Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take Shelter

Michael Shannon is acting weird again! This fine actor who gave such a touching performance in Machine Gun Preacher and of course haunted the creepy movie Bug, is having terrible dreams in this new brooding little flick  called Take Shelter.

These are really bad dreams, that affect him through the rest of the day. A storm's a comin', and all hell's gonna break loose. So, naturally, he starts to build out his storm shelter. In fact, he becomes obsessed with it, spending too much money, time, and social capital. However, he's not sure he's not crazy, either. So all the while he's doing this, he's going to various medical and psychological doctors, and visiting with his mother (Kathy Baker, who was also in Machine Gun Preacher) who went schizophrenic at about his age.

And there's your movie.

This movie's been a bit overhyped. OK, you probably never heard of it, unless you're into these little films like we are, but if you are, you've seen that it won at Cannes and has high ratings at IMDB and gets glowing reviews and so on.

And it is a good movie. But it falls just short of greatness.

The first act is action packed. We see Curtis' (Shannon) nightmares, and they're quite horrific. Of course, as the audience, you're more inclined to believe what you see, so you're inclined to believe that these visions are literal prophecy. Or at least true portents.

The second act, though, takes us out of most of the dreams which has the dual effect of reducing the intensity of the film and making you seriously doubt whether he's sane or not. This works but it radically shifts the tone of the film.

The third act is a rollercoaster, threatening the worst possible ending at one point.

Ultimately, it works, although the ending poses some interesting problems, not least geographically concerning the distance between Columbus, Ohio and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Shannon is good, of course, as always. He brings empathy to roles that might—heh, well roles that might not warrant it, though not in this case.

What really makes the movie stand out, though, is Jessica Chastain, and her role as Curtis' wife Samantha. She loves him, she's proud of him, she's grateful to him, she supports him, she does what she can for the family, she's strong but not mean or stubborn—and it's all put to the test by his deteriorating mental state. She's basically the perfect wife and mother.

There used to be more of those in movies. Someone somewhere decided that was a demeaning or too secondary. And yet this movie wouldn't have worked without it. Curtis' challenge becomes her challenge, becomes the family challenge—even the community's challenge as the normally stalwart Curtis' starts to bring his life down around his ears.

The Boy said something on the way out, though. "It's strange that there was no God in the movie."

It was, kind of. I think any actual Presence would've made the movie less popular with critics and would have necessitated a different ending.

It's also kind of interesting that the last three movies we've seen have all dealt with spiritual issues: Machine Gun Preacher, Take Shelter and the new Emilio Estevez movie, The Way. Religion was definitely a thread throughout this film but Curtis' visions are never put into any religious frame (nor even incidental symbols that I picked up).

We recommend, but less enthusiastically than others.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Zookeeper

So, apparently, Kevin James is a bit overweight and hilariously awkward. Surely no more evergreen premise for a film since the days of (the wrongly maligned) Fatty Arbuckle. Remember what I said about being a dad in The Smurfs review?

Yeah, double that here. The Barb loves her some movie popcorn (though she doesn't like to share a bag) and The Flower wanted to see this comedy about a zookeeper who takes advice from animals in order to win over an ex-girlfriend.

Profoundly stupid. Like, Tron: Legacy level stupidity.

The premise is that animals can, apparently, speak English and relate to each other more-or-less exactly the way humans do, but they don't because it doesn't end well most of the time. They make an exception for James' character because he's having such a hard time of things and he's such a swell guy to them.

So, naturally, when a wolf tells him he needs to pee everywhere, well, that's what he does. Because, of course, that's what you'd do, right? A wolf tells you you need to mark your territory to entrance a mate, you'd naturally pee all over a fancy restaurant.

At least he didn't start throwing feces, like the monkey suggested.

Actually, in the "small favors" category, I was at least pleased that they mostly kept the story out of the gutter. Of all the suggestions made by the animals, I don't remember any references to penis size or the sex act itself. I suppose that may be partly because actual animal mating isn't very funny when transposed on to humans. ("Beat the crap out of the other guy, then hunt her down and take her." More horror movie material, really.)

So, this was an hour and forty minutes of me trying to figure out who the animal voices were. I spotted Sylvester Stallone as the lion easily enough, and Nick Nolte as the Silverback Gorilla. But Cher (as the lioness) and Adam Sandler (as the monkey) bugged me through most of the movie. I spotted Maya Rudolph as the giraffe somehow, but not Judd Apatow as the elephant, Don Rickles as the frog or Jon Favreau as the bear.

But then I didn't really care much.

Sandler's fingerprints are all over this movie, which wouldn't have to a bad thing, of necessity, but it sort of feels like second-tier hand-me-down vehicle Sandler himself wouldn't star in. (I guess they'd have had to make do without all the fat jokes.)

James is pretty talented. He does some good work. But the set pieces really don't work. There's a "wacky" bicycle race between him and Joe Rogan which comes off neither as particularly wacky and just plain unfunny, unless you're going for "look at the fat guy on the silly three wheeler", which they probably were.

It was sort of interesting to see "Game" concepts come up: James plays a classic "beta male" nice guy trying to get back Leslie Bibb from the clutches of major douchebag Joe Rogan. Bibb somehow sees "potential" in James—a high income earner, if only he'd leave his true love: The zoo.

The bigger the jerk James is to Bibb, the more she likes him, and it's a credit to James that he can pull off both characters with ease. But meanwhile, working at this same zoo? Rosario Dawson. She shares his passion for all things zoo-y and doesn't seem completely repulsed by him.

I don't need to spell this out for you. It so by-the-numbers, you know exactly how the climactic scene is going to play out the first instant you see Dawson come on screen. (And, really, last-minute-rushes-to-save-the-day really work best if you provide some back story, but The Zookeeper streamlines your experience by not providing any support whatsoever.)

It did strike me as dumb. There's never any doubt about what's going to happen in this movie, which would be fine, if it were funnier and more plausible. (Hell, strike the "more plausible" part.) And Dawson, somehow, has become the ultimate beta-loser's girlfriend (see Clerks II and The Rundown). I'm not sure how that happened. But we're supposed to believe that James overlooks Dawson somehow, until she puts on an evening gown. It's almost insulting the intelligence beyond the whole talking animal thing.

At least they didn't put her in glasses, and have her take them off dramatically.

Pfeh.

The girls liked it okay. The Barb was clearly bored in parts but offered no particular complaints. But then, she's five and it has funny talking animals. I didn't hear either of them laughing much. I did, a couple of times.

I am grateful for the little things, particularly that they kept it clean outside of a way too many scenes of James peeing on things. But it wasn't worth my $3.

My Afternoons With Margueritte

Continuing 2011's French-a-palooza (which includes Sarah's Key, Point Blank, The Hedgehog, The Names of Love and Incendies) is the Gerard Depardieu vehicle My Afternoons With Margueritte. Depardieu's relentless approaching of a bowling ball in shape notwithstanding, this is a lovely, lovely film.

Depardieu plays Germain, a laborer of no small skill set—he does construction, raises vegetables to sell at market, carves wood—but of very small brain. Well, not really small brain, but (as we see) very horrible childhood. His mother shames him. His schoolteacher humiliates him. And the upshot is that he's averse to all things reading, and as a result quite ignorant indeed.

He takes his lunch in the park, where he names and tallies the pigeons, and one day, as he's counting, an old lady, Margueritte, already sitting there says "There are nineteen." They discuss the pigeons for a while, and Margueritte says that he reminds her of a passage from The Plague, which she's reading. She takes it out and reads the passage and the somewhat thick-headed Germain is entranced.

She offers him the book, but he demurs, is logophobia still intact. So, instead, she reads to him from the book over the next ten days in the park, and a friendship is born.

The story takes us through Germain's life in flashbacks, and through this new future where he becomes a different person to his friends—an educated man, almost, though still disastrously thick sometimes.

Depardieu's performance is truly wonderful in the subtleness of the transformation.Gisele Casadesus, who was in both Sarah's Key and The Hedgehog, has a sweet and generous turn as the motherly Margueritte (two "T"s for her father didn't know how to spell it). Sophie Guillemin is the ridiculously gorgeous bus driver and girlfriend to Germain who somehow makes that work without being creepy. Claire Maurier (whom I last saw in Amelie) plays Germain's complex and, sometimes, frankly insane mother.

If you have any affinity for reading or the printed word, you'll probably be charmed by this film. The Boy, who's not a big reader—and who maintains his loathing for the French despite all the movies (heh)—really enjoyed it.

I loved it, of course, and find it a shame that this will probably fall into the forgotten dust heap of history, missing an audience that would love it greatly.

Smurf Me With A Smurfin' Smurf

As you probably know, I'm a dad. And the spread between my children means that, at any given moment in the past 20 years, I've had to see dumb movies. Given our limited time and the existence of Pixar, I've been fortunate enough to steer the kids mostly to the better films, but I have not escaped the occasional Alvin and the Chipmunks, Dungeons and Dragons (okay, I probably would've seen it anyway) and, now, Smurfs.

The Smurfs is a comic strip from the '60s, by a Belgian dude who probably got drunk with one of his buddies and decided it would be hilarious to replace arbitrary nouns and verbs in a sentences with "Smurf". I mean, seriously, that's how it started, though the word was "schtroumph". From there he made little blue dudes, basically in the mold of Disney's dwarfs, where each Smurf's name matches their personality, like Happy Smurf, Sneezy Smurf or Sleepy Smurf—at one point everyone agrees that they don't much like Passive-Aggressive Smurf. Or, rather confusingly, if not their personality, their name matches their trade, like Plumber Smurf or Gigolo Smurf.

Kidding, of course. There are no plumbers or gigolos in Smurf village. There is a lot of toilet humor in the movie, however. I mean that literally, with Smurfs constantly falling into the damn things. And there are no gigolos because Smurfs are all male except for one, Smurfette.

Smurfette was created by the Smurf's evil nemesis Gargamel in order to destroy their society. Seems all it takes to mess up paradise is a chick.

Gargamel is a degenerate middle-aged wizard who wears a bathrobe and is constantly after Smurf essence for its magical powers, which are considerable. Considerable, but completely unavailable to the Smurfs themselves for some unexplored reason. Fortunately, Gargamel's incompetence is only exceeded by his general creepiness.

The story, such as it is concerns, Clumsy Smurf accidentally leading Gargamel to the hidden Smurf village, and the ensuing rampage (which is kind of horrifying) causes a group of Smurfs to go to the forbidden zone which contains a portal to New York City, wherein they meet up with a young(ish) ad exec on the verge of either great success or failure. So they have to get back before Gargamel captures them and, I dunno, takes over the world or something.

There are some problems with this film, to say the least. The first and foremost is that it's a really stupid concept. I mean, Smurfs in general are. There's just not much to hang your hat on there. You know what Grouchy Smurf. Gutsy Smurf and Clumsy Smurf are gonna do at any given moment.

The second one is that the voices don't work. Not that they're bad, exactly. It's just that they don't really seem to be coming out of the Smurfs themselves most of the time. Sound mixing fail.

The third is that Gargamel usually comes off like a creepy perverted avuncular figure than exactly evil. I mean, he is evil. His intentions seem to be to enslave the Smurfs, after all. But, probably to avoid being too scary, he's more of a weirdly comic figure. His cat, Azrael is a CGI disaster, combining a completely literal cat with human facial expressions and movement. Pure nightmare fuel.

The fourth is the (not new) idea that old, stale catch-phrases are still funny if a Smurf (or a talking CGI animal, or a cat with a hat and a sword) says them.

The fifth is the movie's 80% commitment to itself. Mostly, the movie is done sincerely, and that's good. It leads to some awful "be true to yourself" crap at the climax but that was probably inevitable. The remaining 20%, where the movie sort of winks at you grossly and says "We know. We're all better than this, really," makes me want to leave.

There are moments when Gargamel points out (facetiously) that Papa Smurf lives in the village which his 99 sons and one daughter—and there's nothing weird about that—or when the word "smurf" is clearly being used as a substitute for something lewd. that the movie both recycles 20 year old Smurf humor and snarks at itself at the same time where I really wanted to leave.

You're not better than this movie: You're making this movie. You took the cheapest (narratively speaking) route, going with a fish-out-of-water story and struggling-young-man-wrestles-with-his-conscience-but-Smurfs-show-him-the-way story. Own it. And this brings me to the last major failure.

See, the cast and CGI are pretty top-notch. It's not quite an A-List cast: Neal Patrick Harris is the lead human, and Hank Azaria provides most of the movie's scarce moments of genuine humor. In fact, Hank Azaria unintentionally invokes Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, in that you can't help but think to yourself, "Wow. They spent $120 million to make this piece of smurf."

And you sort of end up thinking, "Well, they got NPH because they couldn't get Justin Timberlake, Jayma Mays is his girlfriend insetad of Katherine Heigl, they got Hank Azaria instead of, I dunno, F. Murray Abrahams, Sofia Vergara instead of Penelope Cruz," and so on. Down to the cameos: Tim Gunn instead of Stacey and Clinton, Liz Smith instead of Mary Hart, and Joan Rivers instead of someone living.

And this carries down to the voice level. Anton Yelchin plays clumsy, maybe instead of Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Winters (still alive!) is Papa Smurf instead of Bob Hoskins, Smurfette is Katy Perry instead of Lady Gaga, George Lopez is Grouchy instead of, well, anyone else at all.

Not that any of these people do a bad job. Azaria, as I've mentioned, does what he can to buoy the proceedings. Yelchin has a nice, mild nasality to his voice. Alan Cummings does an excellent Scottish Brogue. And it's cute when Katy Perry says "I kissed a Smurf and I liked it."

But overall, it's a soulless exercise in budgeting and overseas gross receipts. (The movie grossed a modest $120M domestically but three-times more world-wide.) Probably the only indispensable cast member was Frank Welker, who's the cat-voice of Azrael. Apart from Welker, Narrator Smurf Tom Kane, and John Kassir, every voice is stunt casting. Welker and Kassir were both voices in the '80s Smurf cartoon, in fact.

This movie is the epitome of modern Hollywood, really. A movie so calculated, pre-packaged and lab-tested to make money, the chance of any actual art occurring is near zero.

The Barbarienne proclaimed the movie "smurftastic" and I couldn't disagree.

But I don't think we meant the same thing.

50/50

The trend of trailers revealing all the plot and most of the best lines of a movie continues apace with the new movie "from the makers of Superbad", 50/50. I guess the trailer guys don't care about anything other than opening weekend.

It's a credit to this movie's acting, editing, direction and just heart, that those lines are still funny in the movie, even after you've seen them in the trailer a dozen times.

"From the creators of Superbad," the trailers tell us and, yeah, this is pretty much the Superbad guys ten years later, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the Michael Cera role and Seth Rogen in the Jonah Hill role. That is to say, Seth Rogen is finally playing himself. (Both films are autobiographical of Seth Rogan, though in Superbad his skinny friend is childhood buddy Evan Goldberg,and in 50/50 his skinny friend is Will Reiser.)

Anyway, the two leads are a big leap in the looks and charm department from the earlier film, but the heart is still very similar: Gordon-Levitt's character Adam is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and his buddy Kyle is there to help him through it. Kyle is crude, a little reckless, and more than a little insensitive but he's a friend, and this friendship goes a long way.

Adam's girlfriend is played by rapidly-becoming-stereotyped-as-a-high-maintenance-bitch actress Bryce Dallas Howard, whose behavior is as predictable as it is tragic in how Adam fails to see it coming.

The movie basically concerns how Adam handles his cancer—the 50/50 of the title referring to his odds of survival, and how those around him handle it, and does so with a fairly light touch. Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer provide a little perspective as (much older) patients receiving chemo at the same time as Adam. Angelica Huston—who for some reason I kept thinking was Olympia Dukakis—plays Adam's mother, and their relationship (as well as his relationship with his senile father, played by Serge Houde).

The other interesting relationship is between Adam and a brand-spanking new counselor, Katherine. The two have a kind of tension as Katherine tries very hard to help Adam, but her constant assurances that what he's feeling is "perfectly normal" isn't as soothing as she thinks it should be. (I've noticed that a lot these days: People trying to comfort others, at least in movies, by saying "That's perfectly normal." I don't get why that's supposed to make someone feel better either.)

Katherine is played by relative newcomer, Anna Kendrick, who is as cute as a button, in stark contrast to her shrewish, slutty character in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Also, she has a great nose, that I hope she keeps. (Nobody keeps their noses in Hollywood any more.)

All in all, this movie accomplishes the difficult task of dealing with a serious subject with a light touch, but without trivializing that. It deals with a lot of heavy emotions without being glib or mawkish—this is probably a big part of the autobiographical influence. And you don't really know till the end whether or not Adam will live.

The Boy, The Flower and I all liked it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Machine Gun Preacher

I don't have much use for the movie sites' ratings any more. IMDB is still the best, I guess, but it's not good. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are both unreliable. But the latter two have an interesting feature where they split the critics' opinions from the masses'. So while the newest Marc Forster (Kite Runner, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) film looked sort of dubious from the (spoiler-ridden) trailers, and had an awful rating on IMDB (5.7 out of 10), I noticed that on Tomatoes the critics rated it a savage 25% while audiences gave it a 75%.

This warranted a look.

Sure enough, the movie has elements you could predict would turn off the hordes of movie critics, and a share of the audience with similar mindsets.

I think it's the best film of 2011 to date.

This movie is an epic spiritual journey (told entirely without sitars or psychedelic imagery) . It is the true, astounding story of a very bad man named Sam Childers who finds Jesus and becomes—well, a crusader, really. Almost literally. In Uganda and the Sudan. So let me recount the five strikes that would virtually guarantee this movie bad reviews:

  1. A completely sincere representation of evangelical Christianity that converts a very bad man into a very good one. (Not a perfect one, to be sure.) This is only barely tempered by a few scenes of Christian hypocrisy, and the Christians shown in worship are prone to doing things that embarrass sophisticates, like hold their hands up skyward.
  2. Muslims brutally killing defenseless Christians. (This happens a lot in real life but we're not supposed to talk about it.)
  3. The reformed Childers loves him some guns. A lack of guns is a serious problem for the Christian resistance. (This is generally true of people being slaughtered but again, we're not supposed to talk about it.)
  4. Africa is completely and totally screwed up, and there are no white people around to blame.
  5. The priggish English chick who sniffs at Childers efforts probably echoes the feelings of your average sensitive movie critic—and the movie entertains but doesn't exactly endorse her point-of-view.
  6. Lots of other stuff I can't talk about without spoilers.

It's a little hard to talk about the movie in depth without spoilers, and this is a movie, though not rife with twists-and-turns, that pushes the envelope and earns its two-hour-plus length, so I'm going to keep it fairly abstract.

Although the Sudanese civil war is the backdrop for the movie—and I'm sure what Childers himself would most want the spotlight on—the heart-and-soul of the movie is that of a man obsessed. He's found forgiveness in God, but he hungers for greater meaning, which he finds by constantly expanding his sense of responsibility.

As it must in this vale of tears, this brings him to confront an evil that is greater than he is, and in which confrontation brings out many of his old devils. He's found God but can he keep Him in the face of horror after horror? It's really this struggle that powers the movie on a Shakespearean level.

By the way: The horrors? They are truly horrible. Much like Childers' own evils, they're watered down for the movie—thank the Lord (or at least director Forster's sense of restraint). You get a strong enough sense of them without wallowing in them. (True horrors like these remind me why I like the fantasy of the horror genre.)

From what I've heard, everything in the movie's been dialed back a bit because audiences wouldn't believe the truth. And I can see that. Indeed, the common critical response I've heard is that it's too much for one movie.

I disagree. (Actually, less charitably, I think critics hated the movie for the abovementioned points and then made up rationalizations for that.) The movie actually has a laser-like focus on Childers, and that keeps it squarely in "epic" and out of "sprawlng". If you've read this blog at all, you know how I am about movies that express self-indulgence through length, and I never felt that here. There were times when I couldn't believe there was more, but it never felt gratuitous.

Honestly, I can't remember caring so much about a movie character—and it's not because it's a real person, because (if you've read this blog much) you know how I feel about "based on a true story" stuff, and I tend to assume that the movie is only barely based on the facts. (It's gratifying to find out otherwise here. There's a major narrative point that's almost too neat to have actually happened but it wouldn't be the most incredible thing of the film.)

It's also an edge-of-your-seat movie, as Childers keeps taking greater and greater risks, and you can't help this feeling that he's going to end up dead—or worse, with his dreams crushed.

Amazing performance by Gerard Butler that should win him a nom, if not an Oscar, but will probably be ignored. Michelle Monaghan is both appealing and complex in her portrayal of the woman who saves Childers' soul only to risk losing him over and over again. Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker, young Madeline Carroll, Soulemayne Sy Savane—you know, it's weird to compare this to Cowboys vs. Aliens but there's a similarity in that just about every character who got screen time established a distinct personality, a real depth of character.

Combine that with heart-wrenching tragedy, stomach-churning brutality, soul-lifting inspiration, and a few (perhaps too few) moments of lightness, and you have yourself a picture worth watching.

This movie might challenge you, though, too. Not in the sort of intellectual, abstract ways that most people prefer to be challenged, mind you. Not in the typical avant-garde fashion of "challenging" norms by laughing at people who believe in them. Rather, it challenges in the real "What are you doing about it?" way that I can't imagine a lot of people are comfortable thinking about.

And it does this without being preachy, either, which is an interesting feat.

The Boy and I were both very favorably impressed.

Still, I can't recommend for everyone. There are lots of people who find expressions of faith offensive or in poor taste, and they won't like this (or parts of it, anyway) one bit. Also, I couldn't really bring The Flower to see it, both for Childers' evil ways in the beginning, and the greater Evil of the Sudanese slaughter.

But if you can dare it, if you have that much of Childers' spirit in you, you should see it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Moneyball

OK, so from what I can gather via the non-sports sports movie Moneyball, about ten years ago, Brad Pitt (I think that's the right title) got around his ball club's limited budget by hiring Jonah Hill to crunch numbers, assembling a complementary team rather than a bunch of prima donna ball player celebrities. This allows them to go on and lose many important playoff games.

I may have that slightly askew. As may the movie, which is based on, inspired by, or at least partially suggested by the real life story of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane and Peter Brand.

I found the premise of this movie not entirely plausible.

I think it's totally possible that a sharp-minded baseball fan/geek could crunch numbers in such a way as to locate prejudices that might keep a ball club from hiring certain players. I think it's plausible that a sports franchise can recklessly pursue and overpay superstar to ill effect (Kobe? A-Rod?). But this movie suggests you can put together a winning team just by number-crunching and I just don't believe that.

On the other hand, I didn't really care.

Arch-liberal Aaron Sorkin and Oscar-winning Steve Zaillian—okay, Sorkin has an Oscar, too, but for the pile of meh that is The Social Network—have penned a story that is as entertaining as it is implausible. Bennett Miller, the director of the slightly better of the two Capote biographies that came out five years ago, directs things briskly and keeps stuff moving.

Brad Pitt's likable. It was a good role for him. He's fairly convincing as a charismatic huckster looking to make the most out of a losing hand. Somewhat surprisingly, Jonah Hill is likable, taking a break from a nearly unbroken string of unsavory, vulgar characters to play a nerd with real number crunching skills.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was...okay. He looks the part of a baseball coach, but only sorta. Hoffman has the doughy body of an ex-job, but he also has a kind of softness to him that doesn't quite gel with the hard edge old ball players seem to have. Robin Wright has a small role as a kind of condescending ex-wife, which she plays very well, but mostly seems notable because she looks so much better than she did as the haggard Lincoln assassination Conspirator.

Kerris Dorsey really stood out in her small role as Beane's daughter. She and Pitt have some real chemistry that provides some unexpected depth.

So, yeah: Good performances, lively script, brisk direction, lotsa fun, seemingly preposterous to this non-baseball fan.

Worth a look. Worth an Oscar? Dunno.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Green Lantern's Might! Or Might Not!

I can't really explain why I wanted to see Green Lantern. Yet, there I was, in the theater, on the last (well, penultimate) day it was showing because I just wanted to. I've mentioned before that I was a DC kid. I read very few Marvel comics. I never could get into Spider-man or the Fantastic Four or the Hulk or whatever.

For me it was Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Arrow, The Atom...and Green Lantern. Green Lantern was actually my bud's favorite (just as mine was The Flash). And Green Lantern—well, green is a very good comic book color, and CGI color for that matter.

But the buzz on this movie was just horrible. Like this was an awful, awful film with no redeeming qualities, that was just a bad idea all around.

And, frankly, it's not.

It's a little far out. Green Lantern's story is basically a space opera, a comic book version of Doc Smith's Lensmen. Though, from memory, I don't recall all that much sci-fi from the comic book. (The parts that I do remember, this movie nails, though, like the whole planet of Oa and the Lantern Corps.)

But it's a lot like Thor, really. Half the story on Earth, half in space. And with the same kind of goofy comic book science I love so well. In this case, it's colored energy. Green is the color of will and yellow is the color of fear. The former is good and empowering, and the latter is corrupting.

The story is that one of the Guardians (the hyper-intelligent/advanced beings that created the Lantern corps), long ago tried to harness the power of yellow energy, but instead became corrupted and evil (and newly christened as Parallax), so they had to lock him up on a far away planet, encased in green chains. An opportunity arises for Parallax to suck the fearful souls out of some unwary travelers, and he breaks free and begins to wreak havoc, mortally wounding the Lantern who was his turnkey.

And that's just the opening sequence. The wounded Lantern flees to the nearest inhabited planet which happens to be Earth, where cocky jet pilot Hal Jordan is sleeping with hot chicks and crashing expensive planes, in between the occasional fugue where he freezes thinking about his father's fatal crash 20 years earlier.

The magicscientifically advanced ring gives Hal a nifty costume and flies him off to Oa where he undergoes training under the supervision of Michael Clark Duncan as Killowog, and disdain at the hands of the supercilious Sinestro.

There's a lot of plot here getting in the way of the story, as Joe Bob Briggs would say. But I mostly wasn't bored, which was my real concern. I thought the CGI mostly worked. I didn't think the suit—which was roundly critiqued for being CGI—was bad. For me, the space stuff in this movie worked better than the stuff in Thor. GL doesn't have the fun fish-out-of-water aspect that was the best part of Thor.

Some of the critics seem to fault it because Hal is kind of a traditional alpha male type—no struggling Peter Parker here—but it really wouldn't have been exactly fresh to have it be the other way. The macho guy who gets superpowers is at least as common as the nebbish who gets them. Neither is particularly more valid dramatically than the other.

In this case, Hal's fear of dying like his father (sorta) acts as his own weakness, and it works pretty well, if it feels a little movie-of-the-week-ish, as the premise is offered that he's a cocky jerk who can't hold down a relationship because of it.

Hal's counterpart is Hector (Peter Sarsgaard, looking a bit less suave than he did in An Education), a nerdy xenobiologist who gets a dose of the Evil Yellow Energy and becomes even more hideous and an even greater disappointment to his charming but evil Senator father (played with conviction by Tim Robbins, natch).

There's a very funny, spoiler-laden takedown of this movie at Topless Robot, but I think it's wrong in spirit. You can always pick apart these things, no matter how widely regarded the movie. Even The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2 or any of them. It's that you choose not to. It's not a matter of suspending disbelief, it's a matter of the film engaging you to the point where you say "I don't get why he did that but I'm rolling with it."

And obviously this film failed to do that with a lot of people. (It'll make its money back, though. It just throws the next episode into doubt. Which is a shame, really, because a follow-up could be much better.)

No, I think, apart from a few issues, the main problem is the story being crushed under its own weight. Superman? Rocketed from the planet Krypton, has magic powers on earth. Batman? Dead parents, vengeful spirit, lots of training and money. Spider-Man? Radio-active spider bite confers magic powers.

Here, you've got an under-developed love triangle between Hector, Hal and Carol Ferris (who carries about as much weight as Pepper in Iron Man and Jane in Thor), un-resolved parental issues for both Hector and Hal, government contract shenanigans with the Senator and Carol Ferris' father (Jay O. Sanders), un-resolved extended family issues (Hal has a nephew—but we didn't even know he had a sibling, presumably a brother?), un-resolved labor contract disputes (Hal gets a lot of people fired, somehow), and all that's just on Earth.

There's all kinds of stuff going on on Oa that is under-developed.

Beyond that, there are conceptual issues with the Green Lantern character. His ring can do anything he can focus his mind on. Only, you know, green. Well, that's basically god-mode, right there. No upper-bounds to his power—a problem that's plagued Superman, too.

In a more concrete example, Hal's first use of his ring evokes, more than anything, that '90s Jim Carrey movie The Mask. In fact, a lot of the uses of his ring evoke cartoon-ish comparisons.

Combine that with film's tendency to double-back on itself and contradict itself within seconds (as described in detail in that Topless Robot breakdown), and the whole space opera thing, and it's not hard to see why it wasn't more popular.

For me, I thought the director (Martin Campbell, who made the greatest Bond movie ever: Casino Royale) did a great job with the patchy script, and I think the acting was really very strong, too. Reynolds had a tough role and contra that Topless Robot thing, I found him likable. (It felt like he wasn't bad, he was just drawn that way, if you can grasp that. The actor trumps the script.)

Blake Lively didn't register any more than Natalie Portman did in Thor. Not their faults, really. Fun voice acting from Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clark Duncan and Clancy Brown. The best drawn character and the most standout acting was done by Mark Strong, as Sinestro. (In the comic, Sinestro is GL's arch-nemesis, so I kept expecting him to turn evil, but I guess that was planned for the sequel. Which is good; it would've been overkill here.)

So, I get why people think it sucked, and I don't disagree, but I liked it anyway. To hell with you.

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