Saturday, October 12, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 23: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

In 1994, a Fantastic Four movie is made that's so bad, Fox decides not to release it. Ten years later, they produce and release a movie that's actually worse. Three years after that, they make a sequel, introducing the Silver Surfer and a cloud that is not, under any reasonable definition, Galactus. It was, in fact, the worst of the three.

Two years from now, Fox is planning on releasing a relaunch. If the present trajectory continues, mathematics dictates the movie will be so abysmal, its presence onscreen will create a black hole of awfulness that could swallow the Earth.

Rise of the Silver Surfer was already damn near that bad, and they'll have had an additional eight years to screw the characters up further.

You may be wondering what we should have expected from the people who made the previous installment. I'd respond by saying, at bare minimum, we should have been able to expect that the sequel wouldn't be worse than part one. History has clearly proven me wrong.

I just tried typing out a synopsis of this movie, but the result was so awful, I deleted it. Look, I just... here's a paragraph from Wikipedia that explains this better than I ever could:
After an animal has digested eaten material, the remains of that material are expelled from its body as waste. Though it is lower in energy than the food it came from, feces may still contain a large amount of energy, often 50% of that of the original food. This means that of all food eaten, a significant amount of energy remains for the decomposers of ecosystems. Many organisms feed on feces, from bacteria to fungi to insects such as dung beetles, which can sense odors from long distances. Some may specialize in feces, while others may eat other foods as well. Feces serve not only as a basic food, but also a supplement to the usual diet of some animals. This is known as coprophagia, and occurs in various animal species such as young elephants eating their mother's feces to gain essential gut flora, or by other animals such as dogs, rabbits, and monkeys. 
I want to explain why this movie is as bad as it is, but I honestly don't even know where to start. Maybe Sue? Alba has a major role in this movie, very little of which has to do with her as a superhero. Instead, she's stressed about her wedding.

Think about every cliche they could possibly include. Guess what? You missed a few. Unfortunately, the writers did not: the first half of the movie is mostly a string of scenes that would feel trite in a 50's comedy.

Then, at the end, she inspires a male character to save the world.

But before you accuse this movie of sexism, rest assured it mistreats its male characters, as well. Reed and Ben are given next to nothing to do the entire movie, while Johnny gets all their powers at the end to fight it out with a galactic-powered Doom. And yet, when all's said and done, it almost feels like he was absent the whole movie.

The Surfer actually has a few sequences where he looks cool at the end, demonstrating the technology exists to bring him to the screen, but the not the talent. He's got maybe a half dozen lines the whole movie, none of which are remotely interesting.

Then there's Doctor Doom. Look, the character this guy's based on is easily one of the best villains ever created. Hell, you could argue he partially inspired Darth Vader. The fact they can't make him remotely interesting is astonishing.

This movie looks better than Origins: Wolverine or X-Men 3, but it's actually worse. For what it's worth, it's not as bad as the lowest tier, reserved for movies like Barb Wire and The Spirit, but it comes disturbingly close.

If you've avoided this so far, pat yourself on the back. Kudos. Most importantly, keep your distance, folks. This is an awful, awful movie.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 22: Fantastic Four

I had so much fun with the 1994 film, I decided it was time to revisit the 2004 streamlined remake (when I say "streamlined", I just mean they dropped the word "the", and when I say "remake", I'm just trying to insult Fox). Unlike its predecessor, this was released on the public, which tells us the studio was less humane than it had been a decade before.

Okay - maybe I'm exaggerating. In the scheme of things, this movie isn't actually that awful. There are a handful of amusing moments and gags that are occasionally funny. But this movie irritates me quite a bit, and a big part of that comes from just having seen the Corman version. Because that movie was bad - it was low budget, cheesy, and badly produced. But, for all its flaws, it managed to feel like a Fantastic Four movie. Not a good Fantastic Four, but at least authentic.

And the Fox version is just a generic superhero movie. Sure, it tries to be funny, which is a feature of the comics. And it leaves in a character trait here or there, but it doesn't come close to delivering the experience. The reason is pretty clear: they don't even try.

Fox obviously had the rights to these characters and wanted to repeat the success they'd had with X-Men and Sony had with Spider-Man. So they tried to make them modern, sexy. They tried to turn the FF into a team modern teens would relate to.

And that's not who the Fantastic Four are. None of these characters felt right, though The Thing and Human Torch came a lot closer than Mr. Fantastic, who was in turn a hell of a lot better realized than The Invisible Woman. God, they mangled her character, and even she came out better than Doctor Doom.

Any director who can't at least make Doctor Doom fun has no business working in film.

The script was as boring as the direction, which resulted in a movie lacking any real tension. Its attempts at fun were undermined by a self-serious tone. This is worse than a bad movie: it's an utter waste of time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

Gravity is at the very edge of greatness, but held back by a catch-22 imposed on the director by a harsh reality. It's a good movie, but that's the problem: it doesn't want to be a movie at all. It wants to be something else. The complication is that this particular "something else" doesn't exist, at least not in a way that would have allowed the director to play with the elements that make Gravity awesome.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on here. This is the closest most of us are ever going to get to being in space, and supposedly, it's a really good facsimile. That was clearly the director's goal: to show us what it's actually like in orbit. Appropriately, the threats they encountered were all completely real. No aliens or super science here: just space junk.

In fact, the technology and threats present in the movie are all so real, it's not even clear this should be called science-fiction. This is a dramatized thriller about something that could happen. And while there's certainly an existential undercurrent to the story, the primary theme being communicated is simply the experience of being in space itself: the sense of weightlessness, the total lack of direction, the beauty, and the terror.

That's where the vision of the movie is held back by the very fact it's a movie. CuarĂ³n set out to create an experience, and that experience isn't enhanced by a 90 minute run time. He could have shaved this down to half that and lost none of the movie's impact. But he'd never have managed to get it on every IMAX screen in the country, which was essential in delivering his work to an audience.

For all intents and purposes, there are three characters in Gravity, and one is the camera. The other two are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both of whom do a great job. But they're not really playing movie characters: structurally, they're actually closer to people in video games.

Bullock plays a point-of-view. From time-to-time, the camera even dips into her helmet and gives us a first-person perspective. We're meant to experience the movie as she does: it's a testament to her skill that we do. Clooney has a different role: he's the NPC telling her (and by extension us) how to survive the next objective. Likewise, the dialogue and acting is good enough that we don't mind, but the similarities are difficult to ignore.

It's definitely pushing boundaries. This has elements from video games, amusement park rides, and - yes - films. As such, it doesn't deliver everything we're used to getting from a movie, but instead gives us something a bit different.

Gravity is extremely cool. Seeing it on the big screen is a fantastic experience, and I'd encourage you to give it a try. There's very little here that would survive being viewed at home: this is definitely worth seeing in 3D (and on IMAX, if at all possible).