Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not a bad weekend, I guess: Paris, je t'aime, DOA: Dead or Alive, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I guess I felt magnanimous this weekend; all the movies I saw had issues - some of them big issues - but I enjoyed all three more than not, and have a tough time holding their faults against them. Even DOA, which is pretty deeply stupid, put a smile on my face more often than not.

I had to go out to Revere to see it, which wasn't as bad as I'd feared: It takes two buses, but the connection between the 91 and 109 was relatively painless, and the walk from there to the gigantic Showcase cinemas was pretty short. It's pretty close to the first time I've been to something labeled "Showcase" since college, when I worked at a couple, although I've been to the Circle a few times. My experiences at Showcase weren't really that bad. This is probably the most elaborate megaplex I've seen outside the Metreon in San Francisco (and I guess that's really more mall than movie theater); the lobby looked more like a food court, although I recognized the basic design as the same as Showcase Cinemas Worcester North. Not the best design, really - even on slow days, you need two ushers on duty because the lobby divides two wings, and the huge concession stand creates a wall in the middle of the lobby, making the place feel much smaller.

As nice as Revere is as a theater, it's unfortunate that DOA: Dead or Alive (can't allow it to be confused with the real D.O.A.) was exiled there. It's not exactly a good movie - it's dumb as a box of rocks, and just because most of the cast has a dance background doesn't necessarily mean they can screen-fight convincingly - but it's not bad enough to hide, either. I'm surprised the Weinstein's couldn't have found a better weekend for it; there must have been a spot during January garbage time.

Paris, je t'aime

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2007 at Landmark Kendall Square #6 (First-run)

The idea behind Paris, je t'aime was to tell a Paris love story for each of the City of Light's twenty districts, each from a different director. It falls a bit short of its lofty potential - two of the twenty arrondissements don't make it into the film, and many of the tales don't seem terribly specific to Paris. I don't mind, though, the way I see it, Paris is just an excuse for a passel of talented filmmakers to tell us a story in six or seven minutes.

Six minutes is not a lot of time; filmmakers used to working at feature length might find themselves feeling cramped. Fortunately, that is seldom a problem for any of them. In some ways, the directive to make a love story is a big help; all you really need for a romance is two people; adding many more will likely complicate things and distract from the basic idea the director is trying to get across. As much "love story" might seem restrictive, it turns out to be a fairly flexible description. We get the expected types of stories, the ones that cover the start of a romance, but we also see a number of parents and children, people set in their relationships, people having second thoughts, and relationships reaching their ends.

Expecting all eighteen stories to be top-notch, and a few do turn out to be let-downs. I found that those tended to be the talkiest sequences, though that takes several different forms. The first segment, Bruno Podalydes's "Montmarte", has writer/director/star Podalydes talking to himself a lot, and he's not quite so charming as he seems to imagine himself. Gus Van Sant's "Le Marais" gives us a one-sided conversation, and I found that one side pretty annoying. Scruffy guys not saying much seems to be Van Sant's thing lately; pity the film's only gay love story couldn't be more interesting. Olivier Assaya's "Quartier des Enfant Rouges" isn't terribly verbose, but is kind of charmless.

Full review at EFC.

DOA: Dead or Alive

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2007 at Showcase Cinemas Revere #17 (First-run)

I had to take two buses from one end of the line to the other to get to a theater that was playing DOA: Dead or Alive on its opening weekend, and I cannot honestly say that it merits that kind of effort on my part. The flip side, though, is that it doesn't deserve that kind of exile from its distributor, either.

This isn't a lost masterpiece by any means. Its story is giggle-worthy. The good (or at least decent) actors coast while the bad ones try too hard. It's adapted from a video game and fully embraces that aesthetic - it's frantic and insubstantial. Complaining about this movie's plot, though, is like dismissing a root beer float for not having the properties of a fine wine. The important question is whether or not it's a good root beer float.

It's not the best; to torture the metaphor, it's not made with premium ice cream (the type that has little bits of vanilla bean) suspended in homemade, small-batch root beer. Still, it provides a nice sugar rush. Every moment serves to move things along faster, right down to the scene transitions inspired in equal parts by video games and TV sports. The characters all have a distinctive look that lets the audience pull them out of the crowd, and they live in fun, colorful environments. And give the filmmakers some credit where story is concerned - there is one, it makes a certain amount of rudimentary sense within the confines of this cartoonish world (sci-fi silliness about injected nanomachines recording a person's fighting style), and the film never really stops dead for exposition. And director Corey Yuen can put together a fight scene.

Full review at EFC.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2007 at Regal Fenway #8 (First-run)

The by-now obligatory Stan Lee cameo in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer will make comic fans smile a little: In a moment pulled from Fantastic Four Annual #3 over forty years ago, he's not let into the wedding of Reed Richards and Susan Storm. Jack Kirby was thrown out alongside Lee in that original story, but the late artist is not mentioned here, which is a shame; it's the willingness to embrace Kirby as well as Lee that makes this film a heck of a lot better than its predecessor.

Part of the appeal of the Fantastic Four has always been what Lee brought to the team: The family dynamic and focus on relationships as well as super-heroing. What the 2005 film was missing was what Jack Kirby brought: Huge, larger-than-life adventure, told with bold art that practically crackled with energy. The last movie was all about the heroes squabbling, and ended with the four of them fighting one guy in an unimpressive sequence, so it's very good to see this one open with a planet being destroyed. We know, right away, that they're thinking bigger.

Soon we're back on Earth, where the celebrity scientists and adventurers Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) are trying to pull off a wedding (Reed, of course, has his head in the clouds) while Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) argue good-naturedly. Their plans are interrupted by an army general (Andre Braugher) with news of climatological anomalies and a mysterious fast-moving object sighted from orbit. It's the Silver Surfer (body of Doug Jones, voice of Laurence Fishburne), and Reed soon discovers that where he goes, planetary destruction follows. The army brings Reed's longtime rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) in to assist, which everyone should have realized was a bad idea from the start.

Full review at EFC.

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