Super

May 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler
Directed by: James Gunn (“Slither”)
Written by: James Gunn (“Slither”)

At the tail end of a lively two-and-a-half-minute crayon animation that kicks off the dark comedy “Super” – the opening-credits montage features bad guys breathing fire and feasting on bunnies and a dance sequence rivaling anything out of Bollywood – we watch as the entire cast of entertaining cartoon characters stands with fists held high. They’re hyperventilating as if they have just run the Boston Marathon. If only their human counterparts in the live-action movie that follows gave as much effort we might’ve actually had an odd superhero adventure to appreciate.

Directed by James Gunn – who returns to the big screen for the first time since his 2006 debut film “Slither,” a B-movie horror about parasitic alien worms – “Super” tackles some of the same themes examined in the last couple of years by movies like 2009’s scarcely-seen “Defendor,” starring two-time Oscar-nominee Woody Harrelson (“The Messenger”), and last year’s overrated fanboy fantasy “Kick-Ass,” starring Aaron Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”). In both movies, an everyday citizen decides to become a crime fighter.

Taking the lead in “Super” is comedian Rainn Wilson (“The Rocker”) who plays Frank D’Arbo, a miserable fry cook with nothing to live for after his recovering addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) relapses and leaves him for Jacques, a douchebag drug dealer (Kevin Bacon) with a posse. In one of the funnier and more revealing scenes of the film, Jacques shows up at Frank’s house looking for Sarah, invites himself in for breakfast, and declares Frank’s “egg-cooking gift” impressive. It’s a scene that not only shows Jacques’ lack of respect for his heartbroken nemesis, but also proves just how spineless Frank is for not even questioning why a strange guy he’s never met is at his front door asking for his wife.

After Frank has a bizarre spiritual experience, which includes God literally reaching in through his ceiling and clearing his mind of all its muck by running a corndog across his brain, he decides to man up and change his life by becoming a costumed superhero vigilante to be known as the Crimson Bolt. Venturing into the city ready to serve up justice with a pipe wrench, Frank is guided by signs from God as well as by a bubbly comic-book store employee named Libby (Ellen Page), who becomes his cute kid sidekick Boltie.

Besides Frank’s feelings of dejection, there’s not much motivation behind his choice to run around breaking peoples’ jaws with a plumbing tool. At least in “Defendor,” you got a sense of Harrelson’s lack of mental stability, which drove him as an avenger. With Frank and Libby, there’s not much more than character buffoonery and Gunn’s low-budget, ultra-violent gimmickry to seal the deal.

It’s difficult to tell if Gunn really is trying to play for laughs, because so much of the one-liner humor is inconsistent. There’s also no telling what Gunn was trying to get out of a female-on-male rape scene that plays out as awkwardly as a brother-sister make-out session. Whatever his intentions, Gunn has a long way to go before he realizes satire is not the same as shock value.

The Incredible Hulk

June 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth
Directed by: Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and Edward Norton (debut)

Hulk returns to the big screen, this time as “The Incredible Hulk,” a reimaging of the underappreciated and artistic Ang Lee version of 2003. Sadly, the film feels like a brittle stepping stone for the bigger picture at Marvel: setting up for an “Avengers” flick sometime in the near future.

Although the new cinematic version of the mean, green superhero wants to completely disassociate itself from its predecessor, the story seems to begin right where the Lee picture left off. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana then, Edward Norton now) is living in Brazil trying to control the monster inside his gamma ray-filled body.

This means if you don’t know the mythology of the Hulk, polish up on your comic book history because “The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t have time to explain. Head screenwriter Zak Penn (“X-2”) decides to simply breeze through Banner’s background and scientific discovery, which comes by way of a cliché montage during the films opening credits

It’s been 158 days since the Hulk has emerged when we see Banner, who is making a living working in a bottling factory. On his wrist he wears a small watch-like monitor that lets him know when his heart rate increases, which, in turn, warns him that the big green guy could make an appearance if he doesn’t control himself. This is an unwarranted and erroneous addition to Banner’s story. While the comic book, TV show, and 2003 film versions explain that Bruce only transforms into the Hulk when he became angry, this Hulk has to take deep breath for everything including running long distances and getting overly excited while in bed with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connolly then, Liv Tyler now).

Betty and Bruce are reunited when Bruce returns to the states after Betty’s father, Gen. Thaddeus Ross (Sam Elliott then, William Hurt now) and the U.S. government locate the drifter and attempt to capture him so they can create more Hulks as military weapons. To help, Gen. Ross recruits super soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who later becomes the Abomination, to hunt for the Hulk and subdue him.

In more mainstream fashion and with far less style and originality, “The Incredible Hulk,” helmed by unproven action director Louis Leterrier (“Unleashed”), follows the same pattern of most superhero/comic book movies. Although this “Hulk” tends to lean more toward the 1970’s TV series, which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, there’s really not much emotion behind the Hulk to say the audience is immersed in his personal story and conflict. Simply playing the TV show’s theme song during one part of the movie isn’t going to cut it.

For those Hulk fans who were critical of the lack of action in the Lee version, there’s more in this one. But really, are a couple extra smashed tanks really benefiting a story that should be focusing on a tormented soul? Lee’s version was brave enough to try something completely different that all the trivial comic book adaptations. In “The Incredible Hulk,” Leterrier and crew are just mixing up the same imitative concoction and pouring it out green this time.

The Strangers

May 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Kip Weeks
Directed by: Bryan Bertino (debut)
Written by: Bryan Bertino (debut)

It looks like Hollywood is slowly straying away from Asian horror remakes and starting to see what the country of France can provide in the genre. With the release of French horror films including “High Tension,” “Frontiers” and “Inside” in the last few years, a European influence is definitely working its way toward American-made horror.

The latest evidence of this French connection is with the new horror/thriller “The Strangers,” which has an eerily similar synopsis to the French film “Them.” In “Strangers,” James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) find themselves being terrorized by a trio of masked individuals lurking outside their desolate vacation cabin.

First-time director and writer Bryan Bertino creates natural tension before the attacks begin by introducing us to James and Kristen as they experience some major relationship turmoil. James has just proposed to Kristen earlier that evening and, much to his disappointment, Kristen did not accept his offer.

Their gloomy evening takes a shocking turn for the worst when they receive a visitor at 4 a.m. looking for someone named “Tamra.” Even after telling the young girl that shows up at their doorstep that there is no one at the cabin by that name, the girl returns later that night with another girl and man, who begin to bang on the door, peer into the house, and creep around the vicinity.

Soon, James and Kristen realize that if they are going to survive the night, they will have to stay one step ahead of their assailants all while being trapped in a house with no connection to the outside world.

Aside from the lack of a plot, which basically does not matter for a film constructed in this manner, the weaknesses of the “The Strangers” start with the repetitiousness and unoriginality that start right after the first couple of frightening scenarios. People wearing masks and lurking in and out of the shadows is petrifying, yes, but when that’s all they do for a duration of the film, Bertino misses a chance to grab his audience by the throat and match the satisfactory work he does setting the tone.

Then comes the horror clichés: the uncharged cell phones, the couple separating during the time when they should really be as close to each other as possible, the part where Kristen darts outside only to fall and twist her ankle, which, of course, causes her to limp around for the rest of the movie. It’s all been seen before in other horror films, and in “Strangers,” none of it works to its narrative’s advantage.

Although Bertino manages to keep the anxiety at a peak for the first half of the film with his minimalist efforts (Tyler adds on to this by looking like she is always a second away from having a nervous breakdown with each bump in the night she hears), the emotional impact declines in the waning moments as “The Strangers” becomes more and more similar to less suspenseful films of the past.