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Summer Movies (Autumn Movies, in Japan)

September 23rd, 2006

As the recent summer movies have filtered late into Japan, I went to see them, ending recently with the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. PotC: Dead Man’s Chest was not nearly as good as I expected it to be, and may have been the most disappointing film of the batch. It had great special effects, some fun and clever fighting scenes… but it just wasn’t very entertaining. Johnny Depp is what made the movie come alive last time, and he just didn’t seem to be in this one too much, at least not like he was last time. His lines this time around were not really all that clever. If you watched the teaser and the trailer, then you’ll have seen perhaps the funniest stuff he does… and the other stuff is not any more interesting. Not that Depp failed, it’s just that he didn’t have as much of a chance this time. If you like monsters and makeup and action sequences, this film is a bit dark but good for you. If you came to have fun and watch Depp do his thing, you’ll likely be disappointed. Not to mention that the film ends on a cliffhanger, with nothing resolved.

SPOILER WARNING: I spill the beans about some of what happens in the X-Men movie–if you want to see it and haven’t yet, move on down to the following paragraph. (Sorry, Helen!)

The latest X-Men movie has also been called “disappointing,” but I don’t really think so. You have to expect a lot before you can be disappointed. It was pretty much exactly what I expected from this franchise: weird mutant superpowers, action and special effects, twists and turns and so forth. Maybe it didn’t offer much more than Pirates, but I liked the presentation better. The strange thing was that in the previous X-Men movie, only one of the main characters, Jean Grey, was killed off; in the third movie, she comes back to life… but then half the cast gets killed off, with many others (including McKellen’s Magneto) being de-powered. So, will they all come back for X-Men 4? Or was this the filmmakers’ way of closing down the series? Probably not, as two of the main characters “come back” at the end. Magneto is seen regaining his powers after having gotten a quadruple-dose of the “mutant cure.” And Professor X–an early surprise death in the film–sneaks back in as well. Most people forgot about the beginning of the film, where X is lecturing students about the ethicality of transferring one’s mind into a brain-dead body and shows a video of a doctor with such a patient. At the very end of the film, after the credits, there’s a small snippet you may have missed if you left early, with Xavier waking up in that body. So… “X-Men 4: The Really Final Last Stand”? [Actually, IMDB says that a film called Magneto will be released next year–but it looks like a prequel. Although the story revolves around younger characters, McKellen and Stewart are listed as the actors. However, the current X-Men movie shows the two men as being younger, using CGI effects to make them look more similar to photos of the two actors taken twenty years earlier.]

Much better than either of the two I just mentioned was Superman Returns. The story was more interesting, the character conflicts better, the acting, writing, and directing was a lot less comic-book style than the Superman films with Christopher Reeve… and the twists were much better, one in particular. Overall a pretty high quality film among the recent horde of comic book movies. It’s hard to say if Brandon Routh was much better than Reeve as Superman, but there’s no question that Kate Bosworth was a far better Lois Lane than Margot Kidder. Though, I must admit, I just really don’t like Kidder at all, so maybe that’s affecting my judgment. Kevin Spacey I like in just about everything, so he also wins my vote over Gene Hackman as a better Lex Luthor. Generally speaking, the film has a better script, cast, and director than the previous films. If they continue the franchise, I hope they don’t descend into silliness like most of these series do.

The surprising low performer of the bunch was Mission: Impossible 3, not because it was bad, but because it didn’t perform well at the box office. Again, expectations are pretty low considering the franchise–we know we’re gonna get high-grade, high-tech spy action with lots of loud explosions, and that’s pretty much what happened. J. J. Abrams actually managed to make the film pretty interesting on top of all that, with a surprisingly well-done romance, good, strong characters, and Cruise did his usual fairly good job of acting. The ending was perhaps the weakest part, as it was eminently predictable beyond a certain point, but that was bearable. The action was pretty much non-stop, and for what it was, it was a very good movie. So why did it flop? Many say it’s because people are weirded out over Tom Cruise now. To me, that doesn’t make much sense–I long ago gained the ability to separate the real-life talent from the performances in their media (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of the Schwarzenegger flicks), but I guess a lot of people can’t do that. Too bad, this was a pretty good film.

The first film I saw this summer, however, was The Da Vinci Code. It should be a no-brainer that any film directed by Ron Howard with Tom Hanks in it is going to be pretty good, and this one was. Of course, the “facts” in the storyline itself have been fairly thoroughly debunked, with stories and details within the plot often exaggerated or even fabricated, but that’s normal in stories like this, like with Michael Crichton novels. If one can suspend disbelief and treat this as a kind of alternate-universe story, it’s a ton of fun. Ian McKellan, as always, is a treat to watch, and the film is richly photographed and paced very well.

Several films are coming out soon that I’m not interested in enough to see at the theater, such as The Lake House, World Trade Center, The Lady in the Water, 16 Blocks, Snakes on a Plane (“Snake Flight” in Japanese), and Nacho Libre. The earliest film I’d likely want to see is Casino Royale, which will be out in December, and so I’ll see it in the U.S. (for a lot cheaper than the $15 admission price in Japan!). An Inconvenient Truth gets released in Japan only after the new year–a month and a half after the DVD goes on sale in Japan. Since the American DVD only costs $2 more than a single movie theater ticket in Japan, which one is preferable is hardly a contest–which is why they have region coding in the first place, one would suppose.

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  1. September 23rd, 2006 at 13:35 | #1

    Movie-viewing being a subjective experience, I can’t really argue with any of your conclusions though I personally thought X-Men was the best of the crop (and I didn’t see MI 3). Since I read the book, I was bored by DaVinci Code and somehow, Superman didn’t do much for me though I did feel it was well-made.

    “To me, that doesn’t make much sense–I long ago gained the ability to separate the real-life talent from the performances in their media (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of the Schwarzenegger flicks), but I guess a lot of people can’t do that. Too bad, this was a pretty good film.”

    In response to this, one point I think should be made though is that there is a difference between wanting to separate art and artists and being unable to. You may choose to separate Tom Cruise’s work from his personal behavior and choices but someone who does not do the same is also making a choice, not showing a lack of capacity in this regard. Mind you, I’m not avoiding Tom Cruise. In fact, some part of me wonders if the way he’s being seen is nearly a form of religious intolerance. I’m speaking of the broader issue.

    I think choosing not to make such a separation is much harder because it involves denying oneself pleasure. As you know I will never support anything Orson Scott Card does again because of his views on homosexuality but this is not an easy choice to stick to. I’d love to see an Ender’s Game movie if one ever gets made but my ethics won’t allow me to contribute in the smallest way to the success of an unadulterated bigot.

    To me, this is no different than choosing not to purchase products made by companies that pollute the planet or to avoid patronizing businesses that treat their employees badly. It’s all the same thing.

  2. September 23rd, 2006 at 13:55 | #2

    I think the problem with Dead Man’s Chest was it really was half a movie. There was no third act, there was no crescendo. I am sure 2 & 3 were written together, they looked at them and said “chop it here”. Once At World’s End comes out, I imagine you can watch 2 & 3 back-to-back and it’ll feel like one really long movie. Was it the right thing to do? Nope. The audience got cheated by paying to only see 1/2 a movie, but it seems to not matter as the film has done over $1 Billion worldwide, but that still doesn’t make it right.

  3. SY
    September 23rd, 2006 at 14:34 | #3

    “It should be a no-brainer that any film directed by Ron Howard with Tom Hanks in it is going to be pretty good.”


    That settles it. Blog.com for politics and technology. Jonathan Rosenbaum for movie reviews.

  4. Luis
    September 23rd, 2006 at 16:57 | #4

    SY: What? Splash, Apollo 13, Da Vinci Code. You hated one or all of them?

  5. Helen
    September 24th, 2006 at 04:01 | #5

    Umm, Luis, could you warn us that you are going to put spoilers in about the movies? I’m planning to see X-Men tomorrow and now I already know part of the plot. I _didn’t_ know about who gets it, now I do. I stopped reading your review, but it was too late. It’s only been out a couple of weeks here in Japan and I haven’t made it to the theater yet.

    However, enjoy your new computer. I’m terribly jealous!

  6. Luis
    September 24th, 2006 at 04:07 | #6

    Helen: sorry, for some reason I was thinking of an American audience, where the movie has come and gone from theaters–I idiotically forgot about the Japanese contingent. Oops. The page now carries a spoiler warning. Horses and barn doors and all, but your sacrifice may have saved another!

    One thing I can safely say, is that if you stopped reading after the first hint of spoiler, there’s still a lot more you don’t know–and of course I won’t say here. But–safely–I can tell you to stay until after the end of the credits; there’s a little bit extra you won’t want to miss.

  7. Helen
    September 24th, 2006 at 23:57 | #7

    Thanks for the note about staying through the credits! I did and was quite happily surprised. I enjoyed X-Men 3 very much. I think if anyone gets a spin-off movie it might be Wolverine, although the Magneto movie would be interesting.

  8. brad
    September 29th, 2006 at 15:37 | #8

    I disagree with you on Superman Returns; at the start I thought the various homages to the Reeve movies were a nice touch, but the whole movie rapidly became a cheap clone of the originals, to a point that I was thoroughly put off by them all. Lex’s plan seemed stupid, as well as seen-again – the Kryptonian island was just a mass of land/crystal, nothing else to it. I was expecting ready-built crystalline apartments, high-tech structures, etc.

    Superman’s reaction to Kryptonite was all wrong, something that gets me mad. The child was a fancy deus ex machina just thrown in for the jazz; it didn’t make sense and didn’t integrate with the rest of the plot.

    And I liked Margot Kidder much much more than this new Lois. Margot’s Lois Lane was a get-in-their-face bossy type report who’d push to get the story. Kate was a nice cute little country girl.

    Special effects were excellent, and the only reason I’d watch it again.

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