Friday, March 25, 2011

Movies about Wanna-be Superheroes

I like the superhero blockbuster movies as much as the next guy, but even more that the big-budget comic book adaptations that keep coming out, I like the movies about the other superheroes, the not-so-super vigilantes, or the ones with powers that aren't quite as super as the biggies.  Here are a few movies that try to break the mold of the superhero movie with some humor and action.

I'll start with the loser of a movie, The Specials.  In this movie, there are the in-crowd superheroes and the loser superheroes, vying for dominance in the superhero action figure market.  There are some funny bits (I liked the running gag with Minute Man, meaning small, not 60 seconds, and he's very sensitive about it!), but overall, this one is a dog.  If you're a fan of superhero movies, pick this one up for a laugh, but don't say I didn't warn you.
1 star

Can he really levitate?  Or not?
I saw a preview for Special and knew I wanted to see it, but it wasn't that easy to find.  A low-budget, indie film, I don't know that this one was ever in theaters.  Les is prescribed some anti-depressants, he thinks, but the drug is actually an experimental drug designed to make the patient think he has superhuman powers.  Les thinks he can levitate, read minds, and other feats.  This is a set up for great comedy at Les's expense, but he gets drawn into some real-life bad guy situations with painful results.  Special is funny in a pathetic way, especially the mind-reading bits, leading the viewer to sympathize with Les and believe that maybe he is a superhero after all.  This was an unexpected winner.
3 1/2 stars.

Along the same lines as Special, only with a bigger budget and a bigger star, we have Woody Harrelson as Defendor.  A lonely, probably mentally ill guy, Defendor dons his home-made, goofy costume each night to defend his city and seek out Captain Industry.  In a stumbling way, he actually does get closer to the truth of crime and corruption than the criminals like, making himself a target.  You have to love his persistence and odd genius, for instance, his breeding of wasps to use as a weapon.  Defendor doesn't have much going for him in life, but he puts up a good fight, stands up for what is right, and defends the defenseless. I can cheer for that.
3 stars.

Sticking with the theme of marginal people becoming vigilantes and rising to hero status, Kick-Ass takes the action to another level.  I thought this would be a teen comedy type of superhero spoof.  The hero is a teen, and there is some spoofiness and comedy, but mostly it's a straight-on, violent vigilante story.  Nerdy, comic-book loving Dave's only superpower, he says, is that he's invisible--to girls!  He dons a goofy costume, gets beat up by the criminals he's trying to collar, then goes out again and has some luck fighting bad guys.  This latter encounter is captured by some kids on video, becomes a You Tube hit, and brings Kick Ass into the big time (yes, Kick Ass is his superhero name.). 
Unfortunately for Dave, his new fame does not escape the attention of a real-life, really bad bad guy, who attributes some recent attacks on his thugs to Kick Ass.  In fact, those attacks are the work of Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage).  He's a renegade ex-cop who is systematically picking off D'Amico's men, as vengence for his wife's death.  Big Daddy and his 11-year-old daughter Hit Girl have some real skills and great superhero gear.  They cross paths with Kick Ass and lead up to a showdown with D'Amico and his men.  There are lots of explosions and killings.

The violence and depth of this movie surprised me.  The violence, graphic and frequent, fed the story, which was interesting and involved.  This wasn't a perfect movie, but it was defintely enjoyable, one I wouldn't mind seeing again.
3 1/2 stars

Finally, Iron Man 2.  I don't have much to say about this somewhat predictable, but action packed and enjoyable blockbuster.  Top-notch special effects, great action sequences, and an entertaining performance by Robert Downey, Jr., add up to a fun (but ultimately rather forgettable) movie. 
2 1/2 stars

I'll still watch and enjoy the big blockbusters, but I think cut-rate superheroes are more my speed.  These stories address the need, not only of the pathetic and lonely among us, but of all of us, to reclaim a sense of power and efficacy in our daily lives.  None of these wanna-be superheros has superhuman powers derived from an alien source, genetic mutation, or exposure to radiation.  But each has felt victimized, neglected, or rejected, yet still was willing to take some risks and take on evil in their world.  More power to them.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not the Messiah

If you love Monty Python, you don't mind that they keep repackaging and rereleasing their old material.  But even better than a new "best of" DVD is when they actually do produce something new.  A few years ago, Spamalot was a Broadway hit, mixing songs and some of the story of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with some other MP classic skits and a bit of new.  I had a great time watching by dad come to tears, laughing at their craziness.

Not the Messiah follows up on the success of Spamalot.  They haven't toured much with it; as far as I know, it was only performed a few times.  But it lives on forever on DVD and CD.  The title comes from a line in the MP movie, The Life of Brian, in which Brian's mother tries to get the crowd outside their home to leave.  "He's not the messiah," she screams, "He's a very naughty boy!" 
It almost looks like a legitimate oratorio.
The other meaning of the title is a reference to Handel's MessiahNot the Messiah, an oratorio roughly in the tradition of Handel's Messiah, is performed by a huge choir, full orchestra, and several soloists, but with the addition of sheep and lumberjacks.  There are moments where the style is classical, but mostly it's rock inspired or Broadway musical style.

Like The Life of Brian, it's rather, shall we say, unorthodox.  I don't think it's totally heretical, but it's certainly not suitable for Sunday services.  Monty Python fans will love it; non-fans might be mildly amused, but, as enjoyable as it was, it served more to bring nostalgia for the MP golden years than to add to their oeuvre.
I bet this is the first time a concert at Royal Albert Hall feature life-sized sheep puppets.
One song struck me as accidentally insightful.  Again, not suitable for Sunday services, but in a weird sort of way I think it communicates the grandeur of God.  I am thankful that I am no longer smelly and stupid and cheesy and spotty and naughty in God's sight, since I have been cleansed by Jesus' blood, but the song does recognize what a mess we are without God's saving grace.

O God you are so big
You are so very huge
My word what a size you are
And we are tiny in thy sight
So very small and very grotty
And smelly and stupid and cheesy and spotty
You are so big
We are so small
You are so huge
We are so tiny
You are so big
And we are naughty in thy sight
O god you are so big
You are so very huge
My word what a size you are
And we are tiny in thy sit
So very small and very grotty

And smelly and stupid and cheesy and spotty
You are so big
We are so small
You are so huge
We are so tiny
You are so big 
And we are naughty in thy sight.

Bottom line, if you're a Python fan, 4 stars.  If not, maybe 2.  If you are a Christian who is easily offended, negative 1 star.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Really, really dysfunctional families

It doesn't take much TV or movie watching to make me very, very thankful for my family.  Sure, we have quirks and problems; we're human.  But my childhood and upbringing couldn't have been much more ideal, and I continue to have a good relationship with my parents and siblings.  Kelly, too.  I remember several years ago, when Kelly was at a bridal shower for a friend, when our pastor's wife, trying to bring a dose of reality to the bride-to-be's bliss, said, "Remember, there's no such thing as a 'Leave it to Beaver' perfect home."  Kelly chimed in with, "Yes, there is!  I was raised in one!"

What mother can bear to see her son hauled off to jail?

These movies will definitely make you thankful for your family, even if you don't have a great home life.  The first selection, Madeo (Mother), was directed by Joon-Ho Bong, who also directed the monster movie Gwoemul (The Host).  With him at the helm, you can guess this isn't a typical domestic drama.  Do-joon, a mentally-challenged adult, lives with his protective mother.  When he's accused of the murder of a young girl, she is determined to defend his honor.  She knows Do-Joon's confession was coerced and will stop at nothing to expose the killer, even it it means taking the law into her own hands.  This Korean film develops in a surprising way.  Even if she's a little too protective, parents can appreciate her motherly love.

Another protective father is the creepy Robin Williams, who plays Lance, the father in World's Greatest Dad.  When's the last time he was funny in movie?  RV was good fun.  Before that, I loved Jumanji.  Most of his recent movies, like this one, cast him as a dark, brooding, character.  This is dark, but not, in my opinion, a comedy.  When his teenage son Kyle dies tragically, in a potentially humiliating way, Lance, a frustrated, failed writer who teaches poetry at Kyle's school, tries to redeem his son's legacy.  Kyle was mean, not very popular, and got along terribly with Lance.  But Lance pens a suicide note and begins a fictional journal that turn Kyle into a martyr, a hero for his school.  Like Mother, Lance isn't so much concerned with the truth of what happened as with defending his son.  Unlike Mother, Lance is more concerned with his own reputation than his son's.  World's Greatest Dad is a weird, unpleasant movie.  Even in Lance's efforts to help his son, he's pretty despicable. 

I do have to give the movie credit for one scene.  When they're riding in Lance's car, he gets onto Kyle for putting his feet up on the dash, making Kyle mad.  Later, after Kyle dies, Lance looks over to the passenger seat and notices Kyle's dirty footprints on the dash.  It's a poignant reminded to cherish our children and choose our battles wisely.  Who really cares about footprints on the dashboard when you no longer have your children to ride with you?

I said, clean your room!

These next two take a different twist on adding to the family.  In The Stepfather, Michael comes home from school to find his mother in love with David, a new, way-too-perfect boyfriend.  He suspects that something is wrong.  Sure enough, this is a guy who preys on single women, endearing themselves to their family, then murders them and moves on.  In a way, you have to suspend disbelief--how can any woman be duped by a guy like that!  But you might imagine the single mom, ready, even desperate, to have a man to help, someone with a good act might move on in.  As Michael's suspicions escalate, David gets creepier, and they finally have a big standoff, with a violent hunt through the house.  There it turns into standard killer-hunting-his-victims-in-the-house horror movie fare, but pretty well-done. 

In another twist, in Orphan, a couple trying to rebuild their marriage and recover from the pain of losing a child adopts a Russian girl from an area orphanage. It turns out little Esther isn't what she seems, and wreaks havoc on their family, terrorizing their two biological children and driving a wedge between the parents.  The premise is pretty far-fetched, but not totally unbelievable.  This is not a PSA for adoption.  Hopefully it's so far out there that no one would be put off of adopting by this crazy movie.

A tender moment between mother and mutant daughter.

Finally, a little sc-fi family story.  Elsa and Clive, genetic scientists in Splice, have spliced together the DNA of different animals for harvesting tissue.  They want to take the next step, using human DNA, but their company forbids it, so they secretly do so on their own.  Unbeknownst to Clive, Elsa follows her wish to have children and uses her own DNA, producing Dren.  There are some interesting ideas here about cloning, but they are overwhelmed by the horror factor and a huge icky factor. 

Of all these movies, the only one I might recommend is Mother, and that with some caveats.  I'm thankful for a mother who loves me, and the real world's greatest dad.  I'm glad I don't have a stepfather, and thankful for an adopted child who's a terrific kid.  And having a child by genetic splicing never crossed my mind.  My family of birth and my family of marriage aren't perfect, but these crazy movies, in a weird sort of way, remind me to appreciate my family!