Saturday, January 19, 2013

Heavy on the rambling

I managed to finish "Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance" and "John Carter", despite thinking that I wouldn't. The second half of the Ghost Rider movie was much more focused, and all of the things that they set up in the first part of the film paid off. The influences from "Crank" that the crew carried in became more pronounced, and Nicholas Cage had a little bit more one-on-one time with the other characters to develop a little more perceived chemistry.

With "John Carter", I actually had to re-watch a couple of chapters to figure out why I wasn't getting it. I realized that being distracted by my kids talking the first time through caused me to miss a couple of big chunks of dialogue. Once I solved that problem, I liked the movie a lot more.  To be fair, a lot of the scenes that followed the spot where I stopped the first time are more dialogue driven and only have a few characters in them, so they were inherently less confusing than some of the early action-based sequences where we were still trying to figure out the characters. It's still no Pirates of the Caribbean, but considering that this was Andrew Stanton's first go at a real big-budget live action feature, and he was trying to make a movie on par with Star Wars, it was a gutsy attempt. Yes, I realize that it was a box-office dud and expensive to make. (It cost $250 million to make - nearly 4 and a half times as much to make as Ghost Rider:SOV at a paltry $57 million.) If I was the head of the studio, I would have sent Stanton to go make some music videos or some commercials before I bet the farm on him, since directing animation is not the same as directing people. However, having watched the movie I can't point at something in the film and say that there were any specifically bad performances. Certainly, all the main actors in "John Carter" outshine any of Hayden Christensen's "Star Wars" performances.  It's possible that different editing and screenwriting could have tightened up the film some, but ultimately this is down to the story. Sadly, Pixar is usually really good about refining the story first and I think that's the lesson that Andrew Stanton may either have forgotten or didn't have time to realize. I did see that some critics complained that it was derivative. Did they forget that the whole 'space opera' thing practically started with Edgar Rice Burroughs?

So now the real question is, now that Disney is Pixar is Marvel is Lucasfilm, will we see some consistent improvements in their filmmaking?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Movie watching, heavy on the rambling.

I have been trying to make good use of our public library as a resource for movies that I think that I want to see but have no current intention of owning. Every once in a while I get lucky and find a movie that warrants repeat viewing, but I'm perfectly fine with some movies just being a one-shot deal.

Since I own the first Ghost Rider movie (Don't laugh. I got it for $4.00.) and have been trying to keep up with the current wave of Marvel movies I figured that the second Ghost Rider movie "Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance" was worth a watch. I didn't notice right away that the producers of the film thought that it would be important to say "From the guys that brought you Crank". I found that rather odd, seeing as 'Crank' isn't exactly in the superhero genre, but I presume it's to attract the 20-something male audience that thinks that they're too cool to watch a superhero movie. Between the cold open that's supposed to tell you something about what Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider (played by Nicolas Cage) will have to deal with later in the film, and the long expository narration during the opening credits, it's clear that the story is not particularly streamlined. It also suffers from the possibility that hardly anybody watched the first film so they have to re-explain a lot of things in a way that develops the character but without making too many specific references to the first film. I have made it approximately halfway through last night and don't particularly care if I watch the rest of it now.  Since Ghost Rider is sort of an antihero, it's hard to care whether he wins or not, and the chemistry between Mr. Cage and the female lead is not as good as it was in the first film. (Actually, the chemistry between Nick Cage and anybody in this film is not as good as it was in the first film.)

If the guys that brought me "Crank" learned anything from making that film, they should have learned a) have a good idea to center the film around and b) stick with it. "Crank" had a very clear albeit ridiculous premise, and they didn't take too many unnecessary side trips. "Crank 2" was actually better since it was more tongue-in-cheek than the first one. So, even though "Crank" is a ridiculous action film with a low maturity level, the story keeps cooking along, stays focused, and holds your interest. I cannot say the same for "Ghost Rider:SoV", so perhaps Jason Statham will be getting a pass from me more often than Nicolas Cage. At least I know exactly* what I'm going to get with a Jason Statham movie.

Tonight, instead of attempting to finish "Ghost Rider:SoV" we tried to start "John Carter". It starts with a crazy story-in-a-story exposition, and then gets around to telling the story. It's very visually polished, but there's a tremendous number of characters introduced over the course of the first act. By the time John Carter figures out the Deja was a princess, my kids were playing with plastic army men and ignoring the movie at point-blank range, so now I am wondering if we're going to finish that one either.

On the good side, the Ghibli animated version of "The Borrowers" by Mary Norton called "The Secret World of Arrietty" turned out to be fantastic and my younger son watched it a second time the day after we watched it the first time. It has very cute animation as per Ghibli usual, most of the story focuses on the title character, and the fantastic world portrayed feels totally natural in the context of the film instead of self-referentially being amazed at its very existence.

*Jason Statham film summary - He's a regular dude with a checkered past, or possibly a hidden past, some stuff happens to him, and then he beats the tar out of everybody that screwed him over so he can finally go on that vacation at the end of the movie.