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Tim Robbins

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Green around the Gills.


Another catch-up review: As I alluded to in my post on Thor a few months ago, it was always likely that the Summer of the Comic Book B-list was going to have a clunker in there somewhere. So, when Branagh’s Thor turned out surprisingly ok and and Matthew Vaughn conjured a quality entertainment in X-Men: First Class, that put the statistical pressure on Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern and Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger.

Well, at least for now, Cap can breathe a little easier, because Green Lantern, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, is a bit of a dud. It’s not nearly as terrible as some of the reviews make it out to be, and I still think there’s potential here for a quality franchise. (Let’s remember, Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman had serious pacing problems and some majorly poor decisions therein as well — I’m looking at you, Willem DeFoe’s static faceplate.) But this Green Lantern is too often a rote, by-the-numbers origin story. It never establishes much of a rhythm, and too often feels like a film made by a committee. In short, a missed opportunity.

The first red flag happens in the opening moments, as Geoffrey Rush tells us in a leaden voiceover about the Green Lantern Corps — a legion of intergalactic cops, organized and headed by the Guardians of Oa, who are dispatched to guard all the sectors of the universe through judicious use of their willpower-driven rings. This sort of stage-setting exposition dump can be done well — most obviously by Cate Blanchett in Fellowship — but here it feels perfunctory and tacked-on, like somebody rushed it to the beginning of the film after a test screening or two.

The good news, tho’, is we’re in space, and here the movie actually shows some early hints of promise. We watch some alien space marines, shipwrecked on a rocky planet, accidentally awaken an trapped malevolence — the former Oan now known as Parallax. Parallax enjoys the Cheneyesque ability of growing stronger by feeding on fear, and he soon escapes this Rura Penthe to exact his revenge on the Green Lantern Corps, and especially the Lantern who put him under — Abin-Sur of Sector 2814. (This, by the way, is exactly the let-your-freak-flag-fly sort of cosmic craziness that should have animated the whole film. But it’s a tease. We ultimately spend far too much time earthbound.)

So Parallax is loose, and he soon manages to fatally wound his old nemesis Abin-Sur, who then has to find a replacement ringbearer as soon as possible. Enter Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a hotshot Air Force pilot who doesn’t play by the rules!™, but whose swagger and bravado conceals lingering doubts about his abilities™ resulting from the untimely death of his father™. (I know, I know: Green Lantern’s origin is Green Lantern’s origin, but the film doesn’t do its source material much credit by playing it so bland.) Does Hal have it in him to take the ring, face down his fears, and defeat the yellow-tinged forces of Parallax? I dunno…let’s watch him mope for forty-five minutes or so to find out!

In the reviews, Ryan Reynolds has been avoiding most of the blame for what’s wrong with Green Lantern, and I think that’s fair. He’s a likable actor with, as least as far as I can tell, not much range — but, since cocky-but-endearing is his wheelhouse, he ends up being a decent-enough fit for Hal Jordan. Blake Lively, on the other hand, has seen a lot of Haterade thrown her way for this flm. But, while she made more of an impression in The Town, she’s perfectly competent here — The problems with Green Lantern aren’t her fault either. Nor are they really Martin Campbell’s — the film feels well-made throughout.

No, the problem here is pretty clearly with the writing — which probably isn’t surprising given that Green Lantern has all of four credited screenwriters (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldberg — I hope they saved money on the monogramming.) Most obviously, much more of this adventure should have happened in space. The film only really has a pulse when on Oa or somewhere off-planet, but instead we spend far too much time watching Hal Jordan sulk on Earth. So that was a bad decision. But, even beyond that, the film is just all over the place.

For example, we spend several minutes in the early going being introduced to the Young Nephew Who Idolizes Hal™ — and then he never shows up again. Or to take a problem in the opposite direction, for all the Basil Exposition voiceovering going on, I don’t remember the film ever explaining that the Lanterns’ rings don’t actually work against the color yellow, which is a pretty big plot point to save for a sequel. For that matter, you don’t get the sense that Hal ever uses the ring for anything more than making planes and guns in this flick. Either his or his writers’ imagination seems severely limited.

To take just one instance of the lazy writing here, consider the hamhanded way that the demise of the Big Bad is telegraphed in the middle of the film, when Hal is [spoiler]randomly instructed by a fellow Corps member about the power of gravity. Since we’ve already established that Hal is a hotshot pilot unconcerned with his own safety, why not just have him, in a fit of ring-induced euphoria, fly too close to the sun during training and have to be bailed out by Kilowogg et al? Bam, you have instant foreshadowing and character development, and an Icarus metaphor to boot. This is basically a no-brainer.

So, why do I still hold hope for a Green Lantern sequel, even amid all the general blandness here? Well, for one, the origin story is out of the way, and that’s usually what kills these sorts of movies. For another, Green Lantern is much more fun when it’s in space, so perhaps a sequel could fly in that heady direction instead. And then there’s Mark Strong’s turn as Sinestro, the (wink, wink) ostensible head of the Corps. Peter Sarsgaard is pretty solid here as weaselly dweeb Dr. Hector Hammond (tho’, here’s a game for ya: drink every time he screams like he’s in a Lynch and/or Cronenberg film), but Strong is far and away the best thing about the picture. A space-faring adventure that uses him more could be very fun indeed.

Fruits of the Hallows.

With young Master Potter set to commence his crying jags through the wilderness at midnight, the Deathly Hallows crop of trailers has sprung…

In brightest day, in blackest night…

I’ve been watching the casting fly-by on this without commenting, and I still kinda wish they’d gone with Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm for Hal Jordan over the getting-overexposed Ryan Reynolds (who already has two other comic properties to his name in Deadpool and Blade III.) Nonetheless, Mark Strong has joined the cast of Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern as Sinestro, the Lantern’s arch-nemesis. He joins Reynolds, Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond), and Tim Robbins (Sen. Hammond, Hector’s pa.)

Well, that’s a pretty solid cast on the villain side. But I fear this is just going to feel like an attempt to cash in on DC’s second-tier (a la Iron Man on the Marvel side)…unless they go really big and space-age with it. Like Green Lantern Corps, Oans, etc.

The Oughts in Film: Part IV (25-11).

Hello again, and a happy New Year’s Eve to you and yours. Well, I thought this Best of the Decade would end up being four parts, but now it’s looking like five. The recaps for this last twenty-five got so long that MT seems to be consuming the bottom of the entry as I write.

So, with that in mind, here’s #’s 25-11 for the Oughts, with the top ten of the decade to follow in due course. If you’re new to this overview, be sure to check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 before moving on to the…

Top 100 Films of the Decade: Part IV: 25-11
[The Rest of the List: 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1]
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009]


25. Donnie Darko (2001)

From the original review: “All in all, this is a marvelously genre-bending film with wonderful anchoring performances by the Gyllenhaals. I think I liked this movie much more for not knowing a lot about it going in, so I won’t mention the particulars here. But it’s definitely worth seeing. Extra points for the soundtrack, which with ‘Head over Heels,’ ‘Love will Tear Us Apart,’ and ‘Under the Milky Way’…reminded me more of my own high school experience than any other film I can remember. (The Dukakis era setting helped, since that was my own eighth grade year.)

I almost took this movie out of the top 25 on account of its association with Southland Tales and The Box, and even the director’s cut of this film, which snuffs out a lot of this movie’s weird magic by slathering it in needless Midichlorian-style exposition. As I said in my recent review of The Box, Donnie Darko seems to be a clear and undeniable case where studio intervention saved a movie.

Nevertheless, part Philip K. Dick, part John Hughes, Darko was a touching coming-of-age story (thanks in good part to Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne as Donnie’s cranky but loving parents), a decently funny satire about the vagaries of small-town life (think Sparkle Motion, “sleep-golfing,” and the Love-Fear axis), and a trippy sci-fi/psychological thriller. (Was Donnie really talking to a demon-rabbit from the future, or was he just off his meds? The original version muddles this question a lot better than the Kelly cut.)

Whether or not Richard Kelly just got struck by lightning here, everyone else involved clearly brought their A-game to this production. Two Gyllenhaals got on the Hollywood board with this flick, although Maggie would have to wait for Secretary to really break out. The Michael Andrews score contributed mightily to the proceedings, as did the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World,” which got a lot of run in the Oughts, from Gears of War to American Idol. And there are plenty of quality performances in the margins, from the late Patrick Swayze riffing on his image, to Beth Grant typecasting herself for the decade, to Katharine Ross coming back for one more curtain call. Fluke or not, the original version of Donnie Darko was one strange and memorable bunny, alright.


24. High Fidelity (2000)

From the year-end list: “An excellent adaptation of a great book, even if I preferred the Elvis Costello britrock emphasis of Hornby’s tome to the indie Subpop scene of the movie.

Charlie, you f**king b**ch! Let’s work it out!” Arguably John Cusack’s finest hour (although 1999’s Being John Malkovich is right up there, and I know many might cite the Lloyd Dobler of old), Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity has continued to grow on me over the years. If it counts as one of David Denby’s slacker-striver romances (see the discussion of Knocked Up at #40), it’s definitely the one that hits closest to home for me.

The first thing people usually remember about this movie is all the Jack Black/Todd Louiso banter in the record store. (“It’s a Cosssssby sweater!“) And it’s true — All of that stuff is both really funny and all too telling about the elitism and obsessiveness inherent to the fanboy mentality — “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own ‘Blonde on Blonde’! It’s gonna be okay.” Besides, let’s face it, this entire end-of-the-decade list is really just an extended High Fidelity-style Top 5 (and I had a great time back in July organizing my history books chronologically, a la Rob’s record collection.)

Still, as with the book, High Fidelity‘s killer app is really the dispatches filed from Rob’s romantic life, as he ponders what went wrong with his Top 5 Crushes gone awry. (“We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.“) There’s a lot of truthiness throughout High Fidelity, from Rob’s catastrophic hang-up on Charlie (Catherine Zeta Jones) to his eff-the-world rebound with an equally besotted Sarah (Lili Taylor), to his single-minded infatuation about whether his ex, Laura (Iben Hjejle), has slept with the loathsome new boyfriend, Ian (fellow Tapehead Tim Robbins in a great cameo) yet.

In short, I’d argue High Fidelity gets the inner-male monologue closer to right than any flick this side of Annie Hall. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, it’s funny because it’s true.


23. In the Mood for Love (2000) / 2046 (2004)

From the original review: “Since I spent Friday evening watching In the Mood for Love — a tale of a romance-that-almost-was, told in furtive hallway glances — and 2046 — a broader and more diffuse disquisition on love and heartache — back-to-back, here’s an

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