The Hunger Games

This box office jaggernaut from another world has dulled Bella Swan’s newfound fangs, effectively pulverizing teenage angst and sketchy expectations to deliver a stateside phenomenon that can already be touted as 2012’s greatest success story at the movies.  Young teenage Katniss Everdeen’s fight to death has resonated with audiences in such a way that approaching the film with a critical eye at this point in the game feels a bit futile.

Based on Suzanne Collins’ immensely popular novel (the first in a trilogy), The Hunger Games catches us up in a nation known as Panem, a dystopian future arisen after the fall of commonplace civilization.  Human communities have been divided up into 12 districts that supply varying necessities for enduring survival.  Young Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), a skilled teenage archer, looks after her distant mother and helpless little sister, Prim by hunting for game (illegally) in the woods with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Gale and Katniss, unknowing lovebirds, ponder the idea of a life outside of a government oppressed society, but their conversation becomes interrupted as the community must gather for the annual reaping where two children (one boy, one girl) between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to compete in a nationally televised fight to the death.  The kids’ names are thrown into a large bowl where they are drawn by a froofy hostess looking like the perfect companion to Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka.  The hostess is Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) representing Panem authority for District 12.

Despite Katniss’ attempts to assuage her little sister’s fears of being selected for the games, silence rips through the crowd as Prim Everdeen’s name is drawn.  Katniss lunges forward to volunteer in her horrified sister’s place.  A second name, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is chosen for the boys.  Katniss and Peeta have a shared past and rooted memories of their last interaction.  This adds to the drama of the two characters training together as partnered combatants that will eventually be forced to kill each other in a hostile arena.

A former Hunger Games champion, the drunken Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is tasked with training the District 12 contenders.  In his limited instruction, he encourages his duo to earn the admiration of the crowd as well as wealthy sponsors that will provide assistance via gifts in the actual games.  The training and lavish experience of the capitol comprise the film’s first half leading up to Peeta and Katniss being set loose on the battlefield.

Little information is given about the status of Panem, the history of the games, and the outlook of future society.  For non-readers of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, the audience gets dropped into the world of Katniss Everdeen without any background knowledge to go on.  In some ways I appreciated this approach, and in other ways I didn’t.  The Hunger Games was always going to be a difficult novel to adapt since most of the story is comprised of Katniss’ internal thought.  That simply can’t translate well onscreen, but considering the obstacle, Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) has delivered a satisfactory young-adult thriller hinging on Jennifer Lawrence’s commanding portrayal of Katniss.

It would almost be impossible to expect an excessively grim take on the story since the novel caters to a younger crowd and a rating of PG-13 was inevitable.  That, of course, holds the film adaptation back from illuminating the horror of the plot, as well as the violence which comes along with it.  Instead the film sidesteps graphic depictions of children murdering children, dulling the violence down, and steering us into Katniss’ human journey to protect her family.

Generally speaking the film is actually rather alluring and suspenseful despite the fact that this material has been played out before.  Battle Royale, The Running Man, and even Gladiator have all focused on government-sanctioned battles to the death for populous entertainment.  Hunger Games never sets its sights too high as far as examining a culture that adopts such moral imbalance as to let the government oppress such horrors on children.  You won’t believe a word or image of this science-fiction world that Collins has assembled, but you will believe in Katniss’ struggle to survive it.  The allegory here is that we already live in a mass media culture consumed by reality television giving us open doors to human misery.  The madness will likely stop short of killing for ratings and circus costumes as ‘common’ wardrobe.  At least I can only hope so.

But I must go back to Jennifer Lawrence who delivers remarkably in the lead role.  Of course all of the hoopla has been made about what a talent she is after her Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone and her blockbuster status as the new Mystique from X-Men: First Class.  Strong female heroines come along once in a blue moon, especially in franchise form.  Lawrence brings Collins’ character to beaming light.  She’s stubborn, determined, strong, and completely family-centered.  The proposed love triangle between her, Peeta, and Gale takes a backseat to the mission at hand—survive the games, protect your family.  In fact, the movie pays little attention to all the lovey-dovey hokum to the point where even I could have used a little bit more to make that aspect of the story a tad more impacting.  Don’t expect any of the romantic fireworks or steam found in the novel.  Little of it is present here.

That doesn’t lessen this solid adaptation which Collins had a hand in supervising.  The DNA of the novel is very present here.  With impressive talent both behind the camera and in front of it, The Hunger Games is a very entertaining and very human blockbuster franchise in the making that delivers for fans and casual viewers alike. I won’t argue that Ross’s film is particularly great entertainment, but neither was the book.  In meddling with such a violent subject, the story dulls a sharpened blade, but nevertheless lends itself well to some great human drama and noteworthy suspense.  Ignore the questionable CGI dog monsters that get zapped into the arena (that fail to work in both the film and the book), and you should become thoroughly engrossed by The Hunger Games.

 

 

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2012 Academy Awards Liveblog!

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Courageous

The Kendrick Brothers of Sherwood Bible Church are at it again. No doubt hoping to match their home run of Fireproof of 2008, they’ve shifted their focus from taking on divorce to attacking fatherlessness in America. We’re still in Albany, Georgia, but this time, instead of following the heroics of the Albany Fire Dept.,  we’re on patrol with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Dept. (Interesting that, Albany being a city of 77,000, it doesn’t seem to have its own police force, but I guess they had to trim the cast somewhere.)

The Kendricks have ramped the action up a notch with this one. Right at the beginning, we see Fireproof’s Ken Bevel, now playing Nathan Hayes, stop for gas, only to have his truck stolen by a dew-rag clad gang-banger (T.C. Stallings, a devoted husband and father in real life). He throws himself half-way through the driver’s window, and we are treated to a fist-fight with Nathan hanging out the window at 30 miles an hour. The movie eventually leads up to a climactic scene with guns blazing. In between is more action, more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, and a heart-felt message about how crucial a father is to a child’s development, and how those without fathers often become dew-rag clad truck thieves.

The story follows Deput. Hayes, a recent transfer to the department, three other Deputies, Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick), Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes), and David Thompson (Ben Davies), and Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya), a rarely employed construction worker, and their families. Javier breaks his back to provide for his family and eventually finds employment working on Adam’s house. He then becomes part of the group. David is the rookie of the squad who’s holding in a shameful secret. He has a daughter around three years of age, whom he has never met, and whose support he had not contributed a dime to. (Apparently, the Georgia Division of Child Support Services was vaporized along with the Albany P.D.) Shane struggles to be a dad to his son when he only sees him every other weekend.  Adam dotes on his daughter but refuses to join his son for the father-son 5K. And Nathan and his wife, Kayla (Elenor Brown), struggle to fend off the “saggy-pants boys” interested in their teenage daughter.

A tragedy eventually forces these men to reevaluate what they are doing as fathers. The story dives into Christian kitsch for awhile. Adam comes up with a written resolution and the five families actually hold a ceremony with their pastor in which they dramatically recite it. In a similar vein, we later see Nathan take his daughter to a very expensive restaurant (below), where he, again with great ceremony, presents her with a “promise ring.” Yeah, I know. I chortled at this scene, too, but then I found out my wife had very specific plans for me to do exactly that with our daughter one day.

But for all the kitsch, the film really is trying, and trying to do far more than just entertain. The problems with Courageous mainly serve to highlight the fact that most movies just fill themselves up with explosions and car wrecks and expect you to buy a ticket. Courageous sets the bar much higher, and does come close to clearing it.

There was a time when I would have been unable to enjoy this movie. I can enjoy it now largely because I have a wonderful wife, who makes my life very sweet. That said, there are still some key points of this film I can’t help but take issue with. A lot of the film’s attitude is summed up when Nathan delivers the curmudgeonly line “If fathers just did what they were supposed to, half the junk we see on the street wouldn’t exist.” This seems to be the mantra of conservatives and liberals alike: it’s all men’s fault. But if you look at the history of America over the last 40 years or so, men have not been the only – or even the primary – culprit of the breakdown of the family. History does not tell of a movement of men throwing off their responsibilities to society. We don’t see crowds of men burning their undergarments and demanding the right to kill their children. We do, however, see women doing all these things.

In the U.S. today, more than two thirds of all divorces are initiated by the woman. And why not? The feminist political machine has tilted the legal game board of divorce ridiculously toward the woman’s pockets. (Please note: Every man in Iowa should carefully read chapters 236 and 598 of the Iowa Code before he even thinks about getting emotionally attached to a woman. As for the other states, talk to a lawyer there.) Millions of children in the U.S. grow up without fathers because their mothers want it that way.

My first year out of law school, I worked in a family law firm. I never had a man in my office who didn’t care about his children. Most of my clients were there because they were having to fight just to see their children. The slant in family court is based on more than gender stereotypes.  The judicial community includes many territorial lionesses. A child is power, and they are not about to share it. Conversely, male judges are of the old way of thinking, in which men are expected to take the lumps and bear the weight of the world on our shoulders without complaint. This combination of liberal women and conservative men, not only in court, but also in society, is a frustrating dynamic. While women are exhorted about their rights, men are flagellated with our supposed responsibilities. Lawyers aren’t supposed to get emotionally involved, but I couldn’t help feeling the pain my clients felt. Commanded to be fathers by the right, yet torn from their children by the left; commanded to “be a man,” yet emasculated.

Courageous never addresses any of this, failing to live up to its name. The Kendrick brothers buckle under the pressure of political correctness. Too afraid to take women to task for their desertion, like so many before them, they turn on men.

It’s hard to stay angry at a movie that has this much heart, and is actually trying to make a difference in the world. But while it’s a valiant effort, another Fireproof it is not.  Fireproof met

Actor-director Alex Kendrick takes aim at bad fathers.

people squarely where they were at. There’s no reason 3 billion men couldn’t have connected with Caleb Holt, the fire chief who shows valor in the work place, but doesn’t know how to love his wife. The story eventually shows that, only by first receiving the unconditional love of God can Caleb show unconditional love to the flawed and sinful woman he lives with. It would actually  have been fairly simple for Courageous to do the same thing. Shane Fuller is a character that millions of men would easily connect with, including unbelievers. He is divorced. He wants to be a father to his son, but, as he explains it, he only gets him every other weekend, after his mother has filled his head with her toxic opinions of him. He wants to provide for his son, but almost a third of his paycheck is swallowed by alimony. Shane should have been the lead role of this movie! He could have been the Caleb Holt of Courageous. How can Shane, and other men, be the kind of fathers God wants them to be, despite the obstacles? How can God help them to raise their kids right despite what they have  to deal with? This was a golden opportunity for the Kendricks to win the hearts of their intended audiece. Beating up on men will do nothing to fix the family. Ministering to broken men where they are at will do a lot more.

Sadly, Shane is confined to a small role as the bad cop we’re not supposed to like, and Courageous preaches to the choir. Most of the focus is on Adam, Nathan and Javier, who all have perfect wives, straight out of a Christian fantasy.

Overall, I recommend seeing Courageous. There’s a lot of great moments I didn’t want to spoil here. The fact that I can even disagree with it shows it had more of a brain than most movies. It’s not easy to make a movie that ministers. I still laughed and I was still swept along by the story. It was good to see Christian cinema taking another (mostly) positive step.

Number four at the box office in October of 2011. High-five!

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Chronicle

I’m waiting for the ‘found-footage’ fad to die out.  The format has been stretched so thin that Chronicle busies itself trying to bypass the roadblock of hopping around the perspectives of different cameras circling the action.  Since the filmmakers have bolder ambitions than shaking their cameras around, I still lost myself in this fresh superhero diversion.  The film’s young director, Josh Trank, is getting a lot of buzz for his first main feature here, and for a 26-year-old filmmaker, a lot of credit is actually due.

Even though I’m not the least bit interested in the visual style, the story of Chronicle nudged me into the theater.  The film opens with high school teen Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a loner outcast locked in his bedroom with his video camera while his drunken father pounds on the door with thunderous shouts at the boy.  His father is a laid off firefighter.  His mother is bed-ridden and dying from a serious medical condition.  If Andrew has anyone on his side, it’s his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), who invites him to a party one night, despite serious objections to Andrew toting his video camera around.

Andrew has decided he wants to document his daily life on film, which is hard to imagine considering his abusive treatment at home and uninteresting social life at school.  Apparently it gives him a time-occupying outlet.  At the rave party, Matt and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find Andrew and request he follow them into the woods to check out a sizable hole in the ground.  Andrew’s light on his camera could help them out.  With their ears pressed to the ground, the trio hear a bass-thumping rumble coming from the hole, so they naturally decide to make a descent inside to discover what’s lurking underneath.  As they wander their way down, they stumble upon… well, something—not of this world.  It appears large, glowing, crystallized, with an alien entity inside.  The video feed flickers.  Something is happening to the boys and their noses begin to bleed heavily.

The next we see of them, their not fully aware of how they got out of the ground.  Oh, and they have telekinetic powers.  The guys starting tossing baseballs around with their minds and constructing Lego buildings.  Their abilities increase as they ‘stretch the muscle’ of their power, pulling pranks on helpless shoppers, moving parked cars across parking lots, and delivering the ultimate magic act at their school talent show.  Once the boys learn they can fly, they realize their level of invincibility. Andrew captures it all on film, but his home life and awkward social interactions begin to distance him from his new-found friends.  His tragedy unfolds over a series of events that push him further and further into darkness and alienation.

In retrospect, Chronicle could be described as simply another X-Men story.  Boys gets powers.  They use them.  One of the boys turns to the dark side.  This creates a divide.  Who will protect humanity?  Is humanity worth protecting when you’ve become a higher species, or an ‘apex predator’ as the film calls it?  Max Landis penned the script, and he admirably combines realistic high school behavior with the deeper elements that give Chronicle the authenticity (despite some glaring holes) it needs to capture our attention over a brisk 80 minutes.  The story is never as deep as it think it is, but I’m guessing that’s why the filmmakers opted for the documented footage angle.  The audience doesn’t expect layers of depth if they are witnessing the events ‘as they really occurred’.

I personally would have enjoyed the film more had the filmmakers chosen to go deeper.  This sci-fi thriller is all surface details, comical interactions, and bloated action sequences.  Don’t get me wrong—it works.  But I can’t help thinking there is a larger, grander, better movie hidden inside this ambitious little cheapie that makes the most of its budget and young talent.  Chronicle is a fun little ride featuring unrealized potential.  Young viewers will eat it up.  And while the film may be satisfactory, I wanted more.

 

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The Village

These days, mentioning the name M. Night Shyamalan while in line at the cineplex is a good way to get a punch in the mouth. Over the last five years, the man named after an orbital phase has become synonymous with insulting, navel-gazing movies like The Last Air Bender, The Happening, and of course, the unforgivable Lady in the Water. People especially hate him because the worse his movies get, the more in love with himself he seems to fall. The reason producers keep giving him chances has to be that his first few films were true masterpieces. Critics and Audiences alike called The Sixth Sense (1999) one of the best movies ever made. Unbreakable (2000) was less impressive, but definitely fit the mold of “both new and good.”  By the time Signs  was released in 2002, Shyamalan had his own genre.

And then, in between these gems and Shyamalan’s crimes against humanity, there was … this. The Village (2004) occupies an odd spot in history; Shyamalan’s pivot-point between greatness and sucking. Some loved it. Some hated it. It definitely isn’t your conventional movie, but then Shyamalan was always anything but conventional. On which side of the fence does it fall? Is it more like Shyamalan at his best, or his worst? Let’s find out.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

It must be acknowledged that the biggest selling point in the way this film was marketed turned out to be a total sham. A village full of apparently colonial people lives isolated from the rest of the world, oppressed by the fear of “Those We Don’t Speak of,” creatures that lurk in the forest around them. Good ominous beginning. As you might expect, there is a twist toward the end. But while the twist in The Sixth Sense  made us re-think everything that happened in the movie, and increased our enjoyment of the story, the twist in The Village  is a massive let down: the creatures are fake. Yep. That’s it. They spend 1:45 scaring you with these things, only to tell you what anyone over 5 knew walking into the theatre: that they are people in costumes. From this, and the dialogue that follows, it’s not hard to figure out the other twist: that this is actually happening present day, and the town elders have attempted to create a utopian world by isolating themselves from the rest of civilization, using the creatures to scare villagers from exploring beyond the village outskirts.

So this one must be a turd, right? Not so fast. I first saw The Village when it was newly made and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Some months later I found I was dying to see it again, so  I rented it. Obviously, I knew the twist, but I still was caught up in the story and the passion that the actors put into it. A young Bryce Dallas Howard and Jaquin Phoenix light up the screen as the primal couple, who only slowly begin to realize their love for each other. The older members of the cast include a number of actors who have had more glorious rolls, such as Sigourney Weaver, former slayer of aliens, now cast as a humble, devoted house wife, and Brendan Gleeson, who reveled in badassery in Braveheart, Gangs of New York, and  28 Days Later, now confined to a small roll as a man too old to do much more than smoke a pipe. You might think these post-stars would be a little bitter, but what they bring to the screen reminds us that there are truly “no small parts; only small actors.”

This film probably repulsed a lot of viewers on a first viewing just because of the obvious gaff discussed above, but it merits a second and third viewing. As I watched it a second time, I came to understand that the gaff doesn’t harm the film because it isn’t a film about monsters. It’s a film about the community on screen and the people in it. The power of the movie comes home as boys tease each other with dares and girls dream about boys. We are drawn deeper in as their utopian society is suddenly, unexpectedly shattered by the crime of murder. And, despite suspension of belief, we are on the edge of our seats as a young, frightened, and blind girl (Howard) is forced to trek alone through the forbidden wood to save the boy she loves. And of course, even after the “twist,” there are some scary surprises waiting in the wood.

As good as the cast is, they might be outperformed by the score. Composer James Newton relied mostly on the solos of violinist Hillary Hahn to enhance the picture. It serves well to reflect the isolation that the characters feel in many scenes. This is one of the few movies that is worth checking out just for the soundtrack. The music excites, builds tension, and carries emotion just as well as what we see. A great deal of effort was also put into the costumes and the set design, both for authenticity and beauty, and it makes for a lot of sumptuous visuals. And I have to say, Shayamalan’s directing was still pretty good at this point. One scene in particular comes to mind, in which Those They Don’t Speak of attack the village (below). The boy on the watchtower sounds the alarm, and there are several minutes of people scrambling to gather the children, get inside, and get into their hiding places. This can’t have been an easy scene to pull off, with the amount of fast activity that had to be captured, the number of child actors, and the number of plot points that have to be hinted at, but Shayamalan did it brilliantly. Not only is the story told, but it’s a truly beautiful scene. Even on a second viewing, when I knew there was no real danger, I was caught up in it. When the rubber meets the road, Shayamalan really can do it — when he’s not jerking us around, that is.

Even as early as Signs, some of Shyamalan’s annoying habits were beginning to come to light. He loved to have something really important happen, such as an alien attacking someone, at point A, and, for no reason, point the camera squarely at point B. Or else, force us to look through some distorting piece of scenery, or look at a poor reflection. There’s a lot to be said for not showing too much, especially if you want to build suspense or scare the audience, but in order to do those two things, you also have to make us feel with the characters. For example, in Signs, when the main family has retreated to the basement, an alien hand reaches through the coal chute and grabs Morgan. A scuffle ensues as Grant and Merrill try to pull him to safety. Shyamalan chooses this moment to wave the camera around incoherently, showing us nothing. The characters see what’s happening! Why the hell shouldn’t we? The next morning, Morgan is again grabbed by an alien. This time, for the first time in the movie, we get a really good look at one of these things. Merrill then kills the alien with a bat. And then Shyamalan treats us to one more bad reflection, in an over-turned tv, of the alien’s chest rising as it struggles to breath. What is the point of this? We’ve already seen the alien!

The Village takes this a step further. Some of the most crucial scenes are interrupted by completely meaningless things. For example, near the end, when one of Those They Don’t Speak of (who seem to get mentioned a lot) chases Howard’s character, Ivy, we see the creature lunge at her from behind a tree. She runs. Then, for no reason, we see an empty rocking chair in front of a grove of trees. Then we see the creature chasing Ivy. Then we see a close up of a weather vane, over looking a hilltop. Then we see Ivy running. Just when it looks like something’s about to happen, we see another grove of trees. What is the point of this? These cut away shots don’t even match the main scene, or each other; they were obviously shot on different days, in different weather at different times of the year, and they serve no purpose whatsoever.

Of course, Shyamalan went on to commit atrocities like Lady in the Water (2006), where we almost never see anything except as a distorted reflection. All in all though, The Village is well worth checking out. It’s not without its faults by any means, but when the dust settles, what you have is a series of great scenes, beautifully shot and beautifully acted, perfectly capturing the emotion of the moment, all with a haunting score playing in the back ground. Much like in Van Helsing, the power of the performances smooths over the imperfections in the plot.

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Hot Chick

Jessica Spencer (Rachel McAdams) is a stuck-up, self-absorbed, cruel little harpie who strings along and breaks the hearts of boys and girls alike (in different ways). She’s exactly the type of girl that makes you think “Boy I hope she wakes up one morning to find that she’s traded bodies with Rob Schneider, and is destined to be chased from her home by her family, maced by her best friend, forced into a fist fight, watch her boyfriend find someone else, and scratch out a living cleaning toilets and mowing yards!” And, just as you’d expect, that’s exactly what happens. Via a ridiculous plot device that I won’t even bother with, Jessica and a male mugger (Schneider) wake up one morning on opposite sides of town, begin their morning urination ritual, and suddenly realize that something is very, very wrong. Hilarity ensues.

No, really, it does. The biggest surprise of The Hot Chick is that it is actually really good. Most of the credit for that has to go to Schneider, as he pulls off one of the toughest acting assignments I’ve ever seen with flying colors. I am not, generally a Schneider fan. I consider his acting sophomoric and distasteful. But it seems he was born to play a teenage girl. No, I mean that as a compliment. Watching Schneider prance, preen, giggle and bat eyes in this movie, you really do forget that he’s acting and he isn’t really a teen chick in the wrong body (at least I … assume he isn’t). I don’t know what Schneider does in his personal time, but he spends a lot of this movie hanging out (so to speak) in tight, pink T-shirts and tight panties, and pillow fighting with Jessica’s BFF’s until it seems almost natural.

Jessica’s best friend (Anna Faris) really wanted to see Jessica’s new … best friend.

Aside from Schneider’s antics, the story is built around Jessica’s quest to get her body back, with the help of a bunch of other girls, once she’s convinced them of her identity, as well as get her boyfriend back. Her boyfriend has been stolen by an equally stuck-up cheerleader from a rival school, and I have to say, there is something very satisfying about watching Schneider head-butt her. There’s something even more satisfying about seeing a rich daddy’s-girl, now stuck in a male body, trying to do manual labour. Probably the funniest scene in the movie is when Jessica (Schneider) enters a men’s room, and finds all the stalls occupied, and has no choice but to use the urinal. She then begins asking other men how to pee standing. (Side note: it’s not like it’s that hard.)

There are a few holes in the plot. It’s interesting that nobody seems to notice Jessica’s missing for a week. Also, her boyfriend, Billy, goes on his own internal journey. This ads some human interest to the plot, but they could have had him turn into a decent guy without having him turn into a total man-gina. All in all though, this is a movie well worth seeing.

 

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Green Lantern

Let’s get one thing straight: DC Comics does NOT suck. Superman and Batman were starting to look a bit burried under a landslide of Marvel movies. Marvel Comics built its own film studio and every, single Marvel character (even the really stupid ones) had to have his or her own movie. People were starting to say that DC couldn’t hack it, or that they had Batman, but that was their only decent francise. The truth is, DC has been very much alive during Marvel’s decade of dominance at the box office. It simply stayed in the realm of animation. A TV series called Justice League ran from 2001 to 2006, and spawned a large number of hour-long movies. (By the way, Kevin Conroy’s Batman from the animated series is still going strong.) But finally, DC has had the courage to step into the
big leagues with one of their less-recognized characters.

The Green Lantern is a much maligned superhero. People are quick to dismiss him because *snort!* “His weakness is yellow! How pathetic is that?” The thing you have to remember is that Green Lantern mythology is not meant to be taken at all literally. While many superhero stories fit pretty well into the science fiction category, Green Lantern is thoroughly fantasy; it seeks to make sense only in a metaphorical or symbolic way. And while the events on screen are impossible to take seriously, they still capture the universal human experience. A good example is the GL-centrered espisode of Justice League Despero,” which takes place on another planet, but spells out the very earthly themes of  seduction by power and the spirit to resist oppression. It’s the same with this movie. Green
is the color of will. Yellow is the color of fear. As Corps General Sinestro (Mark Strong) explains, “it is fear that stops will; stops you from acting.” That’s why yellow can stop green.

This film does a really good job of bringing Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and company to the big screen. The origin story is, of course, the necessary evil of every super hero film, and like many films this one has been criticized for being light on action. There’s some truth to that, but, to be honest, I really didn’t notice. Writer Greg Berlanti draws the audience into the story so well, and the cast (especially Reynolds) fills out their roles so well, that mind-blowing action isn’t really necessary.

One interesting development: for obvious reasons, a few years ago, DC began to think that GL creating tanks and tigers from his ring to chase the bad guys was a bit … cartoonish, and so Justice League
limited his power to creating energy shields, lasers and the like. In Green Lantern, the cartoonishness is back, with Hal whipping out gatling guns and roadsters at every turn. But the biggest surprise of all is probably that they make it work pretty well. The story centers around the Corps’ battle with an entity known as Parallax (oddly named after Hal’s eventual super-villain identity from the comics) and Hal’s struggle to be accepted by the Corps. It also has a few goodies, such as a nod to Sinestro’s inevitable slide into super-villiandom, and one absolutely priceless moment that backhands the secret identity complexes of superheroes everywhere.

So how does Green Lantern stack up? It doesn’t have the gritty reality of The Dark Knight, the heart-warming inspiration of Iron Man, or the powerful iconography of Superman Returns. But it’s still a solid adaptation of an under-rated franchise that’s worth checking out.  Incidently, so is the animated Green Lantern: First Flight. Green Lantern is clearly better than:

Electra

The Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four 2

The Punisher

Spiderman 2

Hulk.

And probably at least as good as:

Ghostrider

Daredevil

Spiderman 3

X2: X-Men United

Iron Man 2

Wolverine

So stop knocking it. If nothing else, the color green has been proven to reduce stress, and this movie has it in spades.

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Judicial Retention Elections: Director’s Cut

We movie critics take a lot of flac. People accuse us of lazily taking cheap shots at directors, actors and techs who break their backs and offer up their work. Occasionally, someone will say “Why don’t you just make a movie yourself, if you think it’s so easy?”

So, I decided to try it. It was a few months ago that I was introduced to Xtranormal.com, the website that allows ordinary people to make movies by selecting characters and locations from a menu, and typing dialogue. And I have to admit, having actually put my nose to the grind stone, that … movie making is really easy! I don’t know why all those studios, with billions of dollars at their disposal, couldn’t get it right, when I did this with a laptop and a few hours. I’m partly joking of course, but I do want to draw attention to three good things that Xtranormal will contribute to the American cinema: One, it puts a bit more of the power in the hands of ordinary people to counteract the Hollywood propaganda machine. Two, you can’t fill your movie up with car chases and explosions, so it forces the audience to focus on dialouge. And three, most of the people who will use Xtranormal will likely be people who have something worthwhile to say to the world, as I did when I made the film below. Enjoy.

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