Monday, May 07, 2007

SLIFR FORUM: THE TOYS OF SUMMER


Rie Rasmussen towers over Jamel Debbouze in Luc Besson's visually striking Angel-A

Well, it looks like Spider-Man 3 broke all sorts of box office records this past weekend—highest grossing Friday opening for a $250 million-third-installment-comic-book-movie-by-a-movie-studio-residing-
in-Culver-City-with-infinite-ties-to-video-games-and-kids-underpants-
and-breakfast-cereals ever!—and somehow I still don’t give an arachnid’s ass about seeing it. Of course I eventually will see Spider-Man 3—it is a Sam Raimi movie, after all, however bloated and overstuffed with characters and plotlines it may or may not be. But the Spider-Man franchise has, with the exception of the second movie (a lithe and moving piece of heavy lifting that did just right most of the things the first movie dampened and flubbed), always been a bit of a shrug for me. I was a big fan of the comic book series when I was growing up—I came of comic-reading age just as the Spider-Man series was reaching its first crest of popularity in the mid and late ‘60s. So by all rights I should have lapped up the big screen version, and I did spend several years imagining how much fun a movie version in CGI age could be. But I’m not an obsessive fanboy either, at least to the degree that I spent hours and hours picking over what the first movie did wrong in terms of whether or not it was faithful to the comic book or not.

Indeed, Raimi’s first movie was pretty accurate to my memory of the origin story of Spider-Man. My objections to the movie derived largely from its casting choices and then what Raimi chose to do with his cast. I made very little sense to me to make the effort to astutely cast the goblin-like Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and then encase him in a generic-looking outfit so that the actor is hidden during the moments when he could best pull out all the stops and enjoy his on-screen villainy. I loved J. K. Simmons as J.J. Jameson, and I even thought Tobey Maguire, though a little doughier than the way he was visualized by Steve Ditko in the original comic books, captured the essence of Peter Parker—wide-eyed nerd who cannot comfortably embrace his newfound powers—quite well. But Kirsten Dunst is not my idea of the fun-lovin’, sassy, slightly tart, more than slightly buxom, and quite redheaded Mary Jane Watson. She’s just too bland. And the new movie continues this trend of miscasting Parker’s girlfriends by introducing Bryce Dallas Howard as the comely, good-hearted Gwen Stacy. There’s barely anything that distinguishes Dunst from Howard for me. They both seem like the same nice, dull woman. And as I’m sitting here typing this now, I’m having a hard time recalling what either of them even look like. Hasn’t any of the army of casting folk on the Spider-Man movies ever heard of Rachel McAdams or Mandy Moore?

I remain unimpressed with Spider-Man 3’s numbers—there are just too many other movies I have to catch up on, like Sarah Polley’s Away from Here, Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, Alain Resnais’ Private Fears in Public Places and even Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling in Fracture, all of which are in line to be bumped off lots of screens by the time Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (yet another shrug, I’m afraid) swallows up all the multiplex space in about three weeks.

But I’m no summer season snob. There are big summer releases I’m looking forward to. For my superhero fix, I’ll go with the underdog (and no, I’m not talking about Disney’s live-action Underdog, coming in August). I’m referring to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I quite liked the smaller-scaled, unpretentious Fantastic Four-- and, yes, I know, almost no one else did—so I look forward to this next chapter in the hopes that it doesn’t get infected with the same kind of elephantiasis that is so common for movies like on the second (or third) go-round.


I’ve also got very high hopes for two raucous comedies, both of them featuring Freaks and Geeks alumnus Seth Rogen—Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and what looks to be a hilarious high school nerds out on the town farce, Superbad, co-written by Rogen and featuring the actor in a supporting role. I was also convinced by seeing its trailer that 28 Weeks Later, a sequel to Danny Boyle’s disturbing viral zombie thriller, might be more than just another Fox Atomic-Hills Have Eyes 2-type knockoff. And I’m more than a little curious (with a little of the usual suspicion mixed in, of course) about Luc Besson’s Angel A, as well as Andrew Fleming’s updating of Nancy Drew, William Friedkin’s Bug, Bruce Evans’ Mr. Brooks, Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!, Jonathan King’s Black Sheep, John Dahl’s You Kill Me, Len Wiseman’s Live Free or Die Hard, Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen, Johnnie To’s Election and Triad Election, Brad Bird’s Ratatouille, Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn and, of course, David Silverman’s The Simpsons Movie. But I’m placing my biggest bet on Paul Greengrass’ third installment in the excellent Matt Damon action franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum.


So, there does happen to be plenty to look forward to as the weather heats up that doesn’t have Spider-Man or Captain Jack Sparrow front and center, even though the movies cited above make up only a small percentage of what’s actually coming in on the tidal wave soon to hit your neighborhood infinty-plex this summer.

And speaking of summer, it isn’t often I find something really fun to read in Entertainment Weekly these days—though the magazine has tens of hundreds of contributing writers, I usually only look forward to actually reading a capsule review if it has Chris Willman’s name on it. He and regular film reviewers Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum are the only writers for that mag that seem to have individual voices. The snark that coats EW like a unpleasant pasting of peanut butter and jelly makes it seem as if it’s all really written by one wise-ass guy/gal-- to hell with trying to distinguish one writer from the other when they all seem to have the same trendy fixations on whatever’s hot that week. But I do also like the back-page contributions from Stephen King and EW editor Mark Harris, and this week Harris takes us on a pretty hilarious journey through his Top 10 Formative Summer Movie-going Experiences. It’s an amusing read, and it sparked some memories of my own. But I’ll wait to share them, because I thought this sounded like a good SLIFR Forum topic to kick off the week and the summer movie-going season. So the question is out there: What are some of your most memorable experiences going to the movies during the summer? What among all the studio and independent offerings are the movies you most want to see between now and Labor Day? And don’t worry-- you can always go see Spider-Man 3 right after you’ve dropped your comment!

23 comments:

Chris Stangl said...

While I'm baffled that anyone could forget what Bryce Dallas Howard looks like -- close-set cat's eyes, spring rain pale, nose and lips large writ large over strong Irish-Cherokee bones -- I'm more surprised that you can't remember what she ACTS like. She carried a Von Trier movie with more verve than Nicole Kidman, and Shyamalan photographs her with such reverence that the lady in the water looks to be made of pure ether. Ms. Dunst, if you need a refresher, has little insect teeth, a boiled-potato face, and no visible on-screen sense of humor.

Oh, BTW, if you were at all bugged by the infidelity of the first movie to the source material, feel secure in skipping SUPERMAN IV AND ROBIN... I mean SPIDER-MAN 3, which is a big sloppy mess with no web to knit it together.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Chris, nice description of BDH. There's a picture of her on IMDb that exactly conforms to your observations. She still isn't my cup of tea, as beauty goes, but more importantly she doesn't fill the teacup marked "Gwen Stacy" in my mind either.

As for her acting ability, I'm about to make a shocking admission. The only movie I've ever seen her in was Parenthood, where she ably essayed the role of Redheaded Girl in Audience. I severed my interest in M. Night Shamalyan after Signs, and I have a very low tolerance for the misanthropic gamesmanship of Lars von Trier, so I have yet to see what Howard can do in a major role. She may very well be as good as she has been touted to be in these films, and I'd never say never when it comes to seeing her and hoping to get swept away by her on screen. She just hasn't yet shown up in anything I've been compelled to check out, though I must say I have been mightily tempted to see Manderlay. I'm assuming you would recommend it, at least more than you would Spider-Man 3. At this point, I think I'd rather see Manderlay...

Christian said...

Great question, and in the moment, I discover my first summer-movie-going memories are of the second-run flicks I saw in grade-school, at the very regal Rolling Valley Mall 3 cinemas, in glorious Burke, VA.

There was "Force 10 From Navarone." That was as summer release, right? What do I remember about it? My first experience of seeing a topless woman on screen (she rose from a hot tub, if memory serves), and a soldier riding on an elevated back seat of Jeep -- right into a razor-sharp piece of thin line, which had been strung across the road at just the right height to decapitate the soldier.

Then there was "Smokey and the Bandit." My brother wanted to go without me, but I whined to my mom, and she laid down the law: Either my brother would take me, or he wouldn't be able to go.

Best of all was "Jaws," a re-release in, I think, 1978. I saw it with my brother and a friend, and I don't think I'll ever forgetthe sudden emergence of a head from a sunken sea vessel!

Do I have that right? I originally wrote above, "I don't think I'll ever forget the scene where Dreyfuss..." but thought better of it and changed the wording. Maybe I have, nearly 30 years later, forgotten that scene, or re-created in my mind in a way that the film itself could never match.

Christian said...

Sorry for the choppy post, and the non-sequiters. I wanted to read over the post using "preview," but uploaded it inadvertently, without proofreading it.

I'll do the same with this post, accuracy be damned.

I have to go watch "28 Days Later" as preparation for tomorrow night's screening of "28 Weeks Later." Believe it or not, I fell asleep many months ago, when I first tried to watch Boyle's film. I blame that on age; I'm sure the film deserves another look.

Patrick said...

One of my favorite summer movie memories came when I saw Speed on its opening weekend in New York City. When the bus took its jump over the freeway gap, the sold-out theatre was filled with shouts of "omigod omigod makeitmakeitmakeit", and when it safely landed, the place erupted. It's still the loudest I've ever heard a movie theatre crowd in the middle of a movie.

Bob Turnbull said...

I can't say that I have any strong memory of a particular summer blockbuster and how I felt about it at the time, but summer and movie put together flashes me back to one thing - Drive-Ins. In the mid-70's my family used to go down to Vermont for a month and rent a cabin by a lake. We would make it down to the drive-in as a unit once a week and I have vivid memories of the big greyish speaker we'd have to hang on my Dad's window, the long snakey lines of cars working their way through the speaker posts after the movie and the playground just under the huge screen before things started (with the countdown during the commercials).

"Return Of The Pink Panther" was something we must've seen a couple of times togehter as a family. I know that our cousins came with us one night and they sat relatively subdued in the car next to us, watching us with confused looks as we laughed ourselves sick. I think we probably got more enjoyment from my Dad shaking with laughter at Herbert Lom than anything else.

And "Children Of The Corn"...Later on as we got older, we went to the drive-in ourselves in our parents' cars. We saw COTC twice. Hated it both times, but had WAY too much fun anyway making fun of it and yelling back at the screen from on top of the car roofs.

I'm looking forward to "Ocean's Thirteen" by the way, but I was one of the few that thought Twelve was better than Eleven, so...

M. Peachbush said...

I wanted to chime in to support Fantastic 4. Maybe I just like the source better, but I thought they got it RIGHT. So many shots looked like they had traced over the comic books.
Ok, Jessica Alba is not Sue Storm (no way could she be invisible). And Dr. Doom could have been a better villian. And Johnny Storm was a touch too obnoxious. But the Thing was perfect.
And - The Silver Surfer! Best comics character ever! He's silver! And he surfs! In SPACE! Can't wait.

The Shamus said...

Well, I broke down and saw Spidey 3. It has its moments, but not many, and though I happen to like Kristen Dunst quite a bit, she is asked to play an unplayable role. But I'm once again reminded that the woman who should have a bigger part in these movies is Elizabeth Banks as the mysterious Miss Brant, the Bugle editor's secretary, who is all that and a bag o' chips. She gives off heat and has the funniest bit in the whole movie with J.K. Simmons, and it's too bad she's not given more. I totally dig that Louise Brooks meets Parker Posey thing she's got going on in these films. If you've never seen her in HEIGHTS, check it out. A nice Woody-ish relationship movie, which also features a great cameo by Rufus Wainwright.

Moviezzz said...

I'd agree, Banks is a lot more intereseting than Howard, who I liked in MANDERLAY...I think I did. I can barely remember the film now. I'm also not a Von Triere fan.

And Harris' article was a very good one. Best thing in the issue.

Justin said...

Alls I knows is, there better be some Galactus in this movie. You can't do Silver Surfer without Galactus.

And Dennis and peachbush are making me think like I have to watch Fantastic Four again--maybe I was too hard on it the first time? Maybe thinking "gawd, the Corman version was better than this" was unfair? I do agree that they got Benjy right, and Reed sort-of right, but Evans and Alba were awful, and my comics-loving self cannot accept Doom getting cosmic ray powers. Plus: snowboarding. UGGGH.

Chris Stangl said...

Spoilers for FF4: RISE!

Ioan Gruffudd said in interview that Galactus is "felt" in the film, but does not "appear" in the film. Ain't it Cool rumor-mongers that Galactus is... a big cloud! Take that, Jack Kirby!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yikes! Elizabeth Banks! I didn't even remember that she played Miss Brant! I should have remembered her. As Alvy Sargent might have said, I lurrrrvvv her. She was spectacularly funny in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and almost as good in Slither, and she was blue-collar sexy and smart in what could have been a nothing role opposite Mark Wahlberg in Invincible. Why isn't she playing one of Peter Parker's squeezes? Why?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Chris, you are right. Jack Kirby will not be happy to hear about this. I see a big two-page, straight-from-the-grave panel filled with sound and fury in response. Perhaps they're just saving Galacticus for part three, so as not to gum up the works with too many heroes and villains, like another recent superhero has reportedly been gummed up?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Galacticus = Galactus, of course. Don't want Stan Lee getting pissed too.

Nobody said...

I echo Christ Stangl's depiction of the light-years between Dunst and Howard -- as I put in my my review, BDH is a sun that makes the movie's stars invisible. (Though it's probably heretical to say so, I actually prefer her look in Spider-Man to the Shyamalan films.)

That said, I'm looking forward to FF2 after the disappointment of SM3. I wasn't too impressed with FF1 but I expect the sequel to be an improvement.

Speaking of Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks, I loved them both in 40-Year-Old Virgin. The Shamus is right on the money with the Louise Brooks/Parker Posey comparison and she was criminally underutilized in Spider-Man 3 (even less than in the first two). Why is Peter still obsessed with MJ while Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy around?!

Finally, Dennis, I hope you enjoy Angel-A as much as I did when it came out here in the UK last summer. Though Besson would no doubt deny it, I found it an intriguing autobiographical fable of the director's history with his own stars.

The Shamus said...

Ha, Dennis! That's Alvy Singer. But I sort of like the idea of Alvy Sargent, he could bemoan the state of Los Angeles and drag Annie to the four-hour uncut version of Spidey 4: The Sandman and the Pity.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Shamus: Hahaha! I'm all over Galacticus/Galactus, but I let a juicy Freudian like Alvy Sargent slip right past me. Good of you to take it to its logical extreme (and entertaining too!). Just shows to go ya where my head's at these days-- not on my neck, fer sure!

Paul C. said...

Glad to see I'm not the only one looking forward to SUPERBAD. As much as Tarantino and Rodriguez did their takes on 70s genre fare, Apatow and his gang seem to be taking on the lowbrow high school comedies of my youth. Sure, they were pretty schlocky, but they were nonetheless a big part of growing up in the 80s. I don't think I would have grown up quite the way I did had I not crowded around the TV with friends, watching LOSIN' IT or the PORKY'S cycle during those HBO preview weekends. Although it's hard to say whether that's a good thing.

I'm also heartened to see that Michael Cera has fallen in with the Apatow troupe. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was blessed with an embarrassment of riches, but his relationship with his dad was really the heart of the series. His square, understated sense of humor looks like it'll be well-served by SUPERBAD. Heck, just his delivery of the line, "he'll either think this is the worst fake ID ever or that you're a 25 year old Hawaiian organ donor named McLovin" is enough to sell me a ticket. Plus he reminds me a lot of what I was like in high school, but that's neither here nor there.

Also, Bryce Dallas Howard is gorgeous, and more than a little talented. Too bad SPIDEY 3 has more or less wasted the Gwen character. Then again, maybe she can do something interesting instead rather than seeing the character degenerate into a shrill, self-absorbed harpy the way MJ did.

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