SUPER: The Film Babble Blog Review

SUPER (Dir. James Gunn, 2010)

Add The Crimson Bolt to the growing list of superheroes that aren’t really superheroes.

Just like KICK ASS, this movie wonders out loud ‘why don’t people actually try to be superheroes,’ gives us an ordinary schmuck who dons a costume, and has him get his ass kicked before he ultimately saves the day. However, the tone of SUPER is completely different. 

Rainn Wilson is our ordinary schmuck here, a short-order cook whose wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a slimy drug dealing kingpin played by Kevin Bacon. Rainn takes us into his deprssing existence by way of dry narration (“People look stupid when they cry” he says over a shot of him sobbing), with the film starting off darkly, but a blaringly bright cartoon credits sequence seems to announce that the film is going to be an outrageous romp.

It is and it isn’t – there are some funny bits here and there, but once Rainn takes up bashing people’s heads in with a wrench, the film’s laughs get fewer and fewer.

As a comic book store clerk who is implausibly infatuated with Rainn, Ellen Page overacts like crazy, as if she’s trying make us forget her graceful performance in last summer’s INCEPTION. Page makes her own costume, which she poses in creepily, and despite Rainn’s insistence that he needs no sidekick, asserts herself as “Bolty” – her Robin to Rainn’s Batman.

  In one of many unpleasant moments, Page forces herself sexually on Rainn – why on earth did the film makers feel they had to go there? The pathetic duo arm themselves with heavy weaponry to take on Bacon’s thugs, and the movie’s final act is a ultra-violent shakily-shot shoot ’em up in which the film beats its premise into a bloody pulp. It’s an unamusing assault on the senses with a flimsy conclusion. 

The only strength is Rainn’s unwavering commitment to character. This guy definitely has more layers to him than Dwight Shrute, and Rainn fleshes them out intensely. It’s a character that deserves a better more rounded narrative, not these worn out conventions.

On the sidelines Liv Tyler doesn’t have much to do but look drugged out, Bacon seems to be having a ball probably because he could’ve done the role in his sleep, and as one of the heavies Michael Rooker just looks uncomfortable. Oh, I almost forgot the odd cameo by Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) as a Christian superhero named the Holy Avenger that Rainn is inspired by when watching him on an religious cable channel. 

Really don’t know what the point of that means either. SUPER is a tired take on superhero pipe-dreams that has nothing new to say satirically. I rolled my eyes more than I laughed, and I cringed more than I smiled. 

I guess those are fitting reactions to a film written and directed by the guy who wrote the live action SCOOBY-DOO movies. 

More later…

INCEPTION: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)

The buzz has been building for Christopher Nolan’s followup to the THE DARK KNIGHT for some time now, and it’s certainly going to get bigger as audiences see for themselves what this incredible mind bender of a movie is all about. What it’s all about I’m still working out, but I can say that it’s a vivid visual feast that’s one of the best films of the year so far.

It’s a difficult film to describe without giving away some of the pure pleasures of the plot so beware of Spoilers! Leo DiCaprio is a dream extractor – an expert in mind manipulation who deals in the underworld thievery of, well, parts of men’s minds when they are asleep and dreaming. DiCaprio works with a team including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a “point-man” and a dream “architect” played by Lukas Haas. We meet them in the middle of a job inside of the dream state of Saito (Ken Watanabe) – a powerful Japanese business magnate.

Turns out Watanabe is auditioning DiCaprio and his crew for a bigger job involving “inception” -that is the planting of an idea into somebody’s head through the dream world. For the job they need a new architect so through DiCaprio’s professor father (the always welcome Sir Michael Caine) they are joined by a snark-free Ellen Page. DiCaprio also recruits the slick Tom Hardy to act as “forger” for the team. Dileep Rao rounds out the team as their chemist.

The target for their mind crime caper is Cillian Murphy as Watanabe’s corporate rival who has the fate of his family’s fortune in his hands upon his father’s (Pete Postlethwaite) death. Much like in his last film, Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND, DiCaprio is haunted by memories of his dead wife (here Marion Cotillard). Unlike SHUTTER ISLAND however here it’s impossible to guess where it’s all going.

Despite that it’s crammed with a lot of action movie clich├ęs – shoot-outs, automobile crashes, explosions, and there’s even a sci-chase with machine guns – it never feels contrived. Its endlessly inventive dream inside of a dream inside of a dream scenarios are spell binding, and genuinely scary at times, and the towering worlds of the CGI crafted dream set pieces are overwhelmingly beautiful. Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister really outdid themselves on every frame. Likewise for Hans Zimmer who provides one of his most solid scores, one that swells and swoons at just the right moments.

I’ll leave other critics to make comparisons to everything from METROPOLIS to the THE MATRIX because it’s obvious that the decade it took to finish the screenplay Nolan has woven many influences and ideas into the framework. What wins out is the film threatens to burst out of the screen into real life – just like the most lucid dreams.

DiCaprio skillfully maneuvers through the action with a layered performance that’s nearly as complex as the movie that’s surrounding him.. Gordon-Levitt has a lot of screen time in his secondary role and he owns it – especially in the stressful yet seriously fun second half. In one of the best bits of acting I’ve seen from the actress, Page makes us feel the wonder of being able to create an entire world with intricate acrchitecture and the thrill of manipulating it to your own desires. At one point when she is learning how to structure a cityscape with thought, I really thought she was going to say: “Wow! This is awesome!” Because, well, it really is.

More later…

Roller Grrls – WHIP IT: The Film Babble Blog Review

WHIP IT (Dir. Drew Barrymore, 2009)

The phrase “the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore” may not get cineastes excited, especially as the Oscar prestige season looms, but it shouldn’t alarm or offend them either. Barrymore presents a surprisingly solid 80’s style formula film that’s cute enough to overshadow its ultimate predictability. Protagonist Ellen Page (JUNO), awkward instead of snarky, pines for a life away from the beauty pageants her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) constantly drags her to and her go nowhere job working as a waitress at Bodeen’s Oink Joint.

The answer to her angst is in Austin, Texas: a roller derby team that calls themselves the Hurl Scouts who Page immediately dubs her new heros. Without her parents knowing she takes the bus and joins up under the tutelage of “Mother Mayhem” (Kristen Wiig – so much better used here than in EXTRACT) who takes her under her wing. Page has an angry adversary in the form of Juliette Lewis as “Iron Maven” and a crush on a bed headed indie rocker (Landon Pigg).

As Page’s father, Daniel Stern appears to have the Alan Arkin part – the laid back parental figure that at first seems like an old fuddy duddy but in the end has a hip wisdom that wins the day. Barrymore gives herself a role as team mate “Smashley Simpson” who somehow isn’t as obnoxious as she’s set up to be. Rounding out the cast are Alia Shawkat (Maebe from Arrested Development) who gets to bring the snark as Page’s best friend, stuntwoman Zoe Bell (KILL BILL, DEATH PROOF) struts her stuff, and Jimmy Fallon smarms it up as the master of ceremonies.

Sure it breaks no ground as a coming of age story, the ending can be seen from a mile away and the wall to wall soundtrack of pop songs is overdone, but it’s a big hearted movie that’s hard not to like. With its wacky outtakes and bloopers over the end credits presumably to prove how much fun they all had making the movie, WHIP IT is without pretension or cynicism. It’s just a sincere display of the power of friends, family, and fun and that’s all it wants or needs to be. I mean for a first time directing effort nobody was expecting a CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND or even THAT THING YOU DO! from Barrymore, am I right?

More later…