2007: The Year in Review

04-Jan-08 12:19 PM by
Filed under Films; 3 comments.

It's time for a brief look back at 2007 — brief, because my theatergoing is not what it once was. The number of movies I saw in theaters has fluctuated wildly since a decade ago, though it seems relatively constant over the course of this millennium:

1995: 22 1996: 43 1997: 70 1998: 53
1999: 37 2000: 30 2001: 12 2002: 16
2003: 15 2004: 11 2005:  9 2006: 14

This past year was very similar to its predecessor, with me taking in 15 theatrical films. It is not the prohibitive cost that keeps me from seeing more movies: a genetic condition permits me free tickets to any movie, anytime. It's more a matter of the time investment and working around the theater's schedule, whereas I can watch as much of a DVD as I want, whenever I want. Theatergoing also has a more social element than sitting at home in my pajamas, so I'm further limited by other people's geography and availability. Add in the fact that I don't have TV service and thus am not exposed unwillingly to commercials and trailers, and it takes some other rare factor, such as brand recognition, to make me aware and interested enough to warrant seeing a film.

Of the 15 films I saw in 2007, the best were Live Free or Die Hard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (I'd include Star Trek: The Menagerie as a theatergoing experience, but it technically was not a movie.) All three were rock'em, sock'em good action flicks that may've relied on tried-and-true formulae, but executed with finesse and humor.

This year's most disappointing movies were Spider-Man 3, 300, The Simpsons Movie, and The Golden Compass. And downright loathsome was The Transformers, which I recently saw the RiffTrax version of. Sadly, even Mike Nelson and crew could not improve on The Transformers, as I found it even more tedious on a second runthrough. Again, each of these films was based on an existing property, which perhaps led to high and ultimately unfulfilled expectations.

Which of 2007's films did you enjoy the most or least? Did I miss any you recommend?

A Great Big Bang-Up

10-May-07 3:53 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 11 comments.

Spider-Man 3 was to fans like honey to flies. Having contributed to that success, I now offer this perspective on a film that I very much enjoyed, but nowhere near as much as I did its predecessors.

I skimped on the previews for this third adaptation of the Marvel superhero: trailers are unnecessary selling points for a movie that had me at "hello". I'm glad I abstained, as the trailers contained multiple spoilers, including the presence of a major character whom I did not expect to see in this movie (despite all the clues being there). It was fun to watch all these icons come to life and duke it out, even if the first fight was my favorite and the rest seemed too frenetic and CGI-ish to follow.

But ultimately, that character's appearance contributed to the film's greatest flaw. I didn't have to see Batman & Robin to know that it was a victim to (among other things) its own ambition: introducing Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Batgirl was too much for one film to handle. Spider-Man 3 suffers similarly (if perhaps not as severely). Who will Spider-Man fight next: Sandman? The son of the Green Goblin? Or the black suit? Is he preoccupied by reliving the night his uncle was killed, not giving Maryjane the attention she deserves? Is she the love interest, or is Gwen Stacy?

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Overture, Light the Lights

23-Apr-07 11:10 AM by
Filed under Films; 4 comments.

In anticipation of Spider-Man 3a new trailer for which was released this past weekend — I've invited several friends to a group outing.

One person accepted:

I love opening nights; there is an energy in the audience that is different from other movie experiences.

Another declined:

I would rather see the movie in a more relaxed atmosphere. I am not a fan of the battle for good seats, plus it's possible to get really bad seats.

I can see the advantages of both. So what company do you prefer: a large, boisterous, reactive crowd on opening night? Or a quiet matinee a few weeks later, perhaps at a second-run? And why?

The Year In Preview

25-Feb-07 10:51 AM by
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Seeing as how the Oscars are to be presented tonight, I thought it time to stop looking backward to the best (and worst) of 2006, and have plotted my moviegoing for 2007. The pickings are slimmer than I thought.

Movies I want to see this year:

Spider-Man 3 (May 4th)
The Transformers (July 4th)
Harry Potter (July 13th)

Movies I wouldn't mind seeing:

Ghost Rider (now playing)
The Astronaut Farmer (now playing)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (March 23rd)
Shrek 3 (May 18th)
Sin City 2 (September?)

Movies that I can't believe they're making out of TV shows, whether or not they'll be out this year:

The A-Team
Get Smart
I Dream of Jeannie
Land of the Lost
Love Boat

Or video games:

Dead or Alive (June 22nd)
Prince of Persia
Soul Calibur

Or other franchises:

Hot Wheels
Jurassic Park IV
Underdog

What about you — what looks hot, or has you bothered, in 2007?

The Not-So-Marvelous

07-Feb-07 10:26 PM by
Filed under Films; 5 comments.

A week from today marks the four-year anniversary of the release of Daredevil:

It was a Valentine's Day I remember well, having spent it in the theater among fellow lonely geeks. Marvel plans to commemorate this milestone by putting yet another well-known actor into an incongruous superhero role: Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider.

Frankly, I'm not impressed. Neither Daredevil nor Ghost Rider are the stuff legends are made of, and Marvel's attempts to bring these lesser-known heroes to life have been less than successful. The Punisher? Forgettable. Blade? Eventually despicable. Even better-known heroes, such as The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four, have had their share of theatrical bombs. And if you look at Marvel's intentions for the next three years, you'll see that the opportunity for future failures is staggering: Captain America, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Thor… and, of course, sequels to previous critical failures but box office successes.

So what makes for a good translation from pulp comics to silver screen? One would think that putting the characters in the hands of directors who know and love them would ensure they are treated faithfully and with respect — but Bryan Singer defenestrated that notion with his masterful interpretations of both Superman and the X-Men, despite having never read a comic book prior to accepting the assignments.

Is it the original character? Certainly a strong foundation and good writing are essential; both have contributed to Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man becoming cross-culture icons, even before their cinematic adaptations. It's no coincidence that those films (or at least the ones lacking George Clooney and Richard Pryor) have also been well-received by geeks and non-geeks alike.

Does this mean we are to limit ourselves to storied superheroes who have been around for forty to seventy years, dismissing any young, fresh characters? Such a severe restriction would discourage innovation in Hollywood and ultimately hurt all parties involved — especially the audience.

What, then, are useful metrics for predicting a superhero's success? What are fair and accurate expectations when indulging in such films? Can — should — they be held to the same standards as any other cinematic enterprise?

Fantastic Faux

26-Dec-06 11:15 PM by
Filed under Films; 6 comments.

And now the trailer for the next Fantastic Four film is up.

I know why I watch this stuff: after watching the best parts of a bomb excerpted into trailer form, I'm saved the time and money of watching the rest of the movie. Here, we have Johnny Storm chasing the T-1000, who has some pretty nifty powers but whose motivations are unclear. I'm happy for them to stay that way.

I saw the first Fantastic Four film at KansasFest 2005 as our annual geek field trip; other such titles have included Superman Returns, Terminator 3, X-Men, Planet of the Apes, and both Bourne films. Obviously, we've had both hits and misses. But based on past experience, I think we can safely rule out this Marvel flop as a likely candidate for KFest 2007.

It's a shame that Marvel's cinematic adaptations can't be more consistent, as they have great potential. I rewatched Spider-Man 2 today, and the original X-Men last week (more on that in a future post). So far, four-fifths of these two franchises are fantastic; but the other Marvel films I've seen, such as Daredevil and Hulk, were simply painful. I'll take my Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno DVD sets anyday.

Trailer Sense is Tingling

22-Dec-06 9:36 PM by
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Spider-Man 3 trailer is up.

I don't even know why I bother watching this stuff. It's not like they need to sell me on the film.

Looks like they're playing around with comic book continuity. I'm okay with that, especially since I'm sure we're seeing only a fraction of the truth this early in the game. I just hope this franchise doesn't go the way of the Batman films by having too many villains in each…