Quick Movie Review: Lost In Translation (2003)

lost in translation As a big fan of Bill Murray’s run on Saturday Night Live and classic 70s/80s comedies like Stripes, Caddyshack, Meatballs, Scrooged and, of course, the Ghostbusters movies, it was hard to accept him in what a younger version of me described as his “sad bastard” phase. In the late 90s I wasn’t paying nearly as much attention to the world of film as I do now, so the switch from things like Space Jam to Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Lost In Translation was a pretty big shock. It makes all the sense in the world to me now he felt the need to change his image a bit and wanted to show a different side of himself.

For what it’s worth, I’m not a big fan of the Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen, so I’m not into Murray’s performances in those movies because they’re just not my thing. But, I did enjoy him in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Zombieland, so I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the movies he’s made in the last decade. I’ve also seen at least one other Sofia Coppola movie, the moving The Virgin Suicides, so I was curious to see these two creators joining sources. Plus, who isn’t captivated by Scarlett Johansson?

And it really is a great film. I’m a huge fan of stories that take two characters who probably shouldn’t be together and create a believable atmosphere for them to interact within. That’s the case for married movie star Bob Harris (Murray) and photographer’s wife Charlotte (Johansson) who both happen to be staying in the same Tokyo hotel at the same time, wind up meeting, becoming friends and possibly more.

I like to call this a “staring out the window” movie because, well, there’s a lot of that going on. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all because it means that the characters are contemplative. I mean, it’s a pretty obvious way of conveying that idea, but when you’re cooped up in a hotel room and surrounded by the fairly alien landscape of Tokyo, it works. The film also takes a somewhat leisurely pace, not rushing too fast, often getting into scenes that show how these characters act on their own, together just the two of them and also in larger groups. You notice little differences as you go which comes from getting so many creative people together to work on a story. Essentially, you get to see them grow as a couple, though a couple that probably shouldn’t be together.

While the “inappropriate” relationship is a big part of the story (they’re both married), another driving force of this movie is the idea of two people coming together in this environment that’s so separated from their normal lives. It’s only because they’re in this strange place that they come together. Because they’re so isolated, these people cling to one another and develop a relationship that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It’s a really interesting story and situation that asks a lot from its actors and delivers as far as I’m concerned.

The Dark Knight Rises Versus The Avengers

One of the hallmarks of the geek community is comparing things we love and seeing how they stack up. Of course, the problem with doing this is that we wind up comparing things that don’t even match up. Back when The Dark Knight came out the big question was whether it was better than Iron Man and I thought it was incredibly annoying. It’s like comparing Die Hard to The Usual Suspects, they’re both somewhat dramatic action films, but that’s where the comparisons end. One’s a balls-out auctioner while the other is a really serious, more cerebral outing…with punching and costumes.

The same thing happened this year when people started comparing The Avengers to The Dark Knight Rises and I thought it was an equally foolish comparison. However, while watching Avengers for the second time at the drive-in last night I realized a few things about the two movies that made me like one over the other and, seeing as how this is the internet, I figured I’d share them with whoever will read them.

Right off the bat (heh, PUN!), Avengers is more fun and a more enjoyable watching experience. It’s the perfect movie to check out on a Saturday or Sunday. It also has a lot of great moments that made me geek out, but I realized something while watching Avengers again. The moments in that movie that I dug the most (Iron Man reflecting his blasts off of Cap’s shield, Hulk sucker punching Thor after a team up) were great moments that reminded me of ideas from comics, but those same kind of things in Dark Knight Rises reminded me of specific moments from Batman comics. This is obviously completely subjective, but I can’t separate those very personal moments of awesomeness form my childhood, so why not embrace them? It doesn’t discount anything from Avengers, but just gives DKR a leg up in my book.

I know a lot of people thought DKR was bleak and sad, but I actually found it really uplifting. The character of John Blake completely embodies the never-give-up attitude that’s kept humanity alive for all these centuries. That same attitude is something Batman had to rediscover and use to his advantage to save the city he loves. There’s some of that in Avengers, but I never really thought they’d be in trouble. That wasn’t going to happen, but with rumors swirling that Batman would die in this flick and Christopher Nolan being an incredibly ballsy filmmaker, there was a small part of me that thought it might happen and even that it should have happened. I left Avengers feeling pumped up and fueled by geek-love, but I actually felt good about humanity after watching Rises.

So, Dark Knight Rises has the leg up in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I like Avengers any less. They’re both hallmarks of filmmaking that should be appreciated by all kinds of audiences. It’s amazing the kind of things that can come from comic book source material.

The Avengers (2012) Is Awesome

I’m 29 this year. When I was a kid and falling in love with comics, I didn’t have a lot of good comic book movies to fall in love with. I didn’t really get into Batman, but wound up loving Batman Returns. The Superman movies never did it for me because they were just so far away from the Superman I knew from the comics. Heck, I remember getting excited about the Generation X and Nick Fury TV movies. Then we got Blade and X-Men and things changed. Eventually X2, Batman Begins, Dark Knight and Iron Man really made the comic book-based movie a thing to be reckoned with both in the box office and compared to other movies.

As the movies got better, I found the mediocre ones less interesting, but a little more disappointing. If you know how to do these things well, why not just keep doing them well. Is it so difficult to get someone who understands the material to make something good on a proper budget? Christopher Nolan did it, Jon Favreau did it and god damn, did Joss Whedon do it with Avengers.

My wife and I decided to head to the drive-in with some friends to see it. It kind of snuck up on my how excited I wound up being for this flick. I really like the Iron Man movies, didn’t like Ed Norton in Incredible Hulk, kinda sorta liked Thor and had a pretty good time with Captain America: The First Avenger, but the ad campaign, plus the fact that I wrote about the movie a bit for Spinoff Online got me pretty excited. Then I started hearing people I know and respect coming back raving about the movie. People were comparing it to Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note that both of them are die hard Marvel fans and, like me, never thought they’d see a movie like this in the real world, on the big screen, done this well.

And man, this movie is done well. Whedon did an amazing job trying together the very different movies, bringing in new characters, pumping up ones we’d only seen briefly and making them all work in ways that make sense. It just makes sense that Tony Stark’s flip attitude toward everything would eventually rub Captain America the wrong way or that Thor would find the petty complaints of mortals well, petty. But, this movie is so much more than great character beats. The action is spectacular in every sense of the word. The attack on the hellicarrier? Wow. I wasn’t sure if the rest of the movie could top that, but the end battle was magnificent. Those long tracking shots that don’t cut away moving throughout the city from small battle to small battle with different characters flying in and out and wrecking shop in different ways was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Ever.

I could go on and on. The moments with the Hulk? Amazing and hilarious. Possibly my favorite Hulk of all time. That small moment where Iron Man shoots his repulsors off of Cap’s shield or the shockwave sent out when Thor hit the shied? So awesome. Hawkeye calling the shots and using his ingenious bow and quiver? So cool. My wife poked fun at me for giggling with excitement throughout half the movie. I wasn’t sorry, I reveled in it. I really can’t remember having more fun at a movie in a long time. It was basically Expendables, but instead of starring actors I’ve known forever, this was characters.

Okay, now someone needs to get me a Justice League movie.

Revisiting Scream 3 (2000) & Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sequels are funny things. Like a lot of people who think about movies way too much, I tend to judge them pretty harshly. Do they hold up to the original? Are they better? Does this story make sense? Is it necessary? The real question should simply be, is it any good? Was it entertaining? Did I like it? Upon re-watching a pair of sequels recently, I feel like I’m either becoming a nicer viewer or (hopefully) less judgmental. I think there’s also something to be said for experience with a story making it easier to digest even if there are elements that you find bothersome. You know they’re they, you see them coming and you adjust your viewing as necessary.

That actually wasn’t the case with Scream 3, which I watched towards the end of last week. The first and only other time I saw this movie was in the theaters when it came out in 2000. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Scream series (you can read my review of the first one here), but they were gigantic to the horror community that I was just getting into as they came out. I remember liking the third installment, thinking that the filmmakers were really playing with the genre and having fun with it. I mean, it’s not a flat out comedy by any means, but I remember feeling a sense of winking towards the audience, especially in the scene where the killer throws a knife at Dewey and the handle smacks him in the head. That bit still made me laugh.

But, I wasn’t seeing or noticing the humor as much this time around. Yes, I was working and it was kind of on in the background while I was doing other things, but it just wasn’t as prevalent. I still liked the movie and think it’s pretty good, but there were two aspects that got on my nerves. First off, and I know I liked this at the time, but the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are just super weird and kind of pointless. I’m saying this as someone who loves those characters, those movies and Smith in general, but they really took me out of the movie. But, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ridiculous voice modulator thing that so much of the movie depends on. Does that kind of thing even exist? I feel like if it did, there would be an app. Anyway, I get the idea that it makes everyone you’re not seeing directly in front of you suspect, but it gets to the point where you as a viewer can’t trust anyone and just become more and more disconnected. It also made me far more aware of off-screen dialog which took me out of the store even more. Without that aspect, the movie would actually be pretty damn solid. I don’t even mind the retconning stuff because I think it fits in pretty well and all makes sense. Plus, it’s another not to old horror movies, though this one far more unsettling. With that, I’ve watched the first and third movies in the past few years and just need to rewatch 2 and see 4 for the first time. I’ve heard good things.

After writing up a piece about Iron Man 3 for Spinoff, I remembered that 2 was on Netflix Instant and gave it another watch. I honestly didn’t remember many of my opinions about the movie from the first time I saw it other than a deep desire to punch Justin Hammer in the face. After going back and re-reading my original review of the film, it turns out that that same elements spoke to me both times. I liked it, it’s a big fun action movie. The performances are great. I didn’t like Sam Jackson that time around, but none of that stuff bothered me this time. And, while I still despise Justin Hammer as a character and think he came off kind of cartoony, I don’t think Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of him is all that far from people like him in the real world.

It’s actually kind of funny that I remembered most of the scenes of the movie, but couldn’t remember how I felt about them. There were bits I forgot, like Tony Stark’s dad as a kind of Walt Disney character. I’m actually listening to a book about Pixar right now that got into some of the “I’ve got these ideas, but haven’t developed the technology just yet, maybe they will n the future” ideas that were directly stated in this film. It’s interesting how the things you’re reading/watching/listening to can inadvertently segue into one another.

Anyway, I’ve found that repeated viewings of the first Iron Man tend to leave me a little flat. I still like all the character stuff they did and Robert Downey Jr. makes an awesome Tony Stark, but the ending definitely has diminishing returns. I understand that they wanted to show that Tony Stark could perservere over a larger, more powerful oponent, but that battle is just boring the third or fourth time around. Similarly, the one between Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke at the end of this one’s a bit lame. You get that awesome sequence with them taking on the drones and then you finish up with Tony and Rhodey aiming blasters at the Ruskie and he explodes? Eh. These things are great the first time around, but don’t always make for the best repeated viewings which is what I want from my movies. Still, it’s a movie packed with fun and shows just one small aspect of how cool an Avengers movie can and hopefully will be.

Iron Mongering: Iron Man 2 (2010)

I hadn’t heard a lot of great things about Iron Man 2. Between friends and the Totally Rad Show guys, the reviews weren’t the greatest. I think those people are crazy. Sure Iron Man 2 had some problems, but overall, it gave me the things I found the original wanting: a really good final battle (the Iron Man vs. the drones was probably cooler than the final battle with Whiplash), a better actor portraying Rhodey and more action in general.

Some people complained that the movie was too long and maybe felt like there were too many characters which took away from the Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. goodness, but I disagree. It felt like a very well paced and balanced movie to me.

I’m not going to get too much into the plot because I’m sure some people haven’t seen it yet, but I will talk about a few things that I really, really liked. First off, Don Cheadle annihilates Terrence Howard’s performance. He should have been in the role from the beginning. Second, even though Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow wasn’t the kind of role I expected it to be, I like they worked her in and her fighting style was awesome to watch. I could definitely go for a movie with just her. Third, the comparison between Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played perfectly by Mad Men’s John Slattery) and Walt Disney is perfect. It obviously wasn’t directly stated, but between Slattery sporting a Walt-like suit and telling the people at home about his idea for the future and Stark Expo aping the World’s Fair (a showcase for many of Disney’s creations that are still in the parks today), it’s on the screen. Plus, the way Howard helped Tony later in life was awesome.

The movie’s not perfect, though. There was one plot hole early on that I actually forgot in all the awesomeness towards the end, but I did think it was odd that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash would allow Tony and Rhodey to communicate towards the end of the movie. Rourke was fantastic by the way. I however did not like two of the performances in particular that of the Sams Jackson and Rockwell. Jackson seemed to be playing his role as a buddy of Stark’s which just doesn’t wash for me. And for Rockwell, I’m kind of shocked at how much everyone liked his character, or liked to hate him. Yeah, he was annoying and douchey, but it came off as a bad Dana Carvey impression of that character to me. Hopefully if he shows back up in Iron Man 3, he’ll be a little less over-the-top.

All in all, I had a fantastic time watching Iron Man 2 (I love that they called it Iron Man 2, by the way, and not something with a colon). It had everything I wanted and actually topped my medium-sized expectations. Plus, for me at least, the first Iron Man movie seemed amazing at the time, but on repeated viewings I found it wanting. Maybe that will be the case with IM2, or maybe knowing that the sequel picks up on the potential of the first one and continues on will actually make me enjoy the original more.