Monday, August 18, 2008

Movie Review - Tropic Thunder

We in The Middle Room see few parodies these days. This wasn't always the case, of course. When we think of our childhood years, we think of films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, UHF, and of the collected works of Mel Brooks (iD&Di: .32).

But somewhere along the way things fell apart. We don't recall when we first grew bored with the genre, but, to an extent, we outgrew it. Perhaps that is too generous an assessment: parody has become largely a mockery of what it once represented.

We exclude from this indictment a growing subsection of "quasi-parodies." Movies such as Sky High, Enchanted, Galaxy Quest, and Shaun of the Dead, while certainly containing elements of the parody, are films driven by character first. The references are there, no doubt, but these are peripheral to the main concept of the films. All of these are phenomenal pictures: if you missed any of these, we recommend them wholeheartedly. But they are genre films first. They are superhero movies, science fiction, or horror: the comedy is not the sole point.

But there exists a type of film where the comedy stands at the forefront. When we accuse the genre of faltering, we refer to the trend of reference-driven movies which show no sign of thought or reason. A reference, lacking context or purpose, is the lowest form of comedy, below even the infamous pun.

But there is room in our cineplexes for films crafted of references and jokes, provided there is thought, as well. Tropic Thunder, we are happy to report, is a parody worth watching. What's truly impressive is that this is an actual parody; slapstick even. The characters exist to tie the scenes and jokes together.

What separates this from lesser attempts is the degree of thought that has been invested. Expense was not spared on the effects or the sound design. The movie draws you in then gives you something to laugh at. But the jokes are complex. Rather than go for the cheap joke at every turn, there was actual thought put into this script.

Mike Myers (iD&Di: .41), perhaps, should take notes.

We would also be remiss were we to ignore the acting and makeup work. If you've heard anything about this movie, you've no doubt heard that Robert Downey, Jr. (iD&Di: .42) is hilarious. Between Tropic Thunder and Iron Man, this is certainly a good year for him.

But Downey was aided by some exceptional makeup work. It is our sincere belief that Tropic Thunder is deserving of the Oscar for best makeup. This is not hyperbole: it is fact.

On a scale of one to five, where five stars is equal to the greatness of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we wouldn't hesitate to give Tropic Thunder three and a half. This is an exceptional event: a parody in this day and age actually worth seeing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Riddle of Celluloid

It has come to our attention that one of the strangest projects we've ever heard of is in the works. It is a prequel, of sorts, to a movie close to our hearts.

Before we expound on the upcoming project, we'd like to take a moment to say a few words about fantasy, comic book movies, and Conan: The Barbarian.

What do these subjects have to do with each other? Strangely enough, everything. The Dark Knight, which we've already discussed in quite some depth, is being celebrated for seeming to rise above its genre. While we've expressed... mixed feelings about such a concept, we are certainly unable to deny that much of The Dark Knight's strength came from the fact that the film makers took the property seriously and filmed as they would any great movie. We salute them.

Likewise, Peter Jackson's (iD&Di: .90) Lord of the Rings took a similar philosophy, refusing to discount their subject.

Both of these properties were treated as epic films and developed accordingly. We have admiration for such courage and conviction: it is in short supply. For every Peter Jackson, after all, there is a Uwe Boll; for every Christopher Nolen (iD&Di: .34), a Joel Schumacher.
Jackson and Nolen are both visionary directors, but the path they followed had been forged long before they began. This was done in The Empire Strikes Back, in Superman, and, of course, in Conan: The Barbarian.

In various aspects, Conan can claim a home in both fantasy and comic book genres (while it was originally a series of fantasy novels, the comics developed much of the mythology used on the film). There were many opportunities to treat the film as a joke: one might even say there was an expectation the director would take such a route. But John Milius (iD&Di: .31) chose to treat his source material with respect. He crafted an epic.

And herein lies the heart of the matter: could this prequel possibly hope to even pay tribute to the original? Can anyone step into the blood-soaked shoes James Earl Jones once wore? If the answer is no, there is little hope. But if the creators are wise enough, perhaps... just maybe... a film could at last be forged that is worthy of being in the same world as Conan: The Barbarian.

But we are sceptical. It doesn't help that the reason this particular project was able to progress so far has more to do with the rights behind the character than anything else (as we understand, Thulsa Doom was appropriated along with the rights to Red Sonja, and thus this project was born).
It is also possible that the project could collapse: many properties have suffered such a fate. Perhaps this would be best.

On the other hand, even if the makers of this new film have no comprehension of what they're working on, even if it is an awful abysmal mess, we will be consoled by a single truth:

It will still be better than either Conan: The Destroyer or Red Sonja.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Did We Forget To Mention....

It seemed like as good a time as any to address some recent business in the world of capes and comics. As always, Comic Con has unleashed hundreds of stories, many of which we'll be sifting through in the months to come.

As the story notes, the title alludes to Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow". While the article claims this to be one of the top 5 best Superman stories ever written, we respectfully disagree.

We consider this the single best Superman story that's ever been told in comic form. We sincerely hope Gaiman is up to the challenge.

And speaking of Superman, we'd be remiss in omitting this unusual story. The short of it is that we will be watching at least one episode of Smallville this season. While we're intrigued that the Legion of Superheroes is making a cameo, the real factor is Geoff Johns, possibly our favorite writer still working regularly in comics.

And finally, we are always looking for signs that we are not alone. When the Vatican finally admitted that Superman was not an enemy of the church, we announced and applauded their decision. It took a great deal of courage, we suspect, to risk Lex Luthor's enmity.

While the Vatican may have extended a hand of friendship to Superman (and any other extraterrestrials living among us), they gave no real endorsement that such beings existed. That's where NASA comes in, or, at the very least, where a former astronaut makes an unsubstantiated claim.

That's right: the door is now open for ET, The Predator, Darkseid, and, most importantly, Superman.

Don't be afraid: when you get here, the church's doors are open.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


There are hundreds of superheroes we like to see given a movie of their own. We whittle away the hours sometimes imagining these films. Some, we've waited our lifetimes to see; some have stories so perfectly suited for the big screen, it's a crime they haven't already been made.

And, instead of producing one of these masterpieces, Sony has decided to produce a spin-off following the adventures of Venom.

The move begs several questions. First, will the story even follow Eddie Brock, who seemed to die at the end of Spiderman 3? It almost seems unlikely, as some reports have suggested: Sony may be looking to recast.

Of course, they may merely be thinking of recasting Brock with a different actor. Somehow we doubt this as well: given his rather unambiguous death, we'd be surprised to see them bring the character back as a different actor. The symbiote, on the other hand, could easily have survived to find a new host.

If they use a new character and have him become a new Venom, the question still remains, "Why bother?" Fans of the character - not that many remain - would be irritated at the revision. We know the answer, of course, is as simple as money: studios are traditionally quick to exploit properties, whether or not there is wisdom in such action.

But is the world really interested in a Venom movie?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Movie Review - The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

It is our sincere opinion, upon great reflection and consideration, that a discussion of this, the most recent Mummy film, would be entirely without merit or purpose were we to examine it in the absence of Rotten Tomatoes.

If you are unfamiliar, Rotten Tomatoes collects as many reviews as possible, boils them down to a simple dichotomy - thumbs up or down, as it were - and provides a percent, supposedly mirroring a movie's worth.

We fear the mirror may reflect darkly in some cases, which is surely what has occurred here.

If Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a horrible picture, scoring a measly ten percent. But The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is not horrible; it is merely very bad.

This may seem a trivial observation, but, to put things in perspective, Catwoman is equally ranked. While no one could ever accuse The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor of being good, it was nowhere near as awful as this.

But then polarization is built into the methodology used by Rotten Tomatoes. This isn't so much an error as a limit to the tool's power. While Rotten Tomatoes can usually tell you if a movie is good or bad, it is not capable of telling you how good or how bad. Interpreting a very low grade in such a manner can sometimes be misleading.

Of course, there are other problems with the site. For instance, it is only as capable as the critics it collects, who are themselves far from infallible. But this is a subject we've discussed before: there is little reason to dwell on it now.

Let us turn our attention instead to the movie we set out to discuss. The Mummy. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Our first criticism is with how the movie was filmed. It is our sincere opinion that the producers ought to have selected a different director of photography. Why? Because the movie was actually shot well, a fact we found jarring in contrast to the incompetent writing and choreography, and most other aspects of the film.

Had the movie been shot with less skill, we think, it might have seemed less disjointed as a whole. Of course a similar effect might have been achieved by hiring more talented individuals to handle other aspects of the process, but clearly this is far too much to ask.

The least forgivable sin was the writing. The dialogue in the previous Mummy films, while perhaps less than brilliant, was never less than entertaining. Here, every line drags. The laughs are few and far between, as is the action.

And when the action does begin, it fails to satisfy. On every level, the first two Mummy films are fun. This simply is not. There are a few moments that are interesting: many of the effects deliver what was promised. The three-headed dragon, the yeti, and the undead horses are impressive, but they are not enough to entertain. Our enjoyment at the dragon, for instance, felt more academic than heartfelt. It is a sad fate for this franchise, though parallels can be drawn to other recent films.

On a scale of one to five, where five is the original Mummy, we can give this no more than two stars. Movie tickets are expensive these days: wait to rent the dvd this time.