Jul. 14th, 2015 08:51 pm
On Friday evening, July 10th, we went to see “Minions,”the new animated movie by Universal Pictures, which gives a featured place to the small yellow beings that work for Gru in the “Despicable Me” movies.

I had always assumed that the Minions were creations of Doctor Nefario, Gru’s staff mad scientist, but the Minions movie tells us that they evolved from a primitive life form that hit on a form of symbiosis no unlike that practiced by pilot fish or “crocodile birds”: that of following, and attempting to assist an apex predator. This developed, evidently, into a deep psychological need, so that, by Jurassic times, the Minions were attempting to follow and worship tyrannosaurs,despite themselves having developed human-ish levels of intelligence. (This evolutionary history begs the question as to whether or not Minions are mammalian. Some of the scenes in the movie make it questionable if they are even vertebrates--.) It’s also questionable whether or not “symbiosis” is the proper word for a relationship that so often destroys the organism they are attached to, although it’s also a novel form of parasitism--. By the time humans have taken over the world, the Minions tropism for the most predatory behavior draws them to the most villainous, or "evil" humans.

Having ticked off Napoleon, the Minion tribe is chased into the polar wastes and languishes in exile until the 1960’s, when the visionary Kevin, accompanied by Stuart and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), sets out on a quest for a new life. After a sequence of adventures, they arrive in Orlando,Florida, for “Villain-Con,” and succeed in obtaining the coveted post of hench-beings to the super-villain “Scarlet Overkill” (Sandra Bullock), who covets the crown and throne of Great Britain.
“Mrs. Overkill” as the British refer to her, is a great creation, a James Bond villain that never was. (Her appearance is heralded with Bond-like trumpet riffs--.) She’s gloriously vain, amazingly flamboyant, and highly deadly.  Her loving husband(really!) is mod mad scientist Herb (Jon Hamm), who resembles a caricature of Noel Harrison from “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”. When she sends the Minions out to fetch her Queen Elizabeth’s crown, the caper goes amazingly off the rails in ways disconcerting to both the villains and the British Empire.
Since the Minions speak chiefly gibberish with a few recognizable words for comic effect, both the makers and reviewers of the movie have tended to compare it with silent film comedy, which isn’t quite the case.

Instead,the movie is a lot more like one of the Three Stooges more elaborate plots:everyone assumes the minions/stooges are idiots; they both succeed and screw up beyond all expectations; and havoc ensues.

The movie is purely silly, which is fine if you go expecting that. Although quite kid-friendly, there’s lots in it for older folks as well,not least the 60’s rock soundtrack, but a lot of in-jokes as well. (When the Minions, fleeing through the sewers, surface at an exit labeled “Abbey Road” we know whom they are going to encounter when they surface--.)

Animation and character design are consistent with the “Despicable Me” films, with settings and backgrounds more elaborate since the plot takes place in real world locations (New York, London) as distinct from the more purely cartoon world of the earlier movies. There are also some very nice cameos by Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as leaders of an American “crime family,” and Jennifer Saunders as a feisty Queen of England.

Recommended if you can enjoy a bout of over the top slapstick with some charming characters.
After the glut of summer action films, we finally caught up to Marvel Studios' "Captain America: The First Avenger" at the budget cinemas. We liked it. As with "Iron Man," the film stayed very close to the comics origin of the character, and, since it happened during World War II, didn't need to be updated like Iron Man's did (from Vietnam to Afghanistan).

There were some very impressive effects in the movie, but, in my opinion, the best one was the subtly integrated and flawless CGI that turned strapping Chris Evans into a 90-pound weakling for the first part of the film. It really is amazing when you think about it, but it looks perfectly natural.

Evans gives a very nice and low-key performance as the Brooklyn boy whose bound and determined to get into the war against Hitler despite his feeble physique. He's well supported by Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine, the inventor of the super-soldier formula, and Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, the British representative on the Allies Strategic Science Reserve.

The bad guys are lead by Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. "The Red Skull," who, in this version, instead of being an Abwher agent, heads Hydra, a scientific satrapy within the Third Reich which combines aspects of the S.S. and a technically advanced Organization Todt.

"Steve Rogers'" journey from being a 4-F recruit reject to heading a special unit tasked with destroying the Hydra operations, and to direct and deadly conflict with the Red Skull, is the plot of the movie, and works out well in the context. The movie has a high "cool stuff" factor, ranging from tricked-out motorcycles, giant German bombers, and the Skull's supercharged automobile, which looks like an updated and militarized version of the one used in "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

Cool also are the many Marvel references, ranging from the introductory shot of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) to the fact that "Dum-Dum Dugan", "Gabe Jones," and "Percy Pinkerton" of Marvel's "Howling Commandos" are among the prisoners Cap frees from a Hydra compound, although they aren't named as such in the script. (Given that, I was surprised that Tommy Lee Jones' crusty Colonel Phillips wasn't named Sam Sawyer, after the Commandos C.O. in the comics--.)

The movie has a nice balance of action, adventure, and character development, with some genuine suspense and pathos thrown in. One of the best of the Marvel franchise in my opinion.

And I'm still surprised at the number of people who don't stay through the credits--you'd think word would have gotten around. This time, the "Easter Egg" was a teaser trailer for next summer's "The Avengers" movie. Looks good!


May. 10th, 2011 01:16 pm
On Sunday the 8th, we got to see "Thor", the latest Marvel Studios adaptation of one of their comic-book properties. I'm not the huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski that some are, but I have to say I like what he and Mark Protosevich did with the storyline, as turned into a screenplay by Ashley Miller,  Zack Stentz, and Don Payne; as realized by director Kenneth Branagh. 

The adaptation of course relies heavily on the Thor comic, created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber, and starts off in Asgard with the impulsive Thor (Chris Hemsworth) being banished by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), until he learns some humility.  This is a result of a deadly prank played by the jealous Loki (Tom Hiddleston), that ends up going badly wrong for all concerned.

On Earth, the befuddled thunder god is picked up by scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and  Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) who are investigating the strange phenomena associated with the god's transit to earth, and who at first think he's a loon they found wandering in the New Mexico desert. I liked this recasting of Jane Foster, who, in the comics as the "nurse" working for "Dr. Donald Blake," I always thought was one of the weakest of the Marvel love-interests--she never had much individual character, and existed pretty much solely to be threatened by vastly more powerful beings after Thor. (True, that's the job of most comic-book "girlfriends," but one could imagine Spider-Man's Mary Jane coshing Doc Ock or the Green Goblin if she got a chance; with villains in the league of giants, trolls, and evil gods, about all Jane got to do was cower--.)  We thought Portman did a good job in the role, nicely balancing frustration in her work with facination with the mystery man. The role of Selvig (Skarsgard) to the story as Foster's mentor/adviser was also a good one.

Hemsworth looks as much like the recent comic incarnations of Thor as an human can,and was decent in the role. The real stand-out performance was Hiddleston as Loki, who handles his part as a deeply conflicted antagonist excellently. The major roles are rounded out by Hopkin's Odin, which was a surprisingly good choice, Colm Feore as the treacherous Laufey, and Clark Gregg as "Agent Coulson", the non-super SHIELD agent who's investigating the fall of Thor's hammer in the desert. Coulson's very good as the low-keyed G-man and contrasts nicely with the flamboyant characters around him.

I liked the actors who were cast as Thor's "posse", Shieldmaiden Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three; Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas), and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), who are there largely to play back-up for the big man, but did a good job and looked like they were having fun with the parts. (When a SHIELD agent describes them as "Xena, Jackie Chan, and Robin Hood," the audience gave a good laugh.)

CGI gave a good rendering of "Eternal Asgard" that harked back to the Kirby-esque superscientific days of impossibly tall towers, gravity-defying buttresses, and incomprensible giant machines. I was glad to see that the credits gave thanks to some of the other important writers and artists, like Walt Simonson and Marie Severin, among others, who shaped the Thor comic over the years.

I would rate this one of the best comic book adaptations to date, with a literate and complex story that still had the "cosmic" feel to it. 

Iron Man 2

Jun. 11th, 2010 09:08 pm

On Friday the 4th, we went to see “Iron Man 2” and found it better than most critics did. We did not find that there were too many characters, or that the plot was too cluttered.  Of course, we are accustomed to comic books, and the fact that what we have here is a decent (if short, by modern standards) comic book story arc.

I wonder, do movie critics seem to think that actually reading comics might be beneath them? I can remember days when quite a few critics looked down on anything that wasn’t “cinema”—today, we would say “indie” or “art house”—and automatically condemned anything that was fantasy or science fiction to the “B” movie ghetto.  Now, with the critical success of films such as “The Lord of the Rings” or “District 9” it is OK to approve F&SF in movies, apparently if it comes from a “respectable” source, to wit a book between hard covers,  or someone who’s a film “auteur”. Mainstream comics, however, still don’t seem to be understood by the film reviewers.

That said, we liked “Iron Man 2”.  Robert Downey, Jr., continues to add depth and personality to the role of Tony Stark, who is keeping up a cocky and risk-seeking front to the world while being slowly poisoned by his arc reactor power source. (This is one of the weak points of the movie, since palladium, the metal blamed, is actually very inert--) Downey does a fine job of delivering Stark’s wise-cracking dialog, including a barrage of double entendre aimed at an obnoxious Senator (played with just enough smarm by Garry Shandling). In general, the script is as witty as any I’ve seen in a long time, as Stark sinks barbs into fatuous rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), argues about responsibility and the avoidance of it with “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and flirts with newcomer “Natalie Rushman” a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssen), although his “here-we-are-in-the-foxhole” banter with James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) during the climactic battle scene seems a bit forced.  (And, OK, does Tony Stark have the best job in the world or WHAT? He’s filthy rich, has the Iron Man gear to play with, AND has both Paltrow and Johanssen on his personal staff. Methinks it would be worth dealing with a few supervillains for that--.)

And, speaking of villians, there are some very good ones in the form of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and the aforementioned Justin Hammer (Rockwell).  Vanko is a worthy addition to the Marvel canon, showing the modern face of Russian crime. (In Marvel comics, Ivan’s “father”, Anton Vanko, was the creator of the “Crimson Dynamo” powered suit, used by Iron Man’s Cold War era Soviet foes.)  Rockwell’s Hammer is a great development. In the comics, there wasn’t much to choose between Justin Hammer and Obidaih Stane (villain of the last movie)—both were rocky-jawed, hard-as-nails, ruthless businessmen.  This Justin Hammer is an inspired departure, a monster of evil banality.  It’s as though the “Bill Lumbergh” character from “Office Space” had had just enough drive and tech savvy to become the head of an arms company before reaching  his level  of incompetence--.  He’s a cliché-spouting empty suit, whose envy of Stark makes him apt to be exploited by Vanko in pursuit of his revenge.

Special effects are up to series standard: purists will note that the “War Machine” version of the Stark armor is very faithful to the comic original, and there are little details, such as the fact that parts of Vanko’s ultimate armor resemble that of “Titanium Man,” another Soviet armored foe, which will gladden the true fans.

Of course, there is lots of violence and LOTS of explosions, although, true to the Marvel tradition, no sex, and no bad language (although Stark’s material in the Senate hearing is a bit “blue”--).  Fun for fans of the genre.

Very seldom do I go to a movie expecting I won't like it. However, I was rather upset with what I had seen in the trailers for "The Spirit" and felt strongly that my criticisms should be addressed. I couldn't write a "review" without actually seeing the film, so I went and I think I have reviewed it fairly. What follows is essentially one long and very critical spoiler. If the dissection interests you, read on. If you still intend to see the movie and want to with an open mind, skip this for now.

Read more )
Although we did enjoy "Spider-Man 3," I would also agree the series has "jumped the shark."

Read more... )
Joe Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team, passed away yesterday. Looking back, it's frightening how much of my childhood TV time was dominated by this group. (We would watch anything that was "cartoons".) Channel 3 in Madison used to run cartoon shows in the local programming time between four and six PM, and alot of them were HB: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw. When you add to that The Flintstones in prime time, The Jetsons, Johnny Quest, Josie and the PussyCats, Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla, Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel, Space Ghost, and Scooby-Doo on Saturday mornings depending on the year, PLUS Tom and Jerry, also Saturday AM, created by H&B while working for MGM, meant that sometimes a good five to ten hours a week could be absorbed by HB products, far more than Warner Brothers, Jay Ward, or Filmation--or any "regular" TV show until there started being daily re-runs of "Star Trek". No wonder that I knew the "Purple Pumpernickle" long before encountering the Scarlet Pimpernel, and was dangerous with any sort of guitar-shaped object because of "El Kabong."
On Saturday, June 3rd, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the exhibit "Masters of American Comics," which the museum web site touts as "the first art museum exhibition to examine comic strips and books on this expansive scale. Each artist is represented by in-depth groupings presented as a series of individual retrospectives featuring a range of each artist's works from conceptual sketches and finished drawings to printer's proofs, tear sheets, printed newspapers, comic books and graphic novels. The exhibition layout highlights individual contributions of the artists and the ways in which they reinvented the medium to significantly influence their peers and subsequent generations."

Pretty heady stuff. For a long-time comics fan like me, there was not so much in the show that was revelatory, but it was a great chance to see things like color pages of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" full size and in the real. To see the original drawings as well was a treat. There were a couple things that struck me: first, how wordy many of the old strips were. We spent two hours on this exhibit and did not have time to read through all the strips that were on view. Certainly, the craft of story telling through sequential art has evolved a lot since Windsor McKay's day, but still, I found there was more story content in one page of "Little Nemo," or "Thimble Theatre" than is in the entire funnies section of our current paper, including the glacially paced modern incarnation of "Prince Valiant." Second, vocabulary has really dumbed down: we marveled at the high-flown language used in one of the episodes of "Krazy Kat" (!) which I'm sure any modern comics editor would kill today since it would be too dense for the "rubes". Third, by and large, the modern funnies are poor things. A lot of strips like "Little Nemo" or "Kin-der-Kids" had full pages to themselves. Examples of "Thimble Theatre" (featuring Popeye the Sailor) still took up more than half the page and had sometimes more than sixteen decent-size panels. It is no wonder that Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin & Hobbes" quit comics partly in protest at the continued shrinkage of space allotted to comic art in the newspapers. Fourth, art for art's sake has largely gone by the board: I was astonished to see examples of an apparently annual "fall color" page from Wisconsin's own "Gasoline Alley," in which Walt Wallet did nothing more humorous than meditate upon the beauty of lovingly rendered autumn leaves and landscapes. Watterson is one of the last to have done such art panels, with the only survivor being Brooke McEldowney, who makes bold use of black and gradient screens in his daily strips, and occasionally slips in an offering that is merely a charming drawing of his young heroine, Edda, as a dancer.

Fifth, the territory of adventure strips with continuing stories has been entirely yielded to the comic books. I can remember when our paper still had "Buck Rogers," "The Phantom," "Steve Canyon," "Kerry Drake," and other continuing stories. Checking the major syndicate sites now, the only adventure strips that still exist are the aforementioned "Prince Valiant", the current pale incarnation of "Dick Tracy" and (loosely speaking) "Alley Oop." Otherwise, "joke a day" strips like "Garfield" rule the roost, although a lot of sitcom strips like "Crankshaft" and "Jumpstart" frequently have continuity and story lines of sorts.

Therefore, it's not surprising to see that, after starting with Windsor McKay's "Little Nemo," and Lionel Feininger's "Kin-der-Kids," and working through E.C. Segar ("Thimble Theatre"), George Harriman ("Krazy Kat"), Frank King ("Gasoline Alley"), the exhibit departs the newspapers after Chester Gould ("Dick Tracy") and Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates", "Steve Canyon") for comic books via Will Eisner's "The Spirit", and returns only for a look at "Peanuts", Charles Schultz' creation that has spawned so many imitators. Comic books are represented by an impressive array of Jack Kirby Marvel period art, and Harvey Kurzmann, who gave us "Mad" magazine. For modern-era alternative comics, there are good examples of Robert Crumb's work, and samples from Art ("Maus") Speigelman.

I was disappointed by the representatives of current comic art, Gary Panter (Jimbo), and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth), since I find their styles derivative, usually consciously so. I think perhaps better art and artists could have been found for this portion of the exhibit.

There is only so much space in any exhibition and the curators are limited to what can be had--still, I was somewhat disappointed that no mention was made of such important comics as Hal Foster's classic "Tarzan", Alex Raymond's immortal "Flash Gordon," Harold Gray's "Little Orphan Annie," Siegel and Schuster's "Superman," Bob Kane's "Batman" or Al Capp's notorious "Little Abner." (Although, one of the "Spirit" strips on display lampoons both Capp and Gray as well as Chester Gould--).

Nevertheless, an excellent exhibit, very well mounted and displayed, and well worth looking at if you care for the "funnies" at all. The exhibit continues through August 13th.
The GOOD movie we saw over the weekend was "V for Vendetta". The graphic novel was one of the first, along with "The Watchmen" that was really worthy of that name. I read it when it was first published, and found it to be a powerful indictment, not only of Thatcherite conservatism as then practiced in Britain, but of the smug Reagan policies then current in the USA. Although the famously iconoclastic and pricly author, Alan Moore, has not permitted his name to be used on the film, I found the film to be a fine adaptation of what has become an even more timely story. In the ear-future, we find Britain a facistic dictatorship. The "former" United States have degenerated into chaos and civil war following the disastrous consequences pf "their war", and unspecified overseas adventure gone terribly wrong and that has left much of the Third World devastated. People of color generally and Muslims in particular are endangered species, and the goverment has extended its repression to homosexuals and, of course, any dissidents.

As the story opens, we meet Evey (Natalie Portman), who is out after curfew and falls foul of the brutal secret police. She is rescued from them by the masked anarchist "V" (Hugo Weaving) who unintentionally gets her in worse trouble as she is captured on surveillance camera in his company as he blows up the Old Bailey in the name of Justice. What happens after that is a powerful, dramatic, and sometimes brutal story that unfolds the origin of "V" as it is entwined with the rise and eventual fall of the corrupt government of "arch-Chancellor" Adam Sutler (John Hurt).

The film raises good issues of conscience, freedom, and the costs of security. "V" is pretty clearly a "freedom fighter" rather than a "terrorist" at least to the audience, but one could legitimatly ask how justified, and how effective, some of his tactics might be. (In true movie hero fashion, he manages to accomplish even major actions without apparent harm to innocents--.)

Portman and Weaving are well supported by a distinguished cast of British actors, including the aforementioned Hurt, who spends most of the movie expostulating on a big screen from an "undisclosed location", Tim Pigott-Smith as the creepy chief of secret police, and Stephen Rea, the honest cop tasked with tracking "V" down. All Weaving's acting has to be carried by voice and action, and he does very well. Portman is excellent, also.

This film has my highest recommendation. All who can should see it. The movie is rated R for strong violence and some language.
That's a current headline on CNN.com. Of course, it's a serious matter, but i can't help envisioning Daffy, Bugs, Elmer, and Sam et al. out there throwing things--.
And now for something completely different:

Our friend, Orange Mike, after taking a course on Classical Mythology, was heard to opine: “The Gods must be tooney.” When asked to expound, he said that the exploits of the gods of old reminded him of modern cartoon characters, but that he lacked the subject knowledge to draw concordances. Never being one to waste an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a Liberal Arts education, I herewith give you my analysis of the Gods of Ancient Greece and how they manifest themselves in the classic Warner Brothers cartoon canon:

“The Gods Must Be Looney”

Of course Marvin the Martian is Ares (Mars), god of war, easily shown by his costume, bellicose habits, and typical lack of success in battle. But what others are there?

Bugs Bunny is Hermes: messenger of the gods, trickster, shape shifter, thief. Swift of foot, Bugs is always there to deliver a message, even if it is only “What’s up Doc?” Bugs is a classical trickster character, as is his Hermes. He uses manifold powers of confusion and obfuscation to baffle his foes. (The Egyptian Hermes was patron of magicians as well.) Hermes frequently went about in disguise on his godly missions or in company with Zeus, and Bugs is a master of disguise as well. Hermes was patron god of thieves as well, since his first recorded exploit was the theft of Apollo’s cattle, although in this case it would more likely be Apollo’s carrots.

Because, Elmer Fudd is none other than Apollo. His shining round visage is a solar symbol. His head glows when he is embarrassed or gives off heat when he is enraged. Apollo’s great bow is replaced with Elmer’s shotgun. Like Apollo, Elmer is an incessant pursuer, yet often thwarted in his pursuit, especially when the object of his pursuit is a lovely maiden (and especially when the maiden is Bugs in disguise). Elmer also has elements of Actaeon, the huntsman changed to a stag and killed by his own hounds after being caught spying on Diana bathing. In Elmer’s case it is frequently his own shotgun that turns on him--.

Zeus is represented by Yosemite Sam: Thunder and lightning leap from his blazing six-guns. He is named for an Olympian mountain. Like Zeus, he is susceptible to wine, women, and song, and bears long grudges.

His brother, Pirate Sam, represents Zeus’ brother Poseidon, earth shaker (with his cannon), ruler of the seas, and also famously bad tempered.

Daffy Duck is Hades, dark lord of the underworld. This has been demonstrated by the number of times Daffy has been portrayed as going to Hell or doing the “Dare Devil” vaudeville act, in which, costumed as the devil, he ingests explosives and detonates himself. Hades is the ruler of the treasures of the earth (hence “plutocrat” from his Roman name, Pluto) and Daffy is the Warner Universe’s chief exponent of greed and lust for treasure (c.f.: the “treasure of Ali Baba” episode and others).

Wile E. Coyote combines aspect of both Hephaestus and Tantalus. Like Hephaestus, he is the maker and inventor. Like Tantalus, he is constantly tortured by hunger, the satisfaction of which remains always just out of his reach.

There are others, although the connections are more tenuous. Modest and unassuming, Porky Pig could be cast as Epimetheus (“Afterthought”), Prometheus’ brother, to whom Pandora was given as a bride. Perhaps Tweety Pie is Nike, a.k.a. Winged Victory, since she always wins out even against larger and more powerful foes.

The goddesses are comparatively underrepresented, although we do have Granny (Tweety’s keeper) as a mother goddess and keeper of the hearth (Hera or Vesta), Babs Bunny as the closest pulchritudinous analog to Aphrodite, and Witch Hazel, a true follower of Hecate, if not actually the dark goddess incarnate.

But what of others? Is the Road Runner with his continual scorching headlong career Phoebus? The spiteful and envious green eyed Sylvester actually the catty goddess Eris in male drag? And what of Foghorn Leghorn, who is chiefly Miles Gloriosus, a commedia del arte archetype of a more modern era? Does he fit in at all?

If there is a lesson to be learned from this light-hearted excursion, it is that some things indeed are verities. There is much modern in that which is ancient, and much ancient in that which is modern. The Gods of old could be foolish, and in today’s foolishness there is much that is godly.
If one were to judge by Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2, one might conclude that Hollywood may just have figured out how to make sequel films. That is, of course, a small sample, but there are hopeful signs, starting with X-Men United as the possible beginning of the trend. I don’t think it unlikely that two of these three movies are based on long-running comic series. Both “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” have decades of backstory to draw upon for character development, challenges and complexity, with lots of vociferous fan feedback and market data over the years to indicate what works and what doesn’t, favorite villains, and effective themes. The difference between these and earlier, less-successful comic book movies may be that someone has finally started to pay attention.

In each of these successful films, the plot builds upon what has gone before, with clear memory of what has happened to the characters before, their history and unresolved problems. As Spider-Man 2 opens, Peter Parker is having a very bad time balancing crime-fighting as Spider-Man, school, work and money or the lack thereof, and his longing for Mary Jane. In fact, balancing is not the word, as it’s all on the verge of collapse. One thing, in fact, that may be a bit overdone in the movie is how unrelentingly bad Peter’s luck is. On top of everything else, his Spider powers start to fail him (one might guess through exhaustion). Eventually, he decides to give up being Spider-Man. Things look up! He gets a grip on school, and has time to pursue Mary Jane, who has, however, decided to marry handsome astronaut John Jameson (son of curmudgeonly publisher J. Jonah). It’s never made clear what happens to his dire financial straits, although that does seem to ease, and there’s even a minor flirtation with his odious landlord’s endearingly geeky daughter.

All this, of course, changes with the intervention of villain du jour Otto Octavius, A.K.A. “Doctor Octopus,” played with great depth by Alfred Molina. I must say that the characterization of “Doc Ock” is actually improved in the film from the early comics. Octavius was indeed a physicist who developed the powerful manipulator arms to aid in his research, but chose to exploit their potential for crime due to professional disappointments. His character was very one-dimensional, acting out largely motiveless malevolence. The movie origin condenses events from “Ock’s” later story—the arms taking on a life of their own, the arms becoming fused to his body—into a single cataclysm. It isn’t made explicit, but one gathers that the arms’ programming to complete Octavius’s failed experiment causes the ruthless personality changes in the fugitive scientist. Harry Osborne bargains with Octavius to bring him Spider-Man, so that Osborne can take revenge for his father’s death. The adrenalin rush of being attacked seems to reactivate Peter’s Spider abilities bringing about the film’s climactic battles.

Much more time is actually spent on Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry’s personal crises than on fighting Doc Ock, which is one of the film’s strengths, although the battle scenes are indeed spectacular and very well done. In particular, I though the episodes of Spider-Man and Octavius grappling, rolling down a building’s side or atop an elevated train were superb, and, in fact, better than anything involving these two characters that has been visualized by some of comicdom’s greatest artists.
After seeing these two movies, it’s now hard to visualize anyone else than McGuire, Dunst, and Franco in the roles of Parker, Watson, and Osborne, ably supported by Rosemary Harris, who IS May Parker, and J.K. Simmons, who is wonderfully rotten as J. Jonah Jameson. McGuire has truly made the role his own, as has Kirsten Dunst, who is luminous as Mary Jane, even though it’s kind of a stretch to imagine her as a makeup model. Her wonderful girl-next-door looks, freckles, unaugmented figure, and just slightly uneven front teeth don’t match the current fashion in super models, but hey, it’s a comic-book world, right? On the other hand, James Franco is a lot more handsome than the comic-book Harry ever was, but plays spoiled, angry, and alcoholic really well.

More complexities seem in the offing for an eventual Spider-Man 3. Both Peter’s professor, Dr. Curt Connors (A.K.A. “The Lizard”) and John Jameson had episodes of being Spider-Man opponents in the comics, and it remains to be seen if the appearance of these characters is prefiguring, teasing, or just taking advantage of the many characters available in Spider-Man’s saga. And, of course, the Green Goblin will be reincarnated--. Whenever the nest one comes out (and I believe it is in the works--) it should be worth watching.
I found this on the "Herd Thinners" (aka "Kevin and Kell") page this morning:

"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views ... which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."
-- Doctor Who, "Face of Evil"

How very true--and, unfortunately, very current, especially if the fact-alterers are BOTH very powerful AND very stupid--.
On Saturday, May 3, we braved the crowds to catch an early show of X-Men 2. Our timing was good as we beat the rush and got good seats, although the theater filled in pretty rapidly. We were surprised by the number of children under five that were brought by parents. It would have been my opinion that the violence would have been too intense for young children, but we didn't hear any crying during the film.

We enjoyed the film thouroughly. Contrary to some reviews, I thought there was considerable character development, particularly the Scott-Jean-Logan triangle, and the roguish teamwork between Magneto and Mistique. Famke Janssen as Jean Grey was particularly good this outing, and it was nice to see Rebecca Romijin-Stamos in person without the "Mistique" makeup. Brian Cox was an excellently nasty villain as the primary 'heavy', William Stryker, and of course, you can't beat Patric Stewart and Ian McKellen, reprising their roles as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. Allen Cumming was also excellent as newcomer Nightcrawler (And looked great, too. I thought the Nightcrawler teleportation effects were particularly well done.)Aaron Stanford as Pyro did well flirting with the "Dark Side."

The younger generation of mutants are present largely in cameo roles, although Bobby "Iceman" Drake has a larger role an another uncomfortable triangle involving Rogue and Logan. It was fun to see comic characters Syrin, Kitty Pryde, Hank McCoy and Jubilee, if only as momentary cameos.

The one disappointment was the treatment of "Deathstrike," who in the comics was Logan's long-running nemesis. Here, she is reduced to Stryker's pet killing machine, and I don't recall the character having a single spoken line. We know actress Kelly Hu (The Scorpion King) can do better than this, and it's a shame she wasn't given the chance. Nevertheless, I give the movie my strong recommendation.



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