16 July 2012

Summer movie reviews: Better Late Than Never edition.

There are two points of note about my experiences with watching movies.  The first is:  I don't gett o choose what movies I go and see.  Others decide for me what moviees I will see, and I am expected to pay for my own ticket, and theirs as well.  In fact, I frequently find myself paying for others to go and see movies without me entirely, bt that is another matter.  The second point is:  While I often find it difficult to say what it is I like about a movie, (or a book or any other art form), I find it very easy to say what I do not like, and therefore my critiques tend to be negative.

The movies I have seen thus far this summer are Pixar's Brave and somebody or other's Spiderman.  I liked both, but it was a kind of "I liked it, but..." sort of thing.

I probably would have been more charitable towards Brave had it been made by anybody other than Pixar.  I have seen and loved almost every Pixar movie so far, and thus my expectations may have been entirely too high.  Perhaps, at this point, no movie from them will satisfy me, for my expectations upon Pixar had been placed entirely too high.  Thus, a movie that was okay, or even ....good, sort of... seems to be a failure of high proportions.

Without giving away spoilers, I will say that all my complaints boil down to the plot: it is a hodgepodge, a melange of ideas, possibly due to the film having four(!) directors, or due to the use of communal writing.  Pixar writers regularly present their ideas to other writers, as is the common practice these days, as a way of bouncing ideas off each other, spotting weaknesses, gauging reactions and improving stories. The stories are thus often a communal effort. Pixar has used this method with tremendous success in the past. however, this time, the plot does not seem like a plot at all, but just a collection of tenuously connected and implausible events, strung together with "and then... and then... and then" clauses, rather than each even organically growing into the next event.  The exposition in particular, where the heroine explains the history of the kingdom, comes from nowhere it seems, and serves no purpose.  The story just does not work, and in fact, it feels as though the movie is trying to tell several stories at the same time, or be several things all at the same time, perhaps one for each director.

And yet, it also had its strength.  The movie was visually gorgeous as are all Pixar movies.  The young Heroine's hair was a miracle in and of itself, and deserves an Oscar as a phenomenal achievement in the field of animation.  I liked the movie, but I may have liked it more had the movie tried to do less.

Less than what I hoped is also the theme for Spiderman.  I liked the movie, yet at the moment I cannot say exactly why.  I can explain in copious detail what I did not like, beginning with that casting.  Everyone, it seems to me, was miscast in this movie, beginning with Spiderman.  The guy who played Spiderman received many accolades for his work in the Social Network.  I am glad to hear it, but he deserves none for this.  He in no way captured Peter Parker.  With his constant head bobbing thing, I found myself wanting to reach out to the screen and hold it still for a moment.  Nor did I like Emma Stone in her Gwen Stacy role.  Nor did I care for their romance.  The sudden and abrupt "hey! we're dating now!" was too much for me.  I am willing to suspend disbelief, but, as someone once said, suspension of disbelief does not mean hanging disbelief by the neck until it is quite dead.  I did not believe it.  They had the least chemistry in any on screen couple I have witnessed since Anikin and Amidala.

(Similarly, I just don't believe Peter's reconciliation with Flash.  It simply did not work on any level.  Two enemies becoming friends was handled brilliantly in the teen superhero movie Sky High.  In this one, it is handled ham handedly.  Nothing is gained from the reconciliation, and it is unbelelievable.  The writers put in a bad point for no reason whatsoever.)

The movie has tried to update Uncle Ban and Aunt May, perhaps following the Ultimate Spiderman comic pattern.  The original Spiderman's Aunt and Uncle were members of the Greatest Generation, people who lived through the Depression, served, and made lives for themselves as best they could.  That would be far, far too old for any movie now, so they updated them a bit, which is completely understandable, only now what you get is people from the sixties.  Thus, this movie did not contain the creed of Spiderman: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.  How could it? How could such words come from the mouths of members of the generation that fled responsibility more than any other in human history, using psychology to blame their parents for their own faults, but using genetics to exonerate themselves of any responsibility in the problems of their children?  The closest the movie comes to that mantra is when Ben tells Peter that if he has the chance to do good, he has the responsibility to do it.    Doesn't have the same ring.  Coming from that generation, "do good" may mean making a sign and marching in protest.  That'll show them.  So Aunt May and Uncle Ben are quite different than the books or previous movie.  I'll reserve judgement on this one for now.

The movie also introduces Peter's parents, only to get rid of them quickly.  The makers of the movie seem to want to do something with them in a later movie.  This is most likely a mistake.  Peter's past, how he was orphaned, or from whom he was cloned- seriously, that was a storyline- has only been invoked in the very worst Spiderman stories.  Stan Lee never mentioned what happened to Peter's parents.  He seemed to think it was irrelevant.  Peter was an orphan to make him more awkward, more of an outcast, and more sympathetic to the reader.  In the old comic books, Peter had no scene wherein he sat down with his aunt and Uncle and asked them about his parents.  The implication was that he either knew already (which is what I believed) or didn't care.  I believe they are best left dead, but I am willing to wait and see where this goes before pronouncing judgement.

There are several noticeable elements missing from this movie.  Mary Jane is not in it.  J. Jonah Jameson is also absent, and the movie suffers.  He was one of the best characters in the book.  Filling in the kind of role played by triple J is Dennis Leary as Gwen's father, the chief of police.  Unfortunately, I personally dislike Leary, and every time I saw him I thought "Leary, UGH!" Also missing is the explanation of his Spider Powers.  He is bit by a spider in a lab.  It is later revealed that his father bred the spiders.  It is not said why they would confer powers upon Peter, nor why, in the last fifteen years or so, no one else was accidentally bitten and given way cool spider powers.

Perhaps that was due to the "double mumbo jumbo" rule of sci fi writing.  The reader of a science fiction work will swallow exactly one lie, or so we are told.  That lie, in this case, is that someone like Spiderman could exist.  After that lie is swallowed, a certain kind of realism takes over: given that someone like this does exist, would they act this way? is how they are portrayed and what they are doing realistic?   In double mumbo jumbo, we are given two lies to swallow.  For example, in the earlier Spiderman incarnation, We are given an explanation for Peter's powers, then another, different explanation for Green Goblins- hence, double the  mumbo jumbo.  The third movie, the worst of the three, ups the ante by giving an explanation for the new Green Goblin's Powers, (same way the original got his, but only it doesn't drive Harry insane, but no reason is given for that) then the Sandman's, then Venom's. Double, no, triple mumbo jumbo.  The second movie, easily the best of the three, takes Spiderman's powers, and the lie that made them, as already established, and concentrates solely on how Doctor Octopus comes into being, and what comes from that.  Simple, and better.

This movie skips over Peter's powers, and concentrates on the Lizard's creation.  Fine, in that the movie thereby avoids double mumbo jumbo, except it leaves a huge gaping hole.  The movie is retelling the origin of Spiderman, but without telling us the actual origin of Spiderman.  Perhaps we will learn more in the next movie, but that will be in addition to telling the origin of that movie's villain. In other words, double mumbo jumbo. 

All this and more is wrong with these movies, And yet, I did enjoy the movies. Funny, no?

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