.  I had high hopes for the epic space adventure promised by the trailers, but what we got instead was a lame, Earth-bound mess.  (Read my full review here.)

I wondered if the “Extended Cut” of the film released on DVD and blu-ray would address any of my criticisms of the film.  Sometimes I find that extended versions of films can really flesh out the stories and characters in a way that alters my opinion of a film that I had previously disliked.  Sadly, that is not the case here.

Basically, the only change made to Green Lantern in this new, longer version is an extended flashback, set at the beginning of the film, in which we get to see Hal, Carol, and Hector as kids, and we witness firsthand the death of Hal’s test-fighter pilot.  It’s a great sequence, and never should have been excised from the film.  It’s a much more coherent way of presenting this important back-story than the laughably ridiculous Airplane!-style stress-induced flashbacks that Hal gets, in the theatrical version, when trying to out-maneuver Ferris Airlines’ new pilot-less drones when we first meet him.  It also enables us to start the movie by sympathizing with Hal, which is far better than starting the movie thinking he’s a jerk the way we do in the theatrical cut.

After watching that long new introductory sequence, I was jazzed — this movie is already a whole lot better, I thought!  Sadly, if there were any further changes or extensions to the film after that point, I didn’t notice them.  The rest of the film is as turgid as before.  They even left-in the ridiculous flashbacks in Hal’s test-flight early in the film!!  That makes that whole sequence even MORE stupid than it was in the theatrical cut, when at least the flashbacks were presenting us with some new information.  In this version, we just saw ALL of those scenes literally minutes beforehand!!  Having to sit through those scenes again is beyond stupid.

But Green Lantern is afflicted by this sort of ham-handed story-telling from start-to-finish.  Take the whole introduction to the film, and the escape of Parallax (the film’s main villain).  We hear, in prologue, all about the Green Lantern Corps and about their great enemy, Parallax, who only the great Green Lantern Abin Sur was able to defeat, and imprison in something called “the Lost Sector.”  First of all, as much as I loved Geoffrey Rush’s voice in the narration, and the cool sci-fi imagery on display, I think telling the audience everything we need to know about the villain right off the bat deflates all … [continued]

 

Days of Terrence Malick (Part 1): The Thin Red Line (1998)

Terrence Malick directed two highly acclaimed films in the 1970′s (Badlands and Days of Heaven, neither of which I’ve seen, but I plan to remedy that soon — more on this later), and then he dropped out of sight for twenty years.  Mr. Malick finally returned to the world of filmmaking in 1998 with the release of The Thin Red Line, his lengthy adaptation of James Jones’ novel, set during the battles of Guadalcanal during World War II.

I had previously seen The Thin Red Line once, in theatres back in 1998.  It had nowhere near the effect on me that Steven Spielberg’s WWII film, Saving Private Ryan (which had been released earlier that year) did.  (I still remember my shell-shocked, emotionally drained reaction after seeing Saving Private Ryan in the theatre.  My friends and I sat silently in our seats for a good while after the film ended, and it took a while into the car-ride home before we began to unwind a bit and find ourselves able to discuss the film we’d seen.  These days I am well aware of the film’s narrative weaknesses and tendencies towards over-emotionalities, but I still bow before Mr. Spielberg’s skill in crafting a film that, upon my initial viewing, on the big-screen, left me so emotionally devastated.  The only other film that’s affected me quite that way, when seeing it for the first time on the big screen, was Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.)

But even though I didn’t have anything like that reaction upon seeing The Thin Red Line for the first time back in 1998, I remember thoroughly enjoying the film.  I was entranced by the gorgeous imagery and beguiled by the dense, inter-weaving inner monologues of countless characters, each sharing some of their own insight and reflections on the conflict and on larger issues of human nature and mankind.

When the Criterion Collection released a new blu-ray edition of The Thin Red Line, I was eager to see the film again.  The blu-ray, no surprise, looks and sounds absolutely immaculate.  The barrage of imagery in what I once read described as Mr. Malick’s “tone-poem” remains as sumptuously gorgeous as I remembered.  The juxtaposition of the jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes and imagery of animals and nature with the unspeakably brutal realities of human conflict during war gives the film a potent and heart-rending thematic punch.

I do find myself wishing, though, that the film’s dense ideas and philosophical musings — not to mention the sheer amount of filmmaking mastery on display as one watches the film’s gorgeous imagery unfold — could have been melded with a narrative that was more effectively coherent.  Because we’re constantly jumping around from character … [continued]

 

From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Batman: Year One!

Back in 1986, Frank Miller turned the comics world on its ear with the release of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  This four-issue prestige-format limited series, which Mr. Miller wrote and pencilled (with inks by Klaus Janson and gorgeous colors by Lynn Varley), told the story of a bitter, middle-aged Bruce Wayne.  In Miller’s story, Bruce had retired from being Batman following the death of Jason Todd (the second Robin, who was actually killed in-continuity in the Batman books a year or so later in the “A Death in the Family” story-line).  But disgusted by the cess-pool of crime and corruption that Gotham City has become, Bruce puts back on the cape and cowl and resumes his one-man war against crime, leading to his final confrontation with the Joker and, ultimately, with Superman, who is now in the employ of the U.S. Government.  Violent, gorgeous, and compelling, The Dark Knight Returns blew my mind when I read it (at far too young an age, back in 1988), and it still stands today as one of the finest comic book stories ever made (and certainly as one of the very best Batman stories ever told).

One might have thought that such a work could never be equaled, but the following year, in 1987, Frank Miller returned to Batman and told a story that is as good — if not even better — than The Dark Knight Returns.  For four issues in the regular Batman comic (#404-407), Mr. Miller and David Mazzucchelli retold Batman’s origin in the story called Batman: Year One.  Whereas The Dark Knight Returns was a huge, epic saga, Batman: Year One is a street-level, entirely stripped down Batman story.  In fact, the genius of the story is that it isn’t really Bruce Wayne’s story at all.  The focus is on a young James Gordon, as he attempts to survive his first year on the force in Gotham City.  Batman: Year One is a tough, violent, gritty tale, populated by the corrupt and the broken.  Even our heroes, Bruce Wayne and James Gordon, are presented as being far from perfect — but their heroism derives from their striving to battle past their flaws and imperfections and attempt to do the best they can in a city without hope.  It’s one of Frank Miller’s very best-written tales, and David Mazzucchelli’s art continually takes my breath away with its gorgeous stylization (the man knows how to spot blacks better than pretty much anyone else in the business) and astonishing detail.

Like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One sits at the very top of the heap of comic book story-lines.  It’s been mined for inspiration by several of … [continued]

 

From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

October 24th, 2011
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As you’re probably aware, back in 2010 Conan O’Brien’s stint as host of the Tonight Show was unceremoniously cut short when he refused to comply with NBC’s plan to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 AM in order to give Jay Leno back the 11:30 PM time-slot.  After just seven months as the Tonight Show host, Conan was out.  (The whole crazy business was chronicled in the book The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy, by Bill Carter, which I reviewed here.)  Conan eventually started a new late-night show on TBS, though his agreement with NBC prevented him from appearing on television until his new show launched in the fall of 2010.

So in the intervening months, Mr. O’Brien and his crew of writers and producers launched the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour, a mad-cap series of live shows all across the country.  The documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, directed by Rodman Flender, chronicles the tumultuous several months of the tour.

Having been unable to get tickets to any of the sold-out shows, I was first and foremost interested in a glimpse at what the shows were like.  In that, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop delivers in spades.  Throughout the film we get to see a lot of hysterical footage of the live shows — the song parodies, the big production numbers, the comedy bits with visiting guest-stars (like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), and more.

But the film is far more than that.  It’s a compelling warts-and-all depiction of Conan O’Brien at a very stressful point in his life.  The film highlights Conan’s incredible work ethic and easy charisma, both of which helped to make him such a successful entertainer.  We also see how difficult he could be, at times, to work with (such as in the much-written about scene in which he mercilessly mocks 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer without any apparent justification, or in the many times we see him be curt with his assistant, Sona, among other examples).  Mr. Flender told the New York Times that he said to Conan, before beginning the project: “I don’t want this to be U2 Rattle and Hum. I don’t want to deify you. I want this to be honest.”

And honest the film is.  But Mr. Flender’s documentary isn’t out to get notice just by depicting a big star at its worst.  Mr. Flender is clearly a fan of Conan’s (in addition to their being friends since the two were at Harvard together), and over-all Conan comes off as a hard-working performer trying hard to make the best of a tough situation.  Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a … [continued]

 

Josh Reviews 50/50

October 21st, 2011
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In 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a young man who is diagnosed with cancer.  (His physician gives him a 50/50 chance of survival, hence the title of the film.)  While his relationship with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is rocked by this news, Adam finds surprising strength from his buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen).  50/50 was written by Will Reiser and, as has been widely reported, is based on Mr. Reiser’s real-life experience of being diagnosed with cancer in his twenties, and his friendship with Seth Rogen.

Balancing comedy and drama in a film can be a very tricky thing, especially when true-live events come into play.  I thought about this issue last month after watching 30 Minutes or Less, a film about a young pizza boy (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who is kidnapped and has a bomb strapped to his chest, at which point he is forced to rob a bank to get money for his kidnapper.  That situation actually happened to a poor fellow back in 2003 (although the filmmakers claimed not to have been inspired by that incident).  Still, the parallel with real life events (that ended tragically) give the film a tension that runs throughout.  Sometimes I felt that helped the film, in that the story-line felt dangerous in a way that kept me engaged.  Other times I felt that hurt the film, in that it occasionally felt hard to laugh too hard at events that I know, in real life, ended up in a death.

Over-all I enjoyed 30 Minutes or Less, but compared to 50/50 that film feels like a fairy trivial, superficial lark of a movie.  50/50 aims for something deeper, and while it doesn’t always succeed, I really enjoyed the filmmakers’ ambition in crafting a story that is very, very funny, while also tackling some serious issues about mortality and friendship.

Yes, 50/50 is a comedy about cancer.  I suspect that topic kept many people away from this film, but I’m glad I saw it.  The film was directed confidently by Jonathan Levine (who also helmed the little-seen film The Wackness which I really loved), and more than just the presence of Seth Rogen reminds me of the work of Judd Apatow.  The focus on the friendship between guys, and the willingness of the film to mine comedy from tough real-life situations are all aspects I’ve really enjoyed in Mr. Apatow’s work.  50/50 is able to find that tricky balance of tone, allowing us to laugh along with the story while also engaging with the characters and their struggles.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been on quite a hot-streak lately (in films such as (500) Days of Summer and Inception[continued]

 

Muppets Assemble!

October 20th, 2011

OK, I’m in!… [continued]

 

Avengers Assemble!

October 18th, 2011
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So surely you’ve all seen this, right?

That’s a pretty solid trailer, but I find that I have to stop myself from being blase about the fact that they’ve actually gone and made an Avengers movie.  I need to remind myself just how amazing and unbelievable it is that they have actually made a super-hero team-up film.  I mean, ever since I was a kid, Marvel comic books have always been all about the super-hero team-ups, but to see that realized in a movie, done on this scale, is extraordinary.  That they have taken the leads of four films — each huge or potentially huge franchises in their own right (Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) and brought them together for one film is such a giddily never-been-done-before notion that I still find it hard to believe, even though in less than a year this will all be reality that we’ll get to see projected on theatre screens across the country.

As for the trailer?  It’s pretty strong, and we get some fun glimpses of the heroes assembled.  There’s a bit of wit on display, which is nice.  This film should be tense (after all, the stakes need to be HUGE to warrant the bringing-together of all of these super-heroes), but it should also be fun.  The mighty Joss Whedon is not only directing the film but he also wrote the script, so I have hope.

They did cut back to those explosions on a city street a few too many times in the trailer, I thought.  The footage looks great, but I hope that whatever is going down on that city street isn’t the only major action sequence in the film.  This movie needs to be BIG, and this trailer hasn’t quite sold me on the epic scale of the story.  It feels a little small so far.  (This might be because the trailer doesn’t really reveal much about the actual story of the film, so I’d imagine they’re still holding back on revealing too much of the good stuff at this early date.)

I’m also not quite sold on the re-worked costumes for Captain America and Thor.  I thought the costumes for both characters worked really well in their individual films from last summer, largely because both outfits felt lived-in and had a certain gritty weight to them.  But in this trailer (and the terrific teaser at the end of the end-credits of Captain America) both Cap and Thor seem to have shiny new outfits that look a bit too simplistic and “costumey” (for lack of a better word) to me.  But I will withhold judgement until getting a better look.  … [continued]

 

“We have the tools, we have the talent!” Josh Enjoys Ghostbusters Back on the Big Screen!

October 17th, 2011
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Did you know that Ghostbusters is back in theatres???  It’s true!  At select cinemas across the country, Ghostbusters screened last Thursday night, and there are showings scheduled for this Thursday and the following Thursday as well!  I was delighted to have been able to be at one of the screenings this past Thursday, and it was a blast.

One of the best movie-going experiences of my life was getting to see Ghostbusters on the big screen, about a decade ago, at one of the big Boston movie-theatre chains.  This theatre used to screen old movies at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights (for all I know, they still do!), and although I didn’t have the stamina to go every week, I certainly did attend a number of those midnight screenings.  They were always a huge amount of fun, and I relished getting to see great films like The Goonies, Batman, Beetlejuice, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc., on the big screen and with a packed house of fans.  But by far the best midnight screening I ever attended was the showing of Ghostbusters.

Although I distinctly remember seeing Ghostbusters 2 in theatres, I am pretty sure I never saw the original on the big screen.  My memory of seeing it for the first time was watching it on TV with my dad (and running out of the room during the scary parts!).  So when I went to that midnight screening, I was excited to get to see this film that I loved so much on the big screen for the first time, and that was indeed super-cool.  But I was unprepared for the crazy energy of that sold-out theatre, stuffed to the gills with Ghostbusters fans.  People went crazy right from the opening shot, singing along to the music, laughing and joking around and having a grand old time.  About half of the people in the theatre were doing all of the lines right along with the characters.  Even better, the other half of the people weren’t just saying the dialogue, they were making jokes and shouting things at the screen that were funny because of the line of dialogue that we all knew was coming a second later.  It was like seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show! An amazing movie was made even more spectacular by the insane energy and love for the film felt by everyone in the theatre.

I knew nothing could ever top that particular screening, and sure enough, when I saw Ghostbusters this past Thursday night, the crowd was far more sedate!  But that is not to diminish the great pleasure of getting to see Ghostbusters — one of my favorite films! — back … [continued]

 

“Well Met in the House of the Rose” The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower

October 11th, 2011
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“We’ll go,” he said.  ”We’ll find the Dark Tower, and nothing will stand against us, and before we go in, we’ll speak their names.  All of the lost.”

“Your list will be longer than mine,” xxx said, “but mine will be long enough.”

(Name withheld to prevent spoilers!)

And so, at last, I have arrived at the end.  The clearing at the end of the path.  The conclusion of Stephen King’s monumental magnum opus, The Dark Tower.  Seven books written over the span of over thirty years, which I have spent the last year-or-so reading.  (I read the first three novels last summer, book four last fall, and the final three novels over the course of this past summer.)

Long-form stories like this (whether one is talking about novels, movies, or TV shows) rise or fall, ultimately, on the strength of their ending.  (For five wonderful seasons, I would have told you that Lost was one of the greatest television series ever made.  Then that disastrously terrible final season destroyed almost every ounce of my affection for the show.  Conversely, for five seasons I felt that Babylon 5 was an entertaining but fairly mediocre sci-fi TV show.  But the incredible, heartbreaking final episode was so good that it somehow elevated, in my mind, all that had come before.)

I will admit that, as I approached the seventh and final book in the Dark Tower series, I was a bit nervous.  Book VI, Song of Susannah, while still enjoyable, had nevertheless been my least-favorite book in the series to that point.  It felt to me like the narrative was spinning its proverbial wheels, and with so much story as-yet unresolved as I began book VII, I wondered how Mr. King could possibly tie up all of the myriad dangling story-threads.  I also couldn’t quite conceive of what the resolution of the Gunslinger’s life-long journey towards the Dark Tower could be.  At the start of book VII I, as a reader, had not much more idea than Roland himself as to what exactly the Dark Tower was, and what Roland might find there should he actually be able to enter the tower and climb to the highest room, as was his proclaimed goal.  The tower was so mysterious, and the source of so much speculation on my part (and, I’m sure, the part of every other reader ever to make his or her way through this saga), that I began to fear that any resolution couldn’t possibly live up to all of that anticipation.

Well, Mr. King, I cry your pardon.  I should never have doubted.

The Dark Tower Book VII: The Dark Tower is a magnificent conclusion … [continued]

 

The Next Generation of The Next Generation

October 4th, 2011

Sign me up.… [continued]

 

Do I Dare to Dream…???

October 3rd, 2011

It’s been my belief for a while now, that all of the talk, over the past few years, about the possibility of an Arrested Development movie was just that: talk.

Would I be thrilled beyond words to see an Arrested Development movie come to pass?  OF COURSE!!  (Though I must also admit no small amount of fear at the possibility that a movie made so long after the show’s cancellation might disappoint.)

But, I dunno, somehow it’s all just seemed like wishful thinking to me.

So what am I to make of the recent news that the creator (Mitch Hurwitz) and the cast are planning on reuniting for a NEW 9-10 EPISODE SEASON FOLLOWED BY A FEATURE FILM???  That’s such an astoundingly exciting idea that I am sort of blown away.  (Click here for more info.)  Could this be real?  Might this actually happen??

I am crossing my fingers desperately!!  ”COME ON!!”

[continued]