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November 05, 2008

Some Brief (I Hope) DVD Reviews

The Incredible Hulk. I don't know how to rate this in stars -- three stars seems too many for a superhero movie, but two and a half (my minimum for a decent movie) seems too few. I think I have to go with three, even though that seems goofy.


I don't like the Hulk much, but I did dig this movie. The story is very simple -- chase Hulk, confront him, Hulk smash, Hulk escape -- but I dug every minute of it. The photography (particularly of the Brazilian favellas (slums stacked upon slums)) is impressive.

Tim Roth makes a fine villain -- and not even really a villain. He's just a soldier who's good at his job. At least until he... well, I'm going to throw a minor spoiler here, as it happens in the first third of the movie, but they give him an unstable version of the Super Soldier Serum.

Yes, that Super Soldier Serum. The one that made Captain America. The movie references Captain America's origins, looking forward to that film (and then of course the Hulk-Thor-Iron Man-Captain America Avengers team-up coming several years from now). The powers Roth gets from the serum -- the ability to run at 40 mph (in a very nice, subtle, and convincing special effect) and his parkour/acrobatic abilities have me popping boners for the coming of the Captain. Have the Captain do this stuff and throw a shield and I'm there, baby.

Only knock on Tim Roth? He is a really undersized kind of guy, and while he can act like a badass (he's a good actor, of course), they make no effort to disguise how short he is when he appears in scenes with William Hurt (playing Thunderbolt Ross this time, and a couple of times doing an uncanny impression of Sam Elliot, who played him last time). Hurt towers over the supposed elite commando.

I expected nothing at all from this movie and wound up liking it (and admiring the choices of the director and writers and actors) all the way through. The film delights in tossing out references to the old Hulk TV show and greater Marvel universe -- not obtrusively, not in a big-wink-wink way. Just enough to get the intended grin of geeky acknowledgement.

The problems of the Hulk looking like a CGI balloon have been largely corrected. They use a dirtier, less clear method of photography to hide the CGI a bit (I think they said it's anamorophic lenses, somehow hiding the unreality of the effect) and the technology and characer-modeling are a bit improved anyway. (For example, the Hulk is less bright/kelly green and more browinish or greyish green.)

Does he look CGI? Of course. Does he look distractingly like CGI? No. This time out, he worked for me. I bought the CGI cartoon as close enough. Toss in the only Hulk villain I really recognize (due to his appearance on a "collectible" 7-11 Big Gulp cup when I was a kid) and a pretty darn good, pretty brutal final fight, and what you've got here is yet another superhero movie that works.

And yeah, there's a cameo, which you probably already know about it because the advertising campaign shows it.

Reboot or Sequel? The film is kind of cagey whether it's a sequel to the show-offy Ang Lee film. (The French director here notes in the commentary he objects to show-offy directorial crap -- he doesn't reference Ang Lee exactly, but you have the sense he has him in mind.)

Ultimately I'm not sure which it is. They seem to re-do the Hulk's origins in the credit sequence, in quick-cut flashbacks, simplifying it from the Rube Goldberg six-different-origin convoluted nightmare of a backstory Ang Lee gave us, and hewing very closely to the old TV origin endlessly seen in the TV show's opening credits. But it's not clear if this is fact his origin, or some later test conducted under the supervision of General Ross that results in a transformation.

I think they mean the film as a full reboot, but they don't sell that idea to the point where you have to ignore the Ang Lee film. You can just take that origin flashback as something other than an origin, just a later incident. Though I for one am more than happy to forget the Ang Lee movie entirely. Indeed, I did so three seconds after I saw it.

The Brave One. Sometimes, when you're extremely bored and a bit sick, you are willing to give even the least promising movies on HBO On Demand a try. Even a Jodie Foster rehash of Death Wish, directed by art-house sissy Neil Jordan.

Here's how liberal movie critics reviewed this movie (seriously, this is a close paraphrase of eight different reviews I read):

"A gratuitous remake of Death Wish, with just a smidgen of liberal-ish gestures about the horror of violence to make you overlook the problematic morality of a story about a white avenger patrolling the streets with her gun and killing miscreants with glee, just to fill the audience with reptilian masturbatory fantasies about vigilante 'justice.'"

And here's how I'd review it:


"A gratuitous remake of Death Wish! with just a smidgen of liberal-ish gestures ! about the horror of violence! to make you overlook the problematic morality! of a story about a white avenger! patrolling the streets with her gun and killing miscreants with glee! just to fill the audience with reptilian masturbatory fantasies about vigilante JUSTICE!"

If my meaning is unclear -- hey, Death Wish was kind of murder porn. I myself need a little hand-wringing about How Terrible This All Is so I can then enjoy How Awesome This All Is. I mean, pander to me, yes -- but don't make me feel dirty about it.

The Brave One is a pure and unapologetic genre film, a vigilante movie that makes only the slightest possible nods to liberal pieties. Just enough that they can say they're there in the film -- watch closely or you might miss them! -- so what do you want?

Frankly, I was surprised at the film's politics...or lack thereof. Some people just need killin'. What's so complicated?

Hell, the guy who sells Foster her illegal handgun is presented... kind of sympathetically. What?

Is this a great movie? God no, not even close. Is it a reasonably decent movie? One worth watching if you've got not a lot better to do? Yeah. The actor playing the black cop -- Terrence Howard, I think; Rhodey from Iron Man -- is great here, and he and Foster have a very interesting friend-or-foe-but-mostly-friend rapport. The scene where they "hypothetically" are discussing what might "hypothetically" happen to Foster if she is in fact "hypothetically" the vigilante killer the whole NYPD's after is very good. Hypothetically, you understand.

If you had the same reaction I had upon hearing about this movie -- Oh, great! A Jodie Foster movie directed by Neil Jordan about vigilante justice! Oh, I can't wait to be preached to! Sounds like a blast and a half! -- you're probably going to be pleasantly surprised. It's more like Death Wish and less like the Crying Game.

Because seriously? Some people only understand gunfire.

It's not an action movie, and it's not really thrilling enough to be a thriller. Basically, it's a lurid urban drama with a bodycount.

One minor note: When Foster remembers her fiance -- killed by thugs, of course, in the first five minutes of the movie -- her memories of him aren't the usual smiles-and-anniversary parties.

Her memories are entirely sexual.

I don't think they had any agenda here except that they didn't want to do the same old hijinks-and-smiles-in-better-days flashbacks. Not sure if it has any meaning, except it was a new take on an old, cliched obligatory scene. I guess it reinforces the theme of primal drives -- sex, violence -- of the film.

In any event, it's different.

Perhaps that's the big art-house gesture in the movie otherwise about a Woman Who Won't Take It Anymore and her trusty 9mm compact.

I guess I give this one two and a half stars out of four. Again, my minimum rating for a worthwhile movie. But still making the grade.


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posted by Ace at 11:32 PM

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