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James Berardinelli review - * out of **** James Berardinelli review - *1/2 out of **** James Berardinelli review- *** out of **** James Berardinelli review - * out of **** James Berardinelli review - *** out of **** James Berardinelli review - *** out of **** James Berardinelli review - **1/2 out of **** James Berardinelli review - *** out of **** James Berardinelli review - **1/2 out of **** James Berardinelli review - *** out of **** View all posts >


[quote]As mediocre as much of the hackneyed drama is, nothing comes close to the level of abomination achieved by the tedious, pretentious, and unwatchable 10-15 minutes of “Satan’s Alley” that make it to the screen. Those who stick around after this endurance trial are rewarded by the movie’s lone good scene – the one at the very end when the movie recreates the opening of Saturday Night Fever. Thematically, this provides a bookend – it’s just unfortunate that so much of the second chapter is poorly conceived, poorly executed, and just plain bad.[/quote] [quote]Planet of the Apes fans will almost certainly be pleased by this outing. The open question is whether casual movie-goers will be intrigued by this exploration of a post-apocalyptic world in which human characters are footnotes. Messages about inclusion and racism are easily identified but are no more overt than in the previous installments. The battles and a climactic action sequence are well filmed but Kingdom isn’t trying to outdo the other summer films when it comes to edge-of-the-seat viewing. In a strange way, I find that refreshing.[/quote] [quote]Over the years, although Howard the Duck has achieved a dubious cult status (something seemingly true of many really awful movies), time has improved its quality only in the memories of viewers. Looking back through the haze of nearly 40 years, perhaps Howard the Duck doesn’t seem as bad as it did when it unspooled in theaters during August 1986. Taking a fresh look, however, dredges up the ugliness. This was a bad movie when it was released. It is a bad movie today. And it will continue to be a bad movie long after this planet ceases to exist. In the future, it’s possible that the character of Howard the Duck can be redeemed. No such accommodation could ever be made for Willard Huyck’s embarrassment of an adaptation.[/quote] [quote]Therein lies the movie’s central flaw. Lucas’ original vision was to make Howard the Duck animated. The decision to move to a live-action approach was necessitated by Universal’s desire to get the movie into theaters as quickly as possible. And, as far as special effects had come during the previous decade (due in large part to Lucas), they hadn’t come far enough. Pretty much everything in Howard the Duck looks cheap and unconvincing, including the title character. And Chip Zien’s vocal “stylings” are flat and lacking in the necessary bite. He was hired because of his ability to synchronize his words with Howard’s beak movements, since the dialogue was recorded after the completion of filming. Robin Williams, who was the original choice, quit after a week because he felt unreasonably constrained. As for the live actors, Lea Thompson is as appealing as in anything she did during the 1980s, Jeffrey Jones is over-the-top (as was his wont), and Tim Robbins is godawful. (If not for Top Gun coming out the same year, he might never have had a career. His signature role in Bull Durham was still two years off.) Despite numerous disputes with Marvel over the years, Steve Geber gave a lukewarm nod of approval toward the film version. Gene Colan, on the other hand, wasn’t so kind. Although he never saw the finished production (having been warned away from it), he knew enough from friends and family to offer an appraisal of sorts: “They made a film and it was a disaster. When [Hollywood] got their hands on it, they did something to destroy it…They had a good book. And what they succeeded in doing was wrecking it.”[/quote] [quote]Performances are key in making the characters real. Kirsten Dunst is especially good as a woman who has buried herself so deeply in an emotionless cocoon that, when there are cracks, they make demands on Dunst as an actress. Stephen McKinley Henderson is the voice of reason who realizes this may be his last rodeo but is determined to see it through. Cailee Spaeny, who recently played the title character in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, faces the most difficult arc as the horrors around her shred the remaining vestiges of her naivete and force her to understand what she must sacrifice to become who she wants to be. Alas, the ending cheapens the overall experience. Especially without a better understanding of how things got to that point and who The President (Nick Offerman) is, the cheesy action and silly narrative contortions of the final 15 minutes are a difficult pill to swallow. Garland fumbled the ending of his previous film, Men, and that same problem is evident here. He knows how to tell a story but can’t stick the ending. This flaw diminishes Civil War but it isn’t a fatal blow. There’s still enough captivating and disquieting material here to make the experience worthwhile. And this isn’t an easy movie to shake off.[/quote] [quote]The passage of time has been kind to Batman Returns. Upon its initial release, it was greeting with a mixed reaction by critics and movie-goers. The box office, although buoyant during its first weekend, ultimately disappointed (resulting in Warner Brothers deciding not to offer Burton the director’s chair for the third Batman movie). Now, some three-plus decades later, this is generally viewed not only as the best of the Burton/Schumacher series but one of the best superhero movies of the century. Whether watched as an alternative Christmas movie or at any other time of the year, Batman Returns illustrates offbeat possibilities that were once possible in the superhero genre. The Burton aesthetic remains Batman Returns’ most memorable aspect and one reason why the film’s reputation has escalated during its history on home video.[/quote] [quote]There’s less action in Batman Returns than in Batman, but there’s violence aplenty. Batman remains an elusive figure, mostly staying in the shadows. One of the contemporaneous complaints about the film was the lack of a focused, action-oriented climax but, in retrospect, that represents a strength, helping Batman Returns seem less like a cookie-cutter comic book movie and more like something with its own identity. Unlike the other two sequels, this one doesn’t seem committed to selling toys. In terms of marketing, the only major deal was with McDonald’s, which sold a Batman Returns Happy Meal coinciding with the film’s release. This caused a minor controversy when watchdog groups pointed out the inappropriateness of the production’s material for young children. Although rated PG-13, it skated close to the boundaries of an R with blatant sexual double-entendres and a matter-of-fact attitude toward violence. Each member of the Trio of Nastiness brings something different to the proceedings. DeVito’s Penguin couldn’t be more different than the Burgess Meredith interpretation in the Adam West TV show. Although possessing a warped comedic edge, this villain is best remembered for the extensive prosthetics that made him frightening to some small children. Michelle Pfeffer’s catsuit became iconic (although she hated wearing it) and her character is the embodiment of BDSM. Latex and whips – what could be more obvious? As for Shreck, he’s Christopher Walken in his creepy prime. Burton later admitted almost not casting him because he found the actor to be intimidating.[/quote] [quote]Tone is something Wingard struggles with. Although the best Godzilla movies have been serious endeavors with allegorical elements, the team-ups/smackdowns have tended toward high camp with WWE-style flourishes. Starting with King Kong vs. Godzilla, the Toho-produced movies grew increasingly silly during the Showa era. Had Godzilla x Kong fully embraced this tone rather than trying for things like “emotional resonance,” it might have been more enjoyable. However, while there are comedic/satirical aspects, the movie as a whole takes itself too seriously. When watching something like this, I occasionally feel like deferring to my eight-year-old monster movie-loving self. I think that version of myself would have been a little bored by the lengthy periods of setup then delighted by the three big battles (Kong vs. King Scar, Kong vs. Godzilla redux, Kong/Godzilla/Mothra vs. King Skar/Shimo). But even for those who have an orgasmic reaction to kaiju confrontations, far too little of the film is devoted to them and the overreliance on CGI leeches away the immediacy and awe associated with the spectacle. This isn’t as bad as the 1998 Godzilla misfire but it’s perilously close. If there are to be any more Monsterverse movies (something I don’t favor), turn them over to Takashi Yamazaki. He knows how to do it right.[/quote] [quote]Umberto D. is an almost-perfect slice-of-life. It has no true beginning and no firm ending. It fades in and fades out, affording us an opportunity to spend some time with one old man and get to know him and the world in which he lives. As with many older films, the value of this approach – a contemporaneous look at minutia that many other movies don’t provide – is amplified. Umberto D. provides a window into the past – an opportunity to experience an unvarnished perspective of things more often represented in sepia-tinged photographs. It’s often said that good films “don’t age.” In this case, the quality of aging is a strength.[/quote] [quote]Note: The copy currently available for streaming at Amazon Prime is nearly-unwatchable and should be avoided at all costs. It appears to be a dupe of a pan-and-scan VHS copy that was originally recorded at SLP speed. It is virtually unwatchable. Other, better copies are available for rent and anyone who is serious about watching the movie is advised to seek those out.[/quote] View all replies >