Thursday, April 29, 2010

Futures Market 2010, Part 1

We've few traditions in The Middle Room, but trying to foretell the future has become one.  Every year, we consider the upcoming releases and try to predict, based on trailers and word of mouth, which will be worthy of our money.  As always, our gauge shall be Rotten Tomatoes, the most scientific appraisal available for critical reaction.

In the interest of fair play, we promise to make use of no time travel devices or divination in our attempts.

Here then, are the films for May:

Iron Man 2
(May 7)
Estimated Tomatometer: 90%
The first installment achieved a 93%.  While we expect the sequel to be, if anything, slightly better than the original, we suspect a small number of critics who embraced Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance the first time to betray the series, complaining that they've seen it before.  Regardless what the critics think, we expect we'll see this movie.

However, based on the trailers, we anticipate those of us who are connoisseurs of geek entertainment will be very pleased with this picture.  It is hard to watch previews without thinking of Spider-Man 2, which managed to exceed the first.

Robin Hood (May 14)
Estimated Tomatometer: 75%
In his prime, Ridley Scott directed some of our favorite films.  However, most of those came out in the seventies and eighties.  In truth, we've been less than thrilled with his post-Blade Runner work.  Our hope for Robin Hood is not bolstered by the casting of Russell Crowe.  It's not that we consider Crowe a bad actor, rather that we find him a good actor who usually stars in bad films.  We believe Gladiator, the film Robin Hood most resembles, to be one of the most overrated movies we've ever seen.

The situation is not helped by the fact this is both an origin story and an attempt at realism.  Robin Hood is a figure of myth, not history.  Tell the myth within it's historical context, by all means, but please, tell the myth.  We've had enough "realistic" interpretations of Robin Hood and King Arthur.

Nonetheless, we will likely give this a chance, if for no other reason than Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea was cast as Alan A'Dayle.  Even so, we have more faith critics will respond favorably to this than we will.  Only if critical response is overwhelmingly negative would we rethink our plans.

MacGruber (May 21)
Estimated Tomatometer: 50%
Truth be told, we find extremely unlikely that we'll see this movie.  We've included it on our list because it is, on some level, an 80's action pastiche.  In a summer that will see the release of the A-Team and The Expendables, a clear theme is developing.  Unless we hear very positive recommendations, we'll likely save our money rather than go see a Saturday Night Live spin-off.

Shrek Forever After (May 21)
Estimated Tomatometer: 65%
The original Shrek was a mediocre film, a flawed comedy with enough good moments to make it worth a viewing.  We consider its status as a classic undeserved.  Its sequel was a bit better.  Still far from brilliant, it was at least a solid comedy/adventure.  We never saw the third, but by all indications, there's little reason to do so.

It's difficult to speculate whether the fourth will be at all worthwhile.  Our guess is that it won't be, but then our faith in Dreamworks' animation is less than high.  If, say, ninety percent of critics praise this, we'll likely check it out.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (May 28)
Estimated Tomatometer: 60%
While we have little time for most video games, the one this movie is based on happens to be an exception.  We have, in fact, played through Prince of Persia, and found it an enjoyable experience.  Judging by the trailers, the filmmakers seem to have gone with a campy interpretation, a decision we're not too thrilled by.  This is clearly an attempt to recreate the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, and we will sing their praises if they succeed.  If they falter, however, they will have squandered a great opportunity.  Sands of Time is one the rare video games whose premise includes real potential to be taken seriously.

Micmacs (May 28)
Estimated Tomatometer: NA (Current: 79%)
We've yet to decide whether to see Jean-Pierre Jeunet's new film.  While Amelie is one of our favorite foreign films, it cannot be overlooked that Jeunet did, in fact, direct Alien: Resurrection.  While it's yet to be released in the United States, Micmacs came out in France last year, so a number of critics have chimed in.  Whether its score rises or lowers is of little interest to us: in truth, whether we see this in the theater or on DVD has more to do with where it ends up playing than anything else.

Next time, we shall delve further into the summer, gazing into the eye of that enigmatic month known as "June." We may also consider some of July, as time permits.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Movie Review: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is, first and foremost, an uncompromising movie.  It was made without studio interference, and the artistic vision of the director comes through the final product, as does the voice of Mark Millar, who originally wrote the comics it's based on.

The thing is, sometimes compromise is a good thing, particularly when subtlety is called for.  As for artistic vision, this is the director of the Stardust we're talking about.  And, while Mark Millar has written some great stories (Red Son is nothing short of fantastic), the majority of his work we've seen has been mediocre at best.  We never did get around to reading Kick-Ass, and we don't feel particularly inspired to do so at the moment.

This isn't to say Kick-Ass is entirely bad.  In fact, as a whole, it averages out to good.  But good won't cut it this time.

The issue isn't so much with the movie as with our expectations.  We've all seen the previews, which were, on a whole, amazing.  Those scenes were amazing in the movie, well: seeing them before hand didn't dull their effect.  What it did was give us an opportunity to imagine what the movie could be.  And that comes down to a single word:

Fun.  This movie could have been fun.  If the pacing had kept up or if the tone had been more consistent, it could have worked at that level at least.  Had they cleaned up the dialogue as well, then it might have reached for something higher.

With that said, this is still worth seeing, though not necessarily in the theater.  Hit Girl is awesome; an eleven year-old girl action hero embodies a facet of superheroics we hadn't seen before.  There's not a lot that wasn't covered in the previews and scenes released online, but there's enough to make this worthwhile.

Ultimately, as a dark spin on superheroes, this just isn't as grand, intriguing, or simply as much fun as Watchmen.  Granted, Watchmen had its problems, but it was certainly an experience to behold.  Kick-Ass had its moments, but it was nothing special.

Kick-Ass might have benefited from studio interference.  If the director had been told "no" from time to time, it could have meant a better film.  And, frankly, if a bit of the violence had been toned down, we doubt the finished product would have been poorer for the loss.

On a scale between one and five stars, where five represents The Incredibles, Kick-Ass gets two and a half.  This is a movie you need to see... but that's what Netflix is for.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

DVD Review: Planet Hulk

When DC releases an animated direct-to-DVD feature, we tend to see it immediately, sometimes taking the extra step of traveling forward in time to see it before its release.  When Marvel releases a DVD, we generally get around to it in a few months, depending on how we're feeling.

However, we may need to review this policy.  While Planet Hulk was far from spectacular, it marks the fourth worthwhile production in a row.  While it falls far short of Hulk Vs., it's still a good movie, well worth your time.

We should state now, before continuing, that we have never read the comics this was based on.  As such, we are not aware which elements were imported from the source material and which were created for the film.  Therefore, we're unsure who to blame for the plot holes and cliches, just as we don't know who to applaud for the setting and characters.

Fortunately, much of the story predates the comics.  Obviously, this owes a great deal to Spartacus, as well as John Carter of Mars.  This is an old story with old ideas, but that's kind of a selling point here.  This is a retelling - an adaptation of a sort - that feels more in tone with the old Marvel "What If?" series than anything else.  That this remains in Marvel continuity can't change that fact.

If the notion of seeing the Hulk play the role of Spartacus on Barsoom sounds tedious, then this isn't for you.  If anything, the movie suffers whenever it deviates from this premise.  Having never read the comics, we don't know how closely the last act follows the original, but the story as presented made short work of the last twenty minutes.  The conclusion hinged on a plot twist we can't imagine anyone not seeing far in advance.  Calling it a "twist" at all is something of stretch.  Let us say instead that one of the characters is finally shown something painfully obvious.

This movie exists so the Hulk can crush, smash, and break a number of alien creatures.  This is, of course, amusing in itself, and the movie delivers the action you'd expect.  It doesn't offer anything beyond this, but we didn't really expect it to.