Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Movies for the week ending May 6, 2007

I played hooky from work on Friday afternoon to go see Spider-Man 3 (2007, d. Sam Raimi), which was good fun. I like it more than the first film, but I'm clearly in the minority there (the first film is spoiled for me by the Green Goblin, if you must know, who looks like a refugee from a Japanese kiddie show and has very glaring plot holes surrounding him). I like to think that the first film is the Ditko-era Spidey, ungainly and charming by turns. The second film would be the John Romita Spidey, slick, angsty, and smooth. That makes the current film the McFarland-era Spidey, which is a mannerist kind of comics. Of course, this is where the analogue breaks down, because it's pretty clear that Sam Raimi doesn't like that era, nor does he like its signature villain, Venom. He'd rather be dealing with the classic Spidey villains--like The Sandman--which is sure to piss off the fans of Venom, but I can't say I disagree with Sam on this. Characters like Venom were a big reason I stopped reading superhero books in the first place. It's also pretty clear that Sam desperately wants to direct a musical. This film is as close to a musical as a superhero movie gets. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

For anyone who complains about how "bad" Spidey 3 is, I would direct them to one of the other films I saw last week, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2007, d. Ivan Reitman), about which I will have nothing further to say, except to note that nothing makes a good movie look better than an awful imitation.

I also finally got out to see The Host (2006, d. Bong Joon-ho), which has been described as Little Miss Sunshine meets Godzilla. While I won't dispute that characterization, it's better than that. A number of other reviews have noted that this is a movie that refutes the monster-movie playbook point by point, which is closer to the truth. For all that, I suspect that the true motivation behind the movie was a love of monsters and an impatience with how they are usually depicted. I'm sure you know the drill. A few teases early in the movie. A tail here, a footprint there, tease, tease, tease for a couple of reels before the big reveal at the beginning of the third act. Monster movies from The Beast from 20000 Fathoms to Dragonslayer use this same story structure. The Host says screw all that. In the first reel, you get more monster mayhem than many monster movies include in their entire running time, mayhem filmed in broad daylight, with the best "innocent crowd fleeing a monster" scene I've ever seen. It's a cool damned monster, too. It's not as good a film as director Bong Joon-ho's previous Memories of Murder, but it's close, which is high praise.

I also found The Professionals (1966, d. Richard Brooks) in the dump bin at Wal-mart last week for four bucks. This is one of my favorite westerns, with great performances by Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, and Robert Ryan and a very yummy Claudia Cardinale. It's a film that blows sh t up real good, too. A total "guy" movie, one that reeks of testosterone. I've loved this flick since I saw it with my dad as a teen. I had very odd thoughts while watching it this week, though, largely inspired by the media furor over the VT massacre. This is a movie in which there are dozens of people violently killed on screen, whether from gunshots or explosions, and I got to thinking about how out-of-kilter our value systems are when it comes to depictions of violence, especially in comparison to horror movies. In The Professionals, we root for the killers and exhult in their actions. We WANT them to kill the bad guys. But let's compare that to, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in which there are only four people killed,in which the killers are impenetrable cyphers. The filmmakers consciously skew the movie so that not only is the audience NOT invited to root for the killers, their actions are designed specifically to inspire horror. And yet, a film like The Professionals is more socially acceptable than a film like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. TCM is occasionally thought of as a "sick" or "depraved" film, while no such criticism attaches to The Professionals. What does that say about our society? I don't know. I'm just speculating out loud.