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Posts Tagged ‘the wrath of Ebert’

Perhaps He Should Have Seen It In The Original Klingon

May 7th, 2009 No comments

The new Star Trek film opens this evening, and the reviews are very, very good. Imagine my surprise, however, that one of the only two “top critics” to give it the ol’ thumbs down is Roger Ebert. (The other is Rafer Guzman of Newsday.) And once again, half the review is nitpicking the science rather than writing about the movie.

Ebert vs. Monsters vs. Aliens

March 28th, 2009 No comments

If I am occasionally hard on Roger Ebert, it’s because I expect more from him. Unfortunately, his review of Monsters vs. Aliens is what I’ve come to expect from latter-era Ebert, in that he spends half his alloted verbiage railing about something tangential to the film itself. In this case, Roger hates 3-D for being a gimmick that sullies his pristine, silver screen. Oh, no! Movies aren’t made the exact same way they were the first time he saw Lawrence of Arabia! I can imagine a ’40s-era reviewer similarly bitching about these new-fangled moving pictures having color and synchronized sound.

As film gimmicks go, 3-D is nothing new. While not technically the first stereoscopic movie, 1952’s Bwana Devil is credited with kicking off the 3-D boom of the mid-century. It’s come and gone over the years, but the big difference between, say, the original House of Wax* and Monsters vs. Aliens is that nowadays the 3-D effect works really well. Thanks to modern digital projection systems–which Ebert also railed against, even though they seem to have virtually eliminated framing and focus problems at the local multiplex–3-D is now every bit the eye-popping experience the innovation originally promised.

As for the portion of his review which actually addresses the film, I honestly don’t know what movie he saw, but it wasn’t the one that unspooled in front of the audience with which I sat this afternoon. (Actual Ebert line: “I suppose kids will like this movie, especially those below the age of reason.”) Judging by the laughter, both kids and adults found it very entertaining. I know that I laughed hard and often at both the silly sight-gags and the many, knowing winks to sci-fi films of ages past. (Among my favorites was a take on the giant hypodermic needle gag from The Amazing Colossal Man.)

Ebert attempts to make a point about “wit” by trying to be ever so clever, but in his haste to line up his bon mots, incorrectly identifies the film as a Disney product. I doubt Unca Walt (or Unca Spielberg, for that matter) will appreciate that.

Now look, in terms of storytelling, this is by no means a Pixar-level film. (Though I’d argue that it’s easily the equal of Cars.) It just wants to be spectacular and silly, and it succeeds admirably at both. There’s also a welcome dose of Girl Power that so far Pixar has largely overlooked in its male-centric tales.

You won’t encounter many surprises in the plot, but the jokes come fast. Most of the best lines are courtesy of Seth Rogen as the clueless, charming B.O.B., a brainless blob who at one point hits on a dish of Jell-O. I was also very fond of Dr. Cockroach, with his pencil-thin Vincent Price mustache, and the pop-eyed, enormous Insectosaurus.

And 3-D might be a gimmick, but if the reaction of the kids in the audience was any indication, this time it’s here to stay. Every time something blew toward the screen, they ooo-ed, aah-ed, and howled with delight. Just as the movies went widescreen in the ’50s to combat television, the motion picture industry will continue to embrace 3-D and IMAX as experiences that aren’t easily duplicated at home.

*House of Wax gets its own reference in Monsters vs. Aliens, when an early scene duplicates the paddle-ball-in-the-face effect from the old Vincent Price flick.

In Defense Of Speed

May 22nd, 2008 No comments

Ken Lowery does a fine job of defending Speed Racer, calling out critics on praising Transformers for the exact same reasons they used to damn Speed. It’s the same sort of thing that bugged me when pre-tumor Roger Ebert gave The Phantom Menace three-and-a-half stars [“I wish the “Star Wars” characters spoke with more elegance and wit …but dialogue isn’t the point, anyway: These movies are about new things to look at.”], while post-cancer Ebert gave Attack of the Clones a mere two (“But in a film with a built-in audience, why not go for the high notes? Why not allow the dialogue to be inventive, stylish and expressive?”).

Ken makes an especially good point: “In those debates and in those negative reviews, it always came down to this: that serious stories are better than fun stories, and think-pieces are superior to movies that dazzle. The underlying mentality, sometimes stated but more often implied, is that some storytelling goals are simply worthier than others.” That’s something I’ve been trying to say in my own way for some time; that with few exceptions, a Chariots of Fire or Gandhi will always be seen as superior to a Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T., simply because one is high-minded, “spinach is good for you” filmmaking, and the other just wants to have fun.

But when was the last time you watched Chariots of Fire?

I Don’t Get It

May 10th, 2008 No comments

Right now, I’m having one of those moments in which I feel that I’m really not in synch with the people around me.

Look, I knew that I was more jazzed about the Speed Racer film than most, but I’m boggled by the chilliness of its reception. Sure, the critics didn’t like it, but that’s what critics do. They were gunning for it from the moment the first trailer debuted. (I maintain that pre-tumor Roger Ebert–the guy who praised The Phantom Menace for being an empty spectacle–would’ve loved it. Post-op Ebert, however, did not.)

I honestly thought that there would’ve been an enthusiastic reaction from the middle-aged geeks who grew up on the cartoon, plus every ten-year-old boy in the U.S. And so I was not prepared to see perhaps twenty people in the theater at 7:00 pm Friday on opening night.

The crowds didn’t seem much more numerous today, even though Saturday should be more conducive to family viewing. Meanwhile, Iron Man was packed.

Yeah, I know: everyone loves Iron Man, critics and fanboys alike. Having just come from seeing it, I don’t quite get the passion. It’s a solid film, sure, but I was being told that it was in the upper echelons of the superhero genre. I felt it was more Spider-Man than Spider-Man 2, but what do I know? The first Spider-Man film made a metric fuckton of cash, whereas I thought it was “okay.”

The problems I had with Iron Man were two-fold. First, it’s an origin film, which meant that a whole lot of running time was spent in setting up the background. That’s understandable, but it’s still “seen it.” Second–and the filmmakers admit as much–Iron Man doesn’t have a strong villain roster. Here they pretty much go the easy way out and make him fight a bigger version of himself. How RoboCop 2 of them.

Again, it’s by no means a bad film. Downey was very good, as was Paltrow. The comedy bits, especially the ones involving an overzealous fire-extinguishing robot, were fun. I liked the in-jokes: Stan Lee being mistaken for Hugh Hefner, Tony Stark’s phone playing the old Iron Man cartoon theme, and Rhodey (who becomes the hero War Machine in the comics) looking at Stark’s first armor suit and saying “Next time.” It’s just that the film seemed much less than I’d been led to expect.

Speed Racer, on the other hand, was more or less just what I expected. That’s not to say that it’s a better film than Iron Man, but I certainly did have more fun with it.

Contrary to the reviews, I didn’t find the graphics to be that eye-searing, and I never had any trouble following the racing action. As Vic pointed out, Speed’s gonna win; what else do you need to know?

The reviews seemed unfair on one point: a number of them made the point that while the film itself was firmly anti-corporate, it was made and marketed by one of the world’s largest media groups. (Unlike every other mainstream movie, I guess.) And your point is? That because you don’t like the messenger–or rather, the company who paid the messenger–the message itself was invalid?

I thought that the Wachowski brothers did a fine job of capturing the spirit of the cartoon, though I realize that this may have also been what put off potential viewers. Still, no one went broke underestimating the tastes of the American audience: Transformers (which I also enjoyed) did very well and it was no deeper or less frenetic than Speed Racer. I don’t know, maybe adults just didn’t want to see a movie with a monkey in a starring role.

I enjoyed the look of Speed’s world, even though the Wachowskis took considerable liberty from the old show in turning it into a gigantic, psychedelic skate park. The racing scenes, with the cars spinning madly along the course and even grinding the rails, were like none ever seen before.

The cast did a good job with what they had to work with, but I thought that the young actor playing Spritle was the standout. I found most of his comic relief bits playing opposite the aforementioned monkey legitimately amusing.

As a fanboy, I would’ve liked perhaps a bit more fidelity to the original series. Some of the names–Snake Oiler, Cruncher Block, Inspector Detector, the GRX–were familiar, but they were playing different roles in the film’s plot than they did in the cartoon. And since they wound up racing in some locales that were similar to those seen in the show, why not use the names? Those are silly quibbles, I know.

What really does surprise me about Speed Racer vs. Iron Man is that the latter seemed to have attracted more parents with small children, yet the former seemed far more appropriate for them. Iron Man was a bit dark and gruesome at times, what with its Afghan terrorists and scenes of torture. Plus, it had some very long stretches between the action scenes. Speed Racer dragged a bit in the middle too, but it was so bright and cheery that I would think kids would find more to keep themselves engaged.

But again, what the heck do I know? I am clearly out of touch with what other people like.