Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Directed by Josh Trank
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. August 18, 2015 7:25PM
The Fantastic Four are a group of superheroes, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, who gained their super-powers after being heavily exposed to cosmic rays during a space expedition. This collective became one of the most popular comic books in the Marvel Universe. After a low-budget Roger Corman production in the '90's that never saw the light of day and two more recent films that made some money but were far from critical favorites, the latest version brought to the screen is also far from fantastic. "Fantastic Four", directed by Josh Trank whose only previous feature was the low-budget hit, "Chronicle", is filled with too much silly science, dim-witted drama and not nearly enough fun or adventure.
We are given another origin story but it has been completely reworked and not for the better. This time, a teenage genius, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) along with his classmate, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) enter their high school science fair with his invention of a device that can transport objects. While not entirely successful but it works well enough to capture the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the director of the Baxter Foundation, a scientific research institute. He offers Richards an opportunity to further develop his project at their lab. The idea is to merge Richards' invention with a failed device created at the Baxter by a sulking Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) with the hope of a working machine.
Franklin's children, Sue Storm (Kate Mara), his adopted daughter and hot-headed son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) also help work on the experiment at the lab. After the team successfully transports a monkey to a planet in another dimension with their space shuttle called the Quantum Gate, it's now ready to test on humans. Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), the supervisor of the Baxter, thanks the team for their hard work but informs them NASA will be taking over the project. After a drunken celebration, the boys decide they should be the first to test their invention. Reed calls Ben to join them and they sneak off for a trip to another planet.
Once they arrive, the scientists set out to explore this alien world. Their presence causes a serious disruption, setting off a series of violent explosions throughout the landscape. As they race to get back to their shuttle, Victor falls in to a void, forcing them to leave him behind. With Sue back at the base to help them return, their space craft explodes on re-entry, exposing them all to cosmic rays.
We know they all survive but each has been altered with strange powers. Reed now has a body that can stretch to great lengths. Sue has the power of invisibility, can create force fields and travel through the skies like Glinda, the good witch. Johnny's body is engulfed in flames and Ben has become a giant with brute strength but his body is covered with a rock-like substance. The big, bad government holds the foursome in confinement to observe them but Richards manages to escape, feeling guilty for their condition.
A year later, the remaining three are trained to learn how to control their powers. Grimm is sent out on secret military missions with the others soon to follow. Dr. Allen is actively trying to track down Richards so he can recreate their previous voyage. The young scientist is found, mislead to return to planet with the goal of finding them a cure. After they arrive, miraculously, von Doom is found still alive. Not only has the doctor been changed, he is pissed.
"Fantastic Four" can't shake the feeling of rushing it's narrative even though the pacing moves at the speed of molasses. Even by comic book standards, the characters are non-existent with the plot over-the-top and full of gaping holes.
Social media expressed it's outrage over the casting of the African-American Jordan in the role of the usually blond, blue-eyed Johnny Storm. I didn't mind the switch (in fact, I found it the one inspired moment in this film) but what I did mind was the lack of an expressive wit the Human Torch usually displays in comics or even in the previous films. Here, Johnny Storm plays one note, unpleasantly sullen. The rest of the cast is equally lackluster with Mr. Teller, coming off his amazing performance in "Whiplash", faring best which isn't saying much. The only thing notable about Ms Mara here is the distracting change of her hair color and length throughout the film. This is the first time that the rock-covered Thing actually looks believable on screen but the complete waste of the gifted Mr. Bell (who first made an impression as a boy in "Billy Elliot") is unforgivable.
Much like the recent remake of "Spider-Man" that starred Andrew Garfield (which is incredibly getting rebooted again), this latest "Fantastic Four" feels commonplace and marginal. It may not have started out that way but after the well-publicized friction between the studio, the director and the actors, this film was a disaster that didn't have much of a chance. The results is a problematic adventure that has been salvaged the best it can.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Directed by Judd Apatow
Where & When: Springdale 18 Cinema De Luxe, Cincinnati, OH. July 27, 2015
I admit I was very tardy to the Amy Schumer party but after catching the recent season of her skit comedy series, "Inside Amy Schumer", I have become a die-hard fan of the ribald comedian. After making her mark on television, Schumer is attempting to take on the big screen with "Trainwreck", a wonderfully offbeat romantic comedy that she has written. The director who is best known for his brand of sweetly lewd man-child comedies, Judd Apatow was inspired by Schumer to break out of his comfortable niche. This is the first film he has directed that he hasn't written and together they enhance each other's gifts.
Our story begins with Gordon Townsend (Colin Quinn) telling his two young daughters that he's divorcing their mother and leaves them with some fatherly advice that monogamy isn't at all realistic. Years later, while the younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson) didn't take him seriously, Amy (Schumer) took her daddy's words to heart. Kim has settled in to a comfortable relationship with a nice guy (Mike Birbiglia) and his nerdy, young son but Amy is a wild, hot mess. The only commitment she has is to evenings filled with too much alcohol and ending with anonymous sexual encounters.
Amy works as a writer for a men's magazine run by Dianna (Tilda Swinton), a brassy editor-in-chief that makes Anna Wintour seem demure and slight. Realizing Amy's aversion to sports, Dianna thinks she will be perfect to do a story on a top doctor working with basketball players. When Amy meets her subject, Aaron (Bill Hader), sweet but socially inept, they hit it off. After spending the evening enjoying each other's company, it ends with Amy's usual routine of heavy drinking and sex. But Aaron asks Amy to break her steadfast rule of never spending the night and surprisingly, she agrees. The biggest shock occurs for Amy the next day when the doctor calls actually wanting to see her again. She's kinda, sort of dating a muscle-bound lunkhead (John Cena) but Aaron begins to stir genuine emotions in her for the first time which scares her to death.
Part of Ms Schumer's comedy is to shock and titillate with her no-holds-barred observations on sexism and gender politics. She may look like the adorable girl-next-door but she's unafraid to tell a raunchy joke that might make you squirm in your seat yet also leave you with something deeper to think about. "Trainwreck" aims to shake-up the dated notion of the romantic comedy and Schumer's amusing screenplay (loosely based on her own real-life experiences) cleverly flips long held expectations of how women should behave in the pursuit of love and companionship. The comedian enjoys locating the humor in awkward sexual situations which is clearly what appealed to Mr. Apatow. The film also explores Amy's troubled family dynamic, with the director bringing his skill of finding the heartwarming and poignant emotional moments in between all of the absurdity.
My only real complaint is the same complaint I have with most of Mr. Apatow's films which is that they go on far too long. I'm sure the director feels that every filmed bit is a precious gem that he can't bear to lose but "Trainwreck" clocks in at a little over two hours. For a comedy with a fairly simple plot, the film feels unnecessarily padded.
With "Trainwreck", Amy Schumer proves she can be just as hilariously vulgar as the boys yet her comedy still comes from a place involving thoughtful female insight. Another thing this film proves is that Schumer is a new kind of comedy star. Her blazing wit, quirky charm and brutal honesty is just what is missing and desperately needed in cinema today.