Category Archives: Movies

Comic Movie Newz

Per an e-mail I received from Spider-Man (yeah, we’re buds), Thomas Haden Church (Wings, Sideways) has been cast as the as-yet-unidentified villain in Spider-Man 3, slated to begin production early in 2006. Tobey Magquire will apparently reprise his role as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst will return as Mary Jane Watson. Spidey did not mention whether J.K. Simmons will return to the role of the ever-irritable newspaper editor, J. Jonah Jameson.

In other Marvel movie news, The Sci-Fi Channel reports that a new director (Matthew Vaughn, Layer Cake) has been tapped to helm the third film in the X-Men franchise. I’m a little disappointed to learn that Bryan Singer won’t be returning, as he’s done an excellent job with the series thus far.

That is all.

It’s all Obi-Wan’s fault. He’s jealous. He’s holding me back.

On the way home from Brasa Saturday night Laura said, “You know who would have made a good Anakin Skywalker? Nick Stahl.”

Nick Stahl portrays young Ben Hawkins on Carnivàle. He also played John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Both roles, I realized right then, have facets that are similar to the pre-Vader Anakin.

First, both Hawkins and Connor are unhappy with their current situation. In fact, they’re often downright pissed about it. Hawkins has powers he doesn’t understand or want, and he’s walking a path he’d rather avoid. Connor just wants to be left alone. Anakin, likewise, broods over the fact that the Jedi code prevents him from being with Amidala, and feels that his true potential is being stifled by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Second, Ben and John are both pivotal figures in a battle of epic proportions. The big difference between these two guys and Anakin Skywalker seems to be that Ben and John don’t want to be as important as they are, while Anakin embraces his power.

And they’re all being manipulated in some way or another. Ben Hawkins’ strings are being pulled and plucked by the mysterious being known as Management (and, by extension, Samson). John Connor’s puppeteers were his mother and his future self (by way of the T-101 Terminator). Anakin Skywalker is being similarly “guided” by Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine.

Nick Stahl does a damn fine job portraying this type of character, and he brings real depth and personality to the roles (especially Ben Hawkins). He can be angry and frustrated and confused without drifting into whiny. Yeah, he would have made a good Anakin Skywalker.

If wishes were T-16 Skyhoppers…

Hellboy Revisited

Hellboy - Director’s CutThe day after I bought a used copy of Hellboy from Blockbuster, the three-disc uberhyperultramegaspecial platinum tiger edition was released. Naturally. This new edition contains added scenes, new commentaries, additional special features and is hand-delivered by Ron Perlman, Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro, who sit on your couch, drink beer, and trade amusing anecdotes as you watch the director’s cut of the movie, the running time of which is nearly eleven hours.The interviews and commentaries contained on this DVD are for entertainment purposes only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers, and do not necessarily reflect those of Revolution Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment or any of their affiliates.

Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for me, doesn’t it? Boy, howdy, it sure does! Well, don’t reach for your wallet just yet, ’cause I already got it as part of a gift exchange. I am, as the Beat Farmers would surely assert, a happy boy. I watched the movie (again) over the weekend (or perhaps it was Monday night). I’m pleased to report that the added scenes flow quite nicely, and nicely flesh out some aspects of the story. I have yet to watch any of the commentaries, but Hellboy is one of those rare movies that I could watch three or four times in the space of a month without worrying that I’ll grow tired of it. It is simply fun to watch.

Hero (Ying xiong) (2002)

HeroHero (2002)

Starring Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Daoming Chen

Directed by Yimou Zhang

Hero is a very pretty movie. Pretty, pretty, pretty. The sets and costumes are lavish and colorful, the locations vibrant and lustrous or vast and desolate (whichever the story calls for at the time). Visually, it has all the polish of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the movie with which it shall ever be compared.

The problem with making such a comparison is that I expected Hero to live up to it on levels beyond The Pretty. I expected an engaging story, competent acting, characters I cared about, and breathtaking martial arts sequences. On at least one of those points, I should have known better. Hero stars Jet Li, after all.

Jet Li moves like some sort of jungle cat crossed with a bird of prey. His physical capabilities range from simply impressive to absolutely mind-numbing. Unfortunately, physical prowess and acting ability do not seem to be directly related. Being able to kick twenty-eight cubic yards of ass per second does not grant one the ability to emote. Jet Li, sadly, is not much of an actor. As a result, my emotional investment in the nameless hero was nil. Jet Li is perfect for an action-oriented film such as The One (which doesn’t mean I particularly liked that movie, either), where emotion doesn’t need to get in the way of ass-kicking. For Hero to be in the same dramatic arena as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though, I need to empathize with the protagonist.

As it turns out, there are decent actors in this film. Most of the other characters, including – and perhaps especially – the king of Qin (Daoming Chen), are played very well. Whether we like or dislike them (and our feelings toward them can and do change during the course of the story), at least it’s possible to feel something.

The story through which the characters progress is an interesting one, if somewhat shoddily realized. Nameless (Jet Li) has come before the king of Qin after disposing of three assassins (Broken Sword, Sky and Flying Snow, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Donnie Yen and Maggie Cheung, respectively). How Nameless managed to accomplish this is told through a series of flashbacks that ultimately lead up to the final conflict of the film.

Every flashback contains one or more color-coordinated battles. In each case, everyone involved wears the same color clothing: red in one fight, green in another, white in a third. Visually, this is an interesting device. It does begin to wear thin after a while, though.

The fights themselves are largely anticlimactic. Some sequences are impressive, but most fall flat. The filmmakers rely too heavily on the computer-generated aspects of the battles. In one fight, the combatants are often hidden in clouds of swirling leaves; in another, billowing green draperies serve to obscure the action rather than accent it. Unfortunately, these CG elements often scream special effect, rather than being truly special.

Another problem with the action sequences is how they are edited. One battle, which takes place on a beautiful lake, is thrown together so ham-handedly that it is impossible to determine what the fighters are doing. Too much focus is given to shots of sword tips skimming the surface of the water, and not enough to building a linear and comprehensible action sequence. It is an unfortunate instance of The Pretty superseding everything else.

Hero borrows one more element from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Ziyi Zhang. Unfortunately, her character (Moon) is little more than window dressing, and has only one scene in which she gets appreciable screen time and attention. Still, Zhang is very easy to watch.

In the end, Hero doesn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. Beautiful locations, sets and costumes (the soundtrack is suitably elegant, as well) cannot disguise the fundamental shortcomings, which means that Hero won’t find a place next to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in my DVD collection.

One final note: I don’t know what the hell “Quentin Tarantino Presents” means with respect to this movie. Why Tarantino’s name is attached to this film is beyond me. To the best of my knowledge, he had no hand in the production of Hero. If the special features of the DVD explain the association, then it is my fault for not watching them. However, I generally don’t make a habit of watching special features for films I didn’t particularly enjoy. [Edit: Tarantino is the film’s American distributor.]

Star Wars Trilogy DVD

Star Wars TrilogyI’ve had a little time to recover from the emotional upheaval brought on by my little revisionist fiction rant last week. I’ve also had time to watch the entire original Star Wars trilogy in the manner dictated by its creator.

First, the good. Everything looks brilliant. The entire trilogy looks as though it could have been released in theaters yesterday. There is nary a speck or scratch to be seen. The folks over at LucasFilm did a fantastic job of restoring the films. Every image is crisp and clear, and some of the less-than-pristine effects have been cleaned up quite a bit. In Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker’s battle with the rancor looks much less blue-screen-y than it did in previous releases. Also in Jedi, the evil black floating blob on the left (screen right) side of the Emperor’s face that was present in some scenes has been completely eliminated. Viva la technology!

The sound is equally impressive. Yes, there are a couple of oddities in A New Hope, but it’s far from disastrous. The revamped THX sequence that plays before each of the three films was mighty mighty on my surround sound system, and almost everything that followed was aurally satisfying.

And guess what? The magic isn’t gone. A New Hope still has the same effect on me that it did when I first saw it so many yesterdays ago. Yeah, Greedo shoots first. In the DVD version, it’s pretty much simultaneous. I can live with it, really. It doesn’t make Han any less bad ass. Also, the DVD version of Jabba the Hutt is far superior to that seen in the Special Edition. It’s still not quite there, but it’s a huge improvement. All in all, the first of the trilogy suffers least from Lucas’ most recent meddling tweaking. I watched it on the 21st and was fully prepared to watch it again on the 22nd, when Miscellaneous G™ came over to watch The Empire Strikes Back.

Ah, Empire. Of the three original films, it has always been my favorite, for several reasons. First, Vader was at his nastiest. Second, it introduced Yoda (who seems far more alive as a puppet than as a computer-generated image) and Boba Fett. Throw in AT-ATs, snowspeeders, Cloud City, Lobot (hell yeah!) and a cliffhanger ending, and you’ve got the best of the best.

Alas, it is my beloved Empire that suffers most in the DVD release. The changes Lucas introduced with the Special Edition were largely benign: an expanded Wampa ice creature scene (good), an extended Cloud City landing for the Millennium Falcon (bad; the computer-generated Falcon looks far too flat), a more open, airy Cloud City (good), Luke’s scream as he falls (bad, bad, bad; this greatly diminishes Luke’s bravery in choosing death over the Dark Side) and an extra line from Vader (bad; clearly not James Earl Jones). Lucas actually removed the aforementioned Special Edition scream, for which I applaud him. Unfortunately, he also completely emasculated Boba Fett.

Boba Fett has a mere three lines in The Empire Strikes Back. The first is on board an Imperial Star Destroyer. Darth Vader instructs a group of bounty hunters that they may use any methods necessary to apprehend Solo and his companions, but the fugitives are to be delivered alive. Addressing Boba Fett, he says, “No disintegrations.” Fett responds, “As you wish.” Three little words, and the manner in which they were delivered in pre-DVD releases was an acquiescence, but not a submission. To maintain continuity, Lucas opted to dub over Fett’s original voice. What we now hear is Temuera Morrison, the actor who portrays Jango Fett in the prequels. Morrison’s delivery of the line is entirely devoid of menace. No longer is there a sense that Fett is dangerous, formidable and respected. Instead, he is obedient and submissive. In Vader’s presence he has no spine whatsoever.

That’s a lot to read into three little words, isn’t it? It’s an entirely subjective debate, of course. To me, Fett is transformed from mysterious, edgy bounty hunter into just another of Vader’s whipping boys. His second line doesn’t really improve the situation. “What about Solo?” he asks on learning that Han is to be frozen in carbonite. “He’s worth a lot to me.” Maybe it’s the accent. Maybe it’s that the emphasis has moved from “lot” to “me.” Whatever the case, it simply grates on me. Whether or not I’m able to grow accustomed to this change after further viewings is unknown.

Thankfully, Fett’s final utterance is Morrison’s best attempt at capturing the bounty hunter’s previously menacing, gravelly voice. “Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold,” he says, as he stands guard outside Slave I, ensuring that no one will snatch his long-sought prize at the last minute.

Boba Fett comes out of this new Empire with some of what made him cool chipped away by Lucas’ revisionist hand. While it could be argued that Fett’s dying (or not) scream in Return of the Jedi certainly didn’t help his badass image, that is an entirely different film. Within the confines of The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett’s badassedness was matched only by Darth Vader’s; but that was a long time ago, before the technology was available to tell the story right.

Still, not all of the changes in Empire are bad. I was quite pleased (despite my initial trepidation) with Ian McDiarmid’s recreation of the Emperor. The dialogue was changed a bit, but not enough to incite outrage, and the overall effect was quite good. Here, at least, I can appreciate the new continuity.

Finally, we move to The Return of the Jedi. Long recognized as the weakest of the original trilogy, even at its worst Jedi doesn’t approach the levels of decrepitude achieved by The Phantom Menace and its even feebler successor, Attack of the Clones. With the Special Edition, it came pretty darn close, though.

Of the original trilogy, Jedi got the most Special Edition attention. Unfortunately, that attention was realized in the form of a musical number in Jabba’s palace that was, in simplest terms, awful. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was more cartoon than CG, wretched and horrifying. The original song, Lapti Nek wasn’t exactly a high point in the Star Wars saga, but it was at least passable.

Still, that’s Special Edition. That’s old news. It isn’t until the very end that the far-reaching hand of Lucas twists Jedi, replacing the ghostly image of Sebastian Shaw with that of Hayden Christensen, who looks as though he’s trying out for the Jack Nicholson role in a remake of The Shining. Seriously, there’s nothing in his gaze that says, “I’m at peace now, thank you, son. Thank you for freeing me from the grip of the Emperor and redeeming me.” No, it’s more along the lines of, “As soon as you look away, I’m going to kill and eat the little green fellow and the old man. Now go, my son, leave me.” I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been Hayden’s scarred head Luke revealed when he removed Vader’s mask.

In the end, this is Star Wars. None of the changes Lucas made – whether they be Special Edition or new to the DVD – can truly negate the fact that this trilogy has finally made it to DVD. Yes, it would have been nice to see the original versions. No, I don’t think Lucas is going to reconsider. So I’ll take what I can get, and I will enjoy it. The magic, as I said, is still there, even if the magician seems quite mad at times.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Sky Captain and the World of TomorrowSky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, Michael Gambon, Giovanni Ribisi,  Ling Bai and Sir Laurence Olivier

Directed by Kerry Conran

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is an homage to the sci-fi serials of yesteryear. It is filled with giant robots, ray guns, island fortresses, space ships and just about every other staple of the genre imaginable. What makes Sky Captain unique is the manner in which it is all brought to life.

Apart from the actors, almost nothing in Sky Captain actually exists. If an actor isn’t touching it, chances are it is an entirely digital construct. Every frame of this movie has been altered in some way during post-production, whether it be a simple softening of the focus or the insertion of a wildly stylized set. The end result is a feast for the eyes; so much so that I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes getting used to the visual style.

Thankfully, the story is pretty straightforward. This really is an homage, so there’s not really a whole lot of depth to the plot. The viewer can afford to get lost in the visuals for a while without fear of losing track of the story.

Which is not to say that Sky Captain doesn’t spin an entertaining yarn; it certainly does that. Though it suffers from some less than stellar dialogue, the combination of breathtaking visuals, ripped from a pulp magazine story and all around decent performances by the cast was enough to keep me engaged throughout the entire film.

At this point, there are so many things I liked about Sky Captain that it becomes difficult to sort them out and determine where exactly they should be plugged into the review. First, there are the characters. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Polly Perkins and Jude Law’s Sky Captain (AKA Joe Sullivan) are each a spot-on tip of the hat to the stereotypical nosy reporter and dashing hero that the aforementioned serials helped create. Ditto for Giovanni Ribisi as Dex, the genius mechanic. The only role I haven’t really been able to pin down a stereotype for is Angelina Jolie as Captain Cook, but she wears an eye patch and, well, that’s enough.

Then there is the enigmatic Ling Bai, who portrays the nameless but thoroughly deadly adversary with whom Sky Captain and company must constantly contend. She’s part Darth Maul, part ninja, part Marcel Marceau and all woman. Sort of. She doesn’t utter a single syllable throughout the entire movie, but her presence is guaranteed to make things interesting.

Finally (as far as characters are concerned) we have Sir Laurence Olivier as Dr. Totenkopf, whose diabolical scheme the heroes must thwart. Olivier died in 1989, so his appearance in Sky Captain is certainly noteworthy. Conran tips his creative hat to The Wizard of Oz in bringing Olivier back to the screen.

Next, the style of the film. It may have been enough to borrow story elements and characters from those classic serials, but Kerry Conran went a step further. Every scene, every cut and every fade utilizes some mechanic that hearkens back to 1940. Whether it be a newspaper montage, a radio tower broadcasting concentric circular signals, three hands pointing skyward to herald the arrival of Sky Captain or lines of longitude and latitude superimposed over the Earth to show the journey of a flying airplane, it is all another, superbly executed nod to the black and white adventures that drew people back into the theaters week after week.

There’s very little that I didn’t like about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I thought that Michael Gambon, portraying Polly Perkins’ gruff-yet-caring editor, could have used some more screen time. There was also a line (in Tibetan) about Gwyneth Paltrow’s nipples that seemed rather out of place. Finally, there was a horribly disfigured man whose makeup/mask was a little too over the top for my liking. In a movie where nearly everything is over the top, that’s saying a lot. The difference is how well everything else blends in, and how this particular effect did not.

Some will probably say that Sky Captain is an example of using visual effects to compensate for a lackluster story. I don’t think that’s the case at all. While the story certainly isn’t fantastic, it’s definitely passable. The visual effects simply allow Kerry Conran to present the story in a manner the audience has never experienced before. It’s bluescreen film-making done right, and with spectacular results.

He hurts me so bad, yet I keep coming back for more…

George Lucas
George Lucas, Inveterate Tinkerer

Despite the fact that George Lucas has repeatedly beaten my inner fanboy like piñata at a birthday party, I still take my place in line every time he releases something new. I did it for The Phantom Menace, I did it again for Attack of the Clones, and today I’ve forked over still more of my money for the DVD release of the “original” Star Wars trilogy.

It all started with Greedo. The slimy Rodian has always been a troublemaker, but the extent of his ability to vex wasn’t evident until the Special Edition in 1997. Suddenly, his trigger finger was slightly more itchy, and it was this that began (though we didn’t yet realize it) Lucas’ descent into madness. Not content to take this plunge alone, the man opted to drag my beloved trilogy along with him.

Perhaps we should have seen it even earlier. Perhaps even in 1983, when we first witnessed this exchange on Endor’s forest moon:

LEIA: Luke, don’t talk that way! You have a power I … I don’t understand… and could never have.

LUKE: You’re wrong, Leia. You have that power, too. In time you’ll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it, and … my sister has it… Yes. It’s you, Leia.

LEIA: I know. Somehow … I’ve always known.

If that wasn’t warning enough, the following scene with Leia and Han should have driven it home. But I was ten, then. It wasn’t until later that I recognized just how bad the acting in those two scenes was, and I wrote it off as a fluke.

Then came The Phantom Menace. I had convinced myself in the year leading up to its release that cute little Jake Lloyd could act. I had assured myself that the prequel would manage to capture the magic of the originals … magic that I still see when I watch them today. I did such a good job that I talked myself into a year of denial after Episode I was released. I saw it in the theater three times, not recognizing that each consecutive viewing chipped away at the fine, delicate and oh-so-fragile construct of faith I’d created. Then, I bought the DVD and it all crumbled, the shards of my deception repeatedly lacerating my psyche like a shower of razor blades.

Still, I saw Attack of the Clones on opening day. By now, though, the veil had been lifted. I watched in horror as Lucas’ pawns played out his demented game. Anakin and Amidala were like zombies, loving one another not because of any magnetism or attraction, but because their wicked houngan master commanded them to. When the characters opened their mouths, it was as though they spoke the words of a crazed abductor, pasting words and letters cut from a newspaper onto the script. Special effects were at one turn impressive and another dismal. Each passing moment saw Lucas grind his bootheel viciously into the small of my inner fanboy’s back. My disillusionment was complete, utter, and irreversible. Or so I thought.

In days gone by, I shook my fist with impotent ire when Mr. Lucas declared that the original trilogy would not be made available on DVD until after the prequels were complete. Then my heart was lit with a piercing ray of hope when he announced that the trilogy would, in fact, be available much sooner. I longed to see each frame of The Three rendered in flawless, digital brilliance. The promise of this buoyed my faith once more, faith I had thought crushed and broken, lying in ruins beneath a sea of injustice and callous disregard.

I remain forever weak and easily manipulated. George rings the bell of promise and my mouth is filled to overflowing with the saliva of blind, eager hope. I kneel before him in humble supplication to his will, and once more taste the bitter steel toe of his boot as he delivers yet another punishing blow. Rumors trickle in, whispers of changes beyond those made in the Special Edition. Greedo will forever shoot first. The ghostly visage of Sebastian Shaw’s Anakin Skywalker will be replaced with that of Hayden Christensen. Boba Fett’s voice has been redubbed by Temuera Morrison. In the name of continuity, of course.

Lucas argues that the completed saga will be more cohesive with these changes in place. A fair assertion, but would it be so difficult to include the “alternative version” of the original trilogy? These three films, six hours all told, have integrated themselves so thoroughly into my life over the past twenty-seven years that I daresay I’d not be myself were their influence somehow expurgated. This statement is not mere hyperbole, it is reality. It is also an inescapable fact that there are those whose lives have been even more influenced by the phenomenon that is Star Wars than my own. It is at once sad and reassuring to recognize this, for whatever the length and depth of my own fandom, I am comforted to know that I am—at the very least—not as bad as that guy.

In the end, I will always do as I have done today. I curse myself under my breath as I lay my money down and take this latest offering from Lucas and his band of rogues. The attraction of experiencing these three movies in DVD format far outweighs the disappointment I feel in witnessing further changes to what I feel ought not have been so sullied in the first place.

You win, George Lucas. I have taken yet another step on the path to the Dark Side.

Dreamcatcher and The Bourne Supremacy

DreamcatcherLaura and I watched Dreamcatcher over the weekend. I’ve gotta hand it to Stephen King: he’s definitely imaginative. It was one of the most interesting and unique takes on the whole “alien invasion” theme I’ve seen. One might be tempted to compare the plot to that of It, but despite some similarities in the way the story is told, I don’t think that would be fair. The characters do feel like they’re re-releases of those we’ve encountered before, though.

The Bourne SupremacyThursday night we went to see The Bourne Supremacy. It passed the Keep Laura Awake Test (or KLAT, I guess), and I thought it was a good flick. I enjoy characters who are able to (believably) keep one or more steps ahead of their adversaries and can think on their feet and improvise in almost any situation. Jason Bourne is this type of character, and the movie does a good job of keeping his skills within the realm of the possible. He’s not James Bond, he’s better than Bond because he feels real. I don’t recall any point where my disbelief was unsuspended, and that’s good.

I watched Ultimate Film Fanatic on IFC Friday night. Six contestants were vying for the title in the mid-Atlantic region. As each hopeful is introduced, they tell the audience why they’re going to win. My favorite was the kid who said, “I own over 1,000 movies in their correct aspect ratios… and I’m only 21.” It wasn’t my favorite when he said it, but it became my favorite when he was eliminated on the first question of the first round. The category was “Deniro: The Sellout Years.” The question was something along the lines of, “Deniro played Fearless Leader in the 2001 film that pitted him against this cartoon duo.” The kid clearly didn’t know, so after a pause he just said something about not watching bad movies, so he wouldn’t have seen the one in question.

You have to watch bad movies, kid. It’s part of being a movie geek. It’s part of how you discover what makes great movies great and what makes the turkeys gobble. If you avoid the bad movies simply because everyone says they’re bad, you’re not a movie geek, you’re a sheep without the experience and information necessary to form your own opinions. Over time, the number of bad movies you’ve seen will far outnumber the great ones. It has to be that way, else the great ones won’t be great. They’ll just be average.

Movie Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 (DVD)Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Starring Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn, Cliff Robertson, Willem Defoe and Satipo.

Directed by Sam Raimi.

I think Spider-Man 2 is a flawed gem where superhero movies are concerned. In terms of action, I think it far surpasses its predecessor. It also does a very good job of moving the story along and developing the characters. Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius is far more interesting and sympathetic than his comic counterpart has ever been. Spider-Man 2 is, I think, about as faithful an on-screen representation of a comic book superhero as has been seen to date. At times, though, it seems that Raimi and company have performed the task of translating the ink-and-paper characters to the screen too well.

Spider-Man has always been about a guy who is, deep down, very unsure of himself. He has been given incredible powers but he is constantly aware that they are both a gift and a burden. Peter Parker lives in fear that his enemies will discover the true nature of his connection to Spider-Man and use his loved ones as leverage in their evil schemes. Never mind the Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, Doctor Octopus or the Lizard, Spider-Man is his own toughest foe. Add to this the fact that he is beloved by some and reviled by others (including Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn), and Spider-Man is about ready for weekly sessions with a psychoanalyst.

The problem with Spider-Man 2 comes when all of this angst and turmoil gets thrown up onto the big screen. Peter Parker is suffering the downfall of maintaining a dual identity and everyone around him is aware of the results: he can’t keep a job, his grades are slipping, he’s always late, always tired. When not swinging through the streets, saving innocent children from evil traffic and generally struggling to make New York a better place for everyone, the man behind the mask is forced to endure a seemingly endless parade of concerned friends and family offering their analysis and advice. It is the over-long, overwrought speeches that make the action-free scenes of Spider-Man 2 difficult to watch. Peter is preached to by everyone from his personal physician to Doctor Octavius, from Mary Jane to (worst of all) Aunt May. The first movie had its overly-earnest bits of dialog, but the sequel really turns up the volume.

This type of stuff works all right in three panels of the comic book, but it’s just too much for the screen. That’s not to suggest that Peter’s problems be “dumbed-down” for moviegoers, just the opposite. Stop beating us over the head with it, or at the very least use a softer hammer.

Spider-Man 2 is, as I said before, a flawed gem. The action scenes are consistently brilliant, imaginative, well-executed and fun to watch. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson made me laugh out loud every time he was on screen, as well he should have, and there were some absurdly comedic moments scattered throughout. Some of these worked (the elevator scene) and one would have worked better if it had been a bit shorter (Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head). In the course of the movie I saw the potential for at least two villains with which Sony and Sam Raimi could assault the web-slinger in future installments. I found the movie to be largely satisfying. If the speeches had been toned down a bit, the flaw in Spider-Man 2 might not have been so noticeable.

Bubba Ho-tep

Bubba Ho-TepBubba Ho-tep (2002)

Starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout and Bob Ivy

Directed by Don Coscarelli

The Bubba Ho-tep Special Edition DVD contains two audio commentary tracks. The first, not surprisingly, is commentary by director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell. The second is commentary by “The King.” That’s right, Elvis himself comments on the movie (recording at “an undisclosed location”) at the request of the director. One of those “favor to a friend of a friend of a friend” things.

Based on a novella by Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep is about Elvis, who isn’t nearly as dead as the general public has been lead to believe. The King (played by Bruce Campbell) is alive and (relatively) well, spending most of his time laid up in bed at Shady Pines, a rest home in Mud Creek, Texas. In a coincidence far too bizarre to consider, this rest home also happens to be the current domicile of none other than JFK (Ossie Davis). Together, the decrepit duo must defeat an ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy who has been preying upon the residents of Shady Pines.

Why The King of Rock and Roll is spending his last days in a gloomy rest home is explained in a series of flashbacks, as is how an ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy came to be in Texas. And JFK? Well, there’s an explanation for his presence at Shady Pines, too; as well as an explanation for him being black.

Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell play their parts very well. Their interactions are amusing and occasionally touching. Campbell looks the part of an aging Elvis (thanks in no small part to some excellent makeup), and Davis looks the part of an aging Kennedy about as much as any elderly black guy playing an elderly white guy could. As for the ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy, he looks about like you’d expect an ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy living in Mud Creek, Texas would, complete with feathered cowboy hat and stylin’ boots.

The film moves at a decidedly geriatric pace, and there’s not all that much action. Anyone expecting Evil Dead 4 is in for a big disappointment. Still, the main characters are old men, so it’s fitting that the movie not rush along at breakneck speeds. The story is driven largely by dialog, a good portion of which is Campbell’s cantankerous Elvis voice over. When there is action, it is action suited to old men. Every move the heroes make is likely to send them back to bed with a broken hip. When the main character needs a walker to get around, it’s not likely he’ll be doing back flips or flattening the mummy with a crane kick.

Though there isn’t a single Elvis song throughout the entire movie (pesky copyrights), the soundtrack is nonetheless pleasing. The original music by Brian Tyler is very fitting, especially the rich, moody guitar in the main theme. On my home theater system, the sound and music filled the room, making for a very satisfying viewing experience.

The true gem on the DVD is that commentary by “The King.” Elvis is watching Bubba Ho-tep for the first time, and he comments on Bruce Campbell (he’s seen Campbell in some “Evil Death” pictures, but isn’t going to rush out to see his next movie), Ossie Davis (a classically-trained actor who must have been paid a lot of money to do this picture), the film’s budget (the must have spent all the money getting Ossie Davis), and the disturbing amount of profanity (The King would never cuss in front of a lady). The commentary is littered with references to Elvis’ own films and anecdotes about making them, and is interrupted several times when The King takes calls on his cellular phone.

I’ve yet to watch the Campbell/Coscarelli commentary, but I’ve got another couple of days before the movie is due back at Blockbuster, so I’ll likely have a chance to see it before I return the DVD.

Bubba Ho-tep may never achieve the cult status that the Evil Dead films have, but it gives Bruce Campbell a chance to show what he’s capable of when not portraying the dunderheaded Ash or relegated to playing thirty-third fiddle in Sam Raimi’s latest Spider-Man film. I’ve seen several reviews that proclaim this to be Bruce Campbell’s finest acting to date, and I don’t disagree. The slow pace and lack of constant action are likely to alienate a certain subset of Campbell’s fans, but for the rest of us Bubba Ho-tep is a worthy addition to his filmography, and a big step on the long path to atoning for Congo.