Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Wasn't Even Supposed to BE Here Today ... Clerks II Review!


When I first heard about Clerks II (initially dubbed "The Passion of the Clerks"), I was kind of annoyed. I mean, at one time Kevin Smith was the great white hope for a new generation of filmmakers. As I've said in previous posts - the breath of fresh air that was Clerks and to a slightly lesser extent Mallrats seemed to be the coming out party for the next great writer/director. Here was a guy in Smith who, with limited money and resources, made movies that felt more real, more authentic, than anything else coming out at the time. Smith captured his voice in his characters - he fed lines to Dante and Randall and Jay and Brodie that not only reflected his own personality, but seemed to capture, please excuse the cliche, the voice of a generation - of outcasts, geeks, burnouts, and everymen. Soon, Kevin Smith had created his own fictional meta-verse, where the mundane suburbs of New Jersey met with over the top characters like Jay and Silent Bob. But after movies like Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back disappointed many, the question became - "what's next?" Smith had a few acclaimed runs as a comic book writer - on Daredevil and Green Arrow, notably, and the strength of that writing seemed to prove that Smith was moving past the View Askewniverse - he was set for his Big Movie - his epic. It was clear that he could write more than just dudes talking about sex and comics. So Kevin Smith seemed to take the next step - he was hired by Warner Bros to write big screen superheroes - not just any mind you - they hired him to write the Superman movie - the holy grail of big-budget movies. Despite generally positive feedback, Smith's take on Superman never moved past the script stage. Next up for him was a gig writing and directing Green Hornet - an adaptation of the cult classic TV show. It could have been Smith's move from Woody Allen style, talky indie auteurism into Tarantino-ish action / adventure. But Smith was overwhelmed by the project and called it off.

Then came Jersey Girl - a return to a smaller-scale, but a new low for Smith in terms of critical reception. Sure, it suffered from the whole Bennifer thing, but still, it had none of the brashness, the humor, the authenticity of, say, Clerks.

So with Clerks II, Kevin Smith basically said "screw it," and revisited his one movie that was both criticially acclaimed and beloved by fandom. So yeah, I was annoyed. I wanted to see Kevin Smith's unique sensibilities transplanted to an action movie, or science fiction, or anything other than another Jay and Silent Bob movie.

But after a while, I realized what Smith himself probably realized - this is what he does. Sure, he may write the occasional comic book, and he may yet branch out into new thematic territory, but with Clerks II he went back and made a legit Kevin Smith movie. And just like I'm not clamoring for Christopher Guest to make an action film or John Woo to do a comedy, I can accept that maybe this is Kevin Smith's little niche and this is what he'll do. Because when Smith is on his game, like he is here, he creates some of the funniest comedies around.

The fact is that Clerks II is excellent. Right now I'd call it my third favorite Kevin Smith movie behind Clerks and Mallrats, though that could change. But this one is a real achievement for Smith, because it's probably his first movie to effectively be both hilarious and yet also sentimental. I say effectively because Smith has done annoyingly sentimental in Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl, and underwhelmingly funny in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. This movie had me laughing out loud but also had me legitimately into the emotions of the main characters - characters, mind you, who spend most of the movie talking about things like the relative virtues of ass-to-mouth contact.

And a sidenote - seriously, what is wrong with Joel Siegal? I'm sure the guy has seen a lot of movies in his time. Since he's a professional film critic, he's probably seen the works of John Waters. He's seen raunchy comedies like American Pie and the like. So some crass humor about "interspecies erotica" is so offensive to him that he makes Clerks II the first movie he walks out of in 30 years, loudly dissing them movie as he exits the theater?!?! Okay ...

But make no mistake about it, Clerks II pushes the limit - I'm almost surprised it got away with a mere R-rating. While the overarching plot of the film is essentially about two best friends at a crossroads in life, and is actually very sentimental, the meat of the film is classic Kevin Smith - humor so crude that even the most impossible to phase fan will be legit shocked at some of the stuff going on. I know I was. But I was also laughing my ass off - this film is very funny, and mixes the witty banter of Clerks with the visual and slapstick humor of Mallrats to great comedic effect. You've got guys getting their groove on with donkeys, impromptu dance scenes, Jay baring all, and more - enough vulgar humor to satisfy anyone's inner 13 year old. With Clerks 2, I'd have to say Smith sets a new standard for comedic vulgarity - but it's not so much in a "I'm here to shock you" kind of way, just in a "I'm gonna let you in to my sick, depraved world of adolescent humor" kind of way. You know how with your best friends you feel free to joke about things you wouldn't with most? Well here, the entire audience is Smith's best friend - he's as unfiltered with us as he might be with his old college roommate.

Then you've got the classic geek convos. The defining moment of Clerks that forever made Smith a geek icon was probably Dante and Randall's classic Star Wars-centric debates. Here Smith once again simultaneously pays homage to and mocks the fanboy mentality as his characters debate the merits of Transformers, weigh in on Lord of the Rings, and wonder when conventional jail cells will be replaced with carbonite freezing chambers. I have to say that I was a little surprised by the character of Elias - who basically is a caricature of a huge nerd / repressed Catholic. I was surprised that Kevin Smith, who has in the past glorified the geek, creating two of the coolest nerds ever on film in Clerks' Randall and Mallrats' Brodie, would create a character basically existing to be mocked. But hey, Elias was a.) hilarious, and b.) served a purpose of giving Randall someone to ruthlessly mock and reflect on the messed-up state of kids these days, as if to say that Randall's brand of old school, badass / smart-mouthed geekdom trumps Elias' repressed, new-school brand of web-wired nerdiness. Whatever the case, Elias made me laugh, so whatever his "point" is in the movie, it is overshadowed by the hilarity of seeing Elias drunk and way too into a performance of "interspecies erotica."

And again, Smith trots out an amusing parade of cameos - lost souls who wander into Mooby's fast food restaurant and inevitably stir up trouble. You've got View Askew royalty, Jason Lee, making a great cameo. Wanda Sykes, always funny in brief appearances, inciting a hilarious debate over the usage of various racial slurs. Jason Lee's My Name Is Earl partner in crime, Ethan Suplee, is always welcome in any movie as far as I'm concerned, and even Ben Affleck, Smith's good pal, makes a nice little cameo. Sure, it would have been cool to see Jason Lee as Brodie appear, but hey, Smith packs in enough nods to previous films to satiate any View Askew fanboy. Milkmaids, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and "I'm not even supposed to be here today" all get referenced.

And as far as the main characters - man, I love these guys. Just the way everything Randall says is dripping with a smartass sarcasm and bitterness barely concealing his own feelings of patheticness. The way Dante has this Charlie Brown like sincerity that causes him to wax emotively on his fears about getting married and his opposition to ass-to-mouth contact with equal amounts of sincerity. Are these guys good actors? Who knows. As far as this movie goes, they ARE Dante and Randall. They have double chins, bad skin, are balding, and in the case of Dante, the guy is just plain ugly. By the end of the movie, they don't feel like actors, even if their acting skills aren't going to compared to Olivier anytime soon.

And that, however, is almost the one fatal flaw of this movie. Dante Hicks, ten years after the first Clerks, is such a pathetic, weird-looking dude that him wooing two women at once, one of which is Rosario Dawson, strains credibility to the absolute extremes. Smith's direction doesn't flatter his actors either - he presents them in harsh lighting and awkward angles. The guys look every bit of the washed up thirty-somethings that their characters are supposed to be. At least in the original Clerks, the women Dante had to choose between were pretty average looking as well, neither one a real winner in looks or in personality. But here, Rosario Dawson is basically a geek goddess - sure, she's a mere manager at Mooby's, but in every other way she is playing a dream girl. And of all people she likes a fat, rapidly aging, ugly bastard like Dante Hicks? A guy who is ALREADY engaged to marry a lean blond? This one stretch of credibility was almost a deal-breaker, but you know what ... after a while I just kind of accepted it. Kevin Smith eased things by at least having the script, via Randall, acknowledge the fact that Dante's situation was pretty improbable. So whatever, in the end it turned out not to be that big of a deal. Because when confronted with a Rosario Dawson, all of us semi-geeky guys would probably feel a bit like Dante Hicks looks, ya know?

Anyways ... the movie worked for me. In the end, even the walking-the-line-of cheesy ending won me over, and I got caught up in the fun and nostalgia of having the picture revert to grainy black and white as Soul Asylum's "Misery" played, channelling the spirit of the early 90's days of grunge and angst and Clerks 1 to great effect. By the end of the film, I was ready to revisit more of the View Askewniverse, eager to check back in with the adventures of Dante and Randall every few years and see what those guys were up to, just like you might check in with your old buddy from high school who used to make you laugh, just like faux Onion columnist Jim Anchower reappears every few months and begins his latest tale of slacker woe with "Well, it's been a long time since I rapped at ya ..."

It had been a long time since we last checked in with the guys from Clerks, and it really was like hanging out with old friends - so on that level Kevin Smith really accomplished something here. Plus, he made a damn funny movie, and reminded me why I ever liked Kevin Smith or Clerks or Jay and Silent Bob in the first place. At its core this is just a movie about a few geeks talking about vulgar or nerdy stuff. But there's also a lot of heart here, a real sense of time passing - of it really having been ten years since Clerks - since it really HAS been that long. It's a flawed movie, a simplistic movie in some ways, and yeah, it's basically just rehashing many of the same old themes from Clerks, without the same sense of newness or importance or cultural relevance that that movie had - that one was a real product of the 90's - and so is this one, to an extent - a revisitation of what was once great but is now merely very good. But it does recapture that old grittiness, that old bite. It made me want to go home, write down some snappy dialogue, and make a movie. And it made me care, in a way I haven't in a long time, about what's next from Kevin Smith.

My Grade: A -

Finally Blogged Again: My Superman Sequels - Part 2 of 2.

Okay, so reading over my last entry, it had some logic gaps, misspellings, lack of clarity, etc - keep in mind that it wasn't written under ideal circumstances, and likely, this post won't be either. Also, remember that these are just very broad strokes here - I'm not going into much detail except where it really counts, and of course some of the ideas are fluid and not 100 % hammered out. But anyways, time to continue with how I would do the Superman sequels - and create a two-part Superman epic that would be worthy of the comic, the character, and the legacy of Superman.

Where we left off:

In Superman 2:

The citizens of earth believe Superman is dead. In his greatest battle to date, Superman fought the mysterious monster known as Doomsday in a battle that spanned from Smallville to Metropolis. Making his last stand in Metropolis, with Lois, Jimmy, and the world looking on, Superman used the last of his strength to defeat Doomsday, saving his adopted home. The sacrifice was made all the more tragic because just before his last stand, Superman revealed his true identity to Lois Lane, proposing to her knowing that he may never again have a chance to tell her how he feels. Lois had been growing closer to Clark Kent since the unresolved murder of her fiance Richard White, and accepted the proposal, finally putting the pieces together.

What had happened to Richard? At a press event held by the enigmatic Lex Luthor II, Richard stumbled upon a mysterious lab at Lexcorp HQ. Subdued by Lexcorp security, Richard is murdered point blank by the previously benevelont-seeming Luthor the 2nd, who had emerged following the disappearance of Lex Luthor, claiming to be the long lost son of the notorious criminal who sought atonement for his father's sins.

What Superman later discovered was that Lex Luthor had made a deal with the devil - Darkseid! Marooned on an island and near death following the events of Superman Returns, Luthor made a pact with the alien ruler of the planet Apokolips - Darkseid brought Luthor to his hellish planet and cloned him a new body and gave him access to alien tech, in exchange for Luthor's knowledge of Superman's son. Darkseid had conquered many worlds, but he long sought something more - the Anti-Life Equation. Darkseid believed that long ago, the Kryptonians had discovered this secret, and its arcane code was hidden, embedded in the very DNA of the Kryptonians. Aeons ago, the Kryptonians had experimented with Anti-Life to create monster Doomsday, who nearly destroys the planet. Darkseid alone imprisoned Doomsday deep within the earth - where one day he would unleash him and conquer the planet. But now his plan had changed. Darkseid saw Superman, the last Kryptonian, as his one obstacle in conquering Earth. But Doomsday was the perfect weapon - programmed to destroy any and all Kryptonian life. Darkseid views Lex as his pawn, but Lex clearly hasn't told the dark god eveything he knows.

In the course of Superman's epic battle with Doomsday, Lex Luthor II reveals to the world a plan to stop the monster - a weapon made of synthesized kryptonite. Lex uses the weapon, which weakens Doomsday, but also Superman! Superman confronts Lex 2, realizing that he is in fact the original Lex Luthor. Superman disposes of Lex, and the battle continues.

Meanwhile, Darkseid's minions have found Superman's son and abducted him - bringing him to the infamous child prisons of Armagetto, on the dreaded planet Apokolips.

As the world mourns Superman following his battle with Doomsday, the body of Superman disappears. Not fully dead, Superman has been transported to the planet New Genesis, the Eden-like neighbor of Apokolips inhabited by a race of super-beings - a once idyllic world that has been all but destroyed by Darkseid's armies. Superman is revived and healed by the strange tech of New Genesis, and told of Darkseid and his plans to invade earth, as well as the fate of his son. Superman gathers his strength and travels to Apokolips, equipped with a Motherbox device that conceals his appearance.

On earth, the world is driven to despair by their hero's apparent death. Lex Luthor II sees his plans come to fruition - he uses the resources of Lexcorp to repair and protect Metropolis in the wake of Doomsday, and begs the people to look to humanity for anwers, not an alien savior. He warns that Doomsday could only be the first of many more extraterrestrial threats to come.

In the ghettos of Apokolips, the lowlies toil hopelessly under the iron rule of Darkseid. But unbeknownst to them, a symbol of strength and hope is in their midst -- Superman!


Which brings us to ...


- On Apokolips, Superman poses as a lowly. He is whipped and beaten by his taskmasters as he toils in the Fire Pits, but bides his time before revealing himself, listening for any word about his son's location.

- In Smallville, Lois Lane meets Ma Kent - the two share memories of Clark and mourn the man sho they still believe to have died at the hands of Doomsday, as well as Lois' son, who has now been missing for a month. But their grief is interrupted by a strange visit - a party of emmissaries arrive from New Genesis - informing Lois that Kal-El still lives. They tell her of her son's capture and imprisonment in Apokolips. They say things are grim, but that hope remains.

- On Apokolips, Superman sees prisoners abused by the Task Masters, and can stomach their oppression no longer. He incites a riot, revealing himself as Superman, and sparking a gleam of hope for the first time in centuries in the lowlies of Aopklips. But Superman is eventually overwhelmed and captured by Darkseid's forces, and brought to the palace of Darkseid himself.

- On earth, the New Genesis emmisaries, led by Highfather, approach Washington DC and try to warn the President of the impending Apokoliptian invasion. The people are terrified, wishing that Superman was still around to protect them. Highfather tries to explain that Superman yet lives, but Lex Luthor II is skeptical. He says the humanity must decide it's own fate, and offers his services to aid the military in its operations.

- In a grand gesture, Lex Luthor II unveils his master stroke -- an army of cloned Superman, each completely and utterly dedicated to their cause - to serve and protect the interests of America. These LexCorp-created super-soldiers will be the key to earth's chances against an invading force.

- Brought before Darkseid, Superman is made to kneel before the dark god of Apokolips. Superman tries to fight back, but stripped of his motherbox and faced with Darkseid's near-omnipotent Omega Effect, Clark is beaten. Darkseid admires Superman's valor, and tells him of a part of Kryptonian history that he didn't know - of the Kryptonians' discovery of Anti-Life and their creation of Doomsday. We see Doomsday wreaking havoc across Krypton and other planets - each sending their champion to defeat the reature but failing. Only two men have ever defeated the creature -- Superman, and Darkseid. We see Darkseid condront the monster on Apokolips in flashback. Broken and near death, Darkseid uses his Omega Effect to imprison Doomsday. Darkseid explains how the secrets of Anti-Life are embedded in Kryptonian DNA hidden for centuries. He believes that conversely, the secret of Positive Life are inherent in human beings. Thus a half-human, half Kryptonian could become a being of unmeasurable power - that is why he has kidnapped Superman's son - he will be the catalyst for Darkseid to achieve complete and utter omnipotence!

- Superman vows to rescue his son and stop Darkseid - but Darkseid reveals that the invasion of earth has already begun. Using his Boom Tube technology, his forces can instantly travel the galaxies and attack Earth wheresoever he chooses.

- On earth, the first wave of attacks begin. The militaries of the world go into combat against the Parademons of Apokolips. Lex II unleashes his army of Supermen - they handily defeat the Parademons bt something odd begins to happen - an inevitable effect of attempting to maniupulate Kryptonian DNA ... the clones begin to rapidly decompose on a cellular level - their skins whiten, their complexions change, their features become grotesque -- they are Bizarros! The army of Bizarros now perceive everything backwards - they believe their mission is to destroy rather than to protect.

- On earth, The New Genesians sense the danger that Superman is in - realizing that freeing his son is the key to saving Earth, they decide to infiltrate Apokolips and rescue the boy. Meanwhile, cub reporter Jimmy Olsen has been following this strange beings, and stows away in their boom-tube trip to Apokolips!

- Jimmy Olsen and the New Genesians stage a rescue operation on Apoklips - they break into Armagetto and grab the boy, and then are met by Superman, who is overjoyed to be freed and see his son. Highfather warns him of the invasion of Earth - and Superman knows he must return and help his adopted planet - but he vows to one day return to Apokolips and help its oppressed people. But as he leaves, he sees that all around him the tides are changing, and for the first time, inspired by this strange alien known as Superman, the lowlies of Apokolips have been given hope.

- On earth, Lois writes a story on the Bizarro phenomena, and talks with top scientists who propose that their rampage could be stopped through a chemical weapon that would affect only clones. The weapon is developed and unleashed, and the Bizarros are vanquished. All but one that is - Bizarro #1, who somehow escapes the weapon's effects and dons the mantle of the still-presumed-dead Superman, believing that in his absence, the earth needs a hero.

- As Lois worries about Clark and her son, the two return from New Genesis. Superman announces his return to the world, and warns of a second wave of Apokoliptian forces. Superman volunteers to lead the world's armies in the assault. Most cheer his return, but some, led by Luthor, warn that superman, an alien, may just be a herald of the invading forces.

- Even so, Luthor's credibility is harmed as he begins to become sickly - affected by the same anti-clone weapon used to defeat the Bizarros. Lois investigates and uncovers a trail of lies and deceit - Lex Luthor II is simply a clone of the original! Threatening to publish the story - Lois is confronted by Lex. He tells her not to publish the story, because if she does, something will happen to her son. What? Lex reveals that he's been working with Kryptonian DNA for many years, seeking to doscover its secrets. He made a pact with Darkseid to help create the ultimate super-being. Lois' son is not the product of her and Superman's - it is a clone, artificially created with Superman's DNA and Lex's! He has built in failsafes in the genetic programming - when he wants to be, he is in full control of the boy!

- Despite Lex's voice of opposition, Superman leads the earth's armies as the second wave of attacks begin. Superman must battle the highest ranking lieutenants of Darkseid, and rallies the armies and the people of earth with his leadership and bravery in battle.

- Of course, this is all a prelude to the main event - Darkseid himself arrives on Earth and vows to destroy Superman once and for all. Darkseid destroys the armies, Bizarro, and leads the elite forced of Apokolips on a path of destruction. When things look bleakest though, Superman is joined by the remaining forces of New Genesis - they defeat the Apokoliptians and it's down to Superman vs. Darkseid. With all the world watching the two duke it out. But Lex sees this as his opportuniy to stkie. He activates the contol mechanism in Lois's son's DNA - and triggers the anti-life / life equation. Transformed, this new Superboy jumps into the fray with Darkseid, and uses his newfound power to imprison Darkseid in the great Source Wall - the ancient barrier that houses the Old Gods doomed to eternally inhabit its rocky heights.

- Superman is victorious, but in his final ploy, Lex compels this new Superboy to turn against Superman. As Lois looks on, Superman refuses to fight back, even if it kills him. Lex watches in joy as his enemy is crushed. But the boy's conciousness fights back - he realizes that he has become something more than human, and, accompanied by the New Genesians, bids Superman farewell as he flies off into space on a quest of discovery and knowledge.

- With no more leverage against Superman or Lois, Lex is exposed as the fraud that he is. He had tasted credibility, legitimacy, but now he was once again a prisoner. Lex makes one last bid to attack Superman with another synth kryptonite weapon, but after all he has endured, Superman will have none of it. "Not this time, Lex. This time I fight back. I'll always fight back."

- With Lex defeated, Clark and Lois ponder the fate of their not-quite-son, but realize that he had become something more - they were never meant to raise him. But at least the two are now together, finally. In Smallville, the two are married, and nearly everyone thinks that it is merely the wedding of two colleagues who fell in love. Little do they realize that they are witness the consummation of one of the great epic romances, between Superman and Lois Lane. But finally, after death and torture, heartbreak and loss - with little fanfare and a small crowd (even if the likes of Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are in attendance ...), Superman gets his happy ending.

So - there it is, the broadstrokes at least. What do you think? Get James Cameron or Sam Raimi to direct and we're in business.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Finally Blogged: How I Would do the SUPERMAN SEQUELS ...! Part 1 of 2.

Okay, so I've been meaning to write this down for a while, but haven't really had an opportunity. But now that the hype, and subsequent backlash has dimmed into a relative state of apathy towards Superman Returns, I thought I'd chime in address how I'd do the sequels. Since it will be a few more years yet until I'm a writer with the clout to approach WB and make it happen (give me 4 or 5 years ... ), I will say only this: Warners - feel free to steal my ideas ... god knows you need 'em.

Now, Bryan Singer and his writing team have painted themselves into a number of corners with the job they did with Superman Returns. Going into sequels, these are going to be some really tough narrative obstacles to overcome. What are these obstacles, you ask:

1.) Superman has a kid.

2.) Lois Lane is still engaged to Richard White, essentially making the returning Superman a homewrecker.

3.) Clark Kent is still a bumbling idiot, and Lois has no idea that he's Superman.

4.) Lex Luthor, potentially a key supporting character and / or villain in future sequels, is a dim-witted used-car salesman and inept villain.

5.) Casting problems - Superman is still too effeminate, Lois is too cold, not to mention young, and Spacey is simply Hackman-lite as Luthor rather than the character reinvention we had hoped for.

Okay, so in going forward with these sequels we'll have to address these problems - but I am not a fan of all of breaking with established series continuity, so I wouldn't be in favor of simply forgetting about the kid for example in the name of having a clean slate. As long as the franchise is going to continue in it's current form, they will have to address some of the original movie's problems while continuing to reinvent the series organically.

My two sequels would be a total change in direction - an epic two-part adventure that would send Superman across time and space, see Superman and Lois finally reunited, make Superman's son into his greatest threat, reestablish Lex Luthor as the great villain that he should be, and pit Superman in epic battles against Doomsday, Darkseid, Bizarro, and the armies of Apokolips!

So, on with it - here is my plan for SUPERMAN 2:

- Following the events of Superman Returns, Lex Luthor is missing and presumed dead. In his place emerges Lex Luthor II, apparent long-lost son of Lex Luthor. He vows to make good on his father's name and atone for the sins of his father. He begins Lexcorp, a corporation dedicated to advanced scientific research.

- Richard White covers the story of Lex II's emergence. Taking a press-tour of the new state of the art Lexcorp facilities, he stumbles upon some information he shouldn't have though, and bang! - he's a goner at Luthor II's hand.

- Lois is torn up at Richard's death -- she turns to Clark for comfort, realizing there's more to him than she thought. But as they begin to get closer ...

- In Smallville, Kansas, deep underground near the spot where Superman's rocket landed years ago, a monster emerges from it's prison - DOOMSDAY.

- Doomsday reeks havoc on Smallville - Ma Kent, Lana Lang, and Pete Ross run for their lives - until Superman swoops in to save the day.

- The majority of the movie is Superman vs. Doomsday in a knockdown, drag-out brawl. For some reason, Doomsday is compelled to cause a path of destruction that leads him on a road directly to Metropolis. After seemingly defeating Doomsday in Smallville, the monster breaks away from his military captors and appears to grow exponentially stonger. The world is in a literal panic over this unstoppable creature, who has fought off every weapon known to man as he forges ahead towards Metropolis, seemingly drawn towards the one thing he's after -- Superman.

- Meanwhile, Lex II uses his newfound clout to arrange a deal with the military. He claims to have unique insight into the monster known as Doomsday and will develop a weapon to stop him.

- As Doomsday approaches Metropolis, Clark begins to become fearful. He realizes he's never faced a threat like this - a creature his equal in strength and speed. He might not win. He might die. He realizes he can't go into this fight without telling Lois how he feels. He tells her he's Superman. He proposes to her. When he gets out of this fight, if he gets out, they'll be engaged.

- To add to the heartbreak, Perry White wants Lois and Jimmy on the ground to cover the battle. Lois protests, but Perry insists that she knows Superman better than anyone.

- Meanwhile, Lois' son is pulled away by a strange light. He finds himself taken away across time and space to a far away place - a prison, but not on our own world. Surrounded by lowly children, he is eventually singled out and taken away - he is the special one.

- Lois, covering the Doomsday story, does not know that her son has been mysteriously abducted.

- Superman makes his last stand - it's on - Superman vs. Doomsday - the final battle!

- The two go at it like two prize fighters, the earth shaking with every strike. Superman is losing! He's dying! Perched safely in Lexcorp tower, Luthor II can't help but smirk at Superman's pain, betraying his own malevolence. But he knows he must act according to his scheme - he unleashes his weapon - a beam of synthesized, concentrated Kryptonite! It's working, but not only is is killing Doomsday, it's killing Superman! Superman flees, confronts Lex 2 - what is he doing? Lex smiles at Superman - and Superman knows - it's Lex Luthor I. Lex betrays his plan - the city will be destroyed - and he will rebuild it. Superman will be dead - and Lex will be the people's new savior. In a rage, Superman destroys the krytonite weapon and heads back into battle.

- The endgame - Superman vs. Doomsday. Each blow is like a trainwreck. Both are wavering. In a final punch, Superman uses the last of his strength to defeat Doomsday - but Superman, alas, is DEAD.

- Lois is a wreck, all of America, all of earth, is in mourning. But at Superman's funeral, something odd happens - the body disappears. Is it some divine ressurection? A miracle? As the world wonders if Superman is in fact dead, we cut to Superman, opening his eyes, in a virtual garden of eden. He is on the planet of New Genesis - surrounded by brightly colored super-beings. Their leader, Highfather, explains that they have summoned him to New Genesis to heal him and to warn him. Doomsday was only a preemptive strike. We pan out to see that New Genesis is in ruins - it has been invaded and all but destroyed by the forces of its neighboring planet ... Apokolips, and its ruler, the great Darkseid. Darkseid unleashed Doomsday as an envoy to destroy Superman - his one obstacle to conquering Earth! In addition, Highfather informs Clark that his son has been kidnapped and brought to the prisons of Armagetto - the foulest region of Apokolips, where Darkseid believes that the boy is somehow the key to the anti-life equation - a formula that the Kryptonians had embedded in their DNA long ago, that had bene thought lost in time. Hearing this, Superman vows to find his son and stop Darkseid, no matter the cost. Highfather bids Superman good luck, and gives him a Motherbox - New Genesis tech that can open a boom tube to Apokolips, and conceal his appearance. BOOM! Superman warps to Apokolips, determined to save his son.

- On earth, Lex 2 explains to the press that Doomsday was Kryptonian in origin - a misguided creation of Kryptonian science. He believes that Superman's presence attracted the beast to our world - that now is the time to embrace humanity - and its science and achievements, not super-beings. He vows to rebuild Metropolis, and to create a special police force to keep it safe from all threats.

- We then see Lex approached by a hulking, monstrous figure -- Darkseid! Darkseid says that Lex did his part in guiding him to the son of Kal-El - the probably key to the anti-life equation, the discovery of which consumes Darkseid's existence. In turn, Darkseid created for Lex a new body, a new life, given him access to alien technology, and handed him Metropolis on a silver platter. The final step is near - Lex will use his technology to aid in Darkseid's impending conquest of Earth! Darkseid boom-tubes away, as Lex smirks - Darkseid has underestimated his cunning, he thinks.

- Coda: On Apokolips - the lowly peasants toil in the great shadow of Darkseid, with no hope, no spirit, no savior in sight. But in the midst of the lowlies, a stranger appears, unnoticed by the servants of Darkseid but drawing curiousity from the lowlies. Cloaked in black, the stranger defiantly approaches a monolithic statue of Darkseid. Sinking his fist into the black steel, he carves out a familiar S-shield. Stunned, the lowlies approach and warn him not to do any more to incite Darkseid's wrath. What is it, they ask? What is the carving? A symbol, replies, the stranger, removing his hood - now revealed as Superman - a symbol of Hope ...


So, what do ya think ...?!?!

NEXT: The saga continues!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

You, Me And Dupree Review


- The disappointing thing with this movie is that it has one of those premises that we've seen before, but pretty much always has good potential for comedy despite how many times the same exact setup has been used. It's simple - three is a crowd, and therefore hilarity ensues. In this case, the Third Man is Owen Wilson, basically just doing a lot of Owen Wilson-y schtick. Funny in theory, but this is not really the quirky Owen Wilson character that was so funny in Meet the Parents or The Life Aquatic. What made Wilson so funny in many of his other movies is that you can't quite pinpoint where he's coming from. He looks like a stoned surfer dude, but he has this kind of cockiness as well, a real blue-blood type snobbery, almost. Usually, Owen Wilson plays some of the more complex comedic characters out there, which is why I've become a big fan of his over the years - I mean, I legitimately was a big fan of Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, for crying out loud. How many people can say THAT? But, unfortunately, what we get here is total, cookie-cutter Owen Wilson as Hollywood's idea of Funny Man. Take one part of Owen's trademark stoned mock-sincerity as was so popular in the overrated Wedding Crashers, one dash of standard, Hollywood WACKINESS (TM Jim Carrey, TM Will Ferell), mix together and let the hijinks ensue. So yeah, You, Me, and Dupree never amounts to a movie where the actor's uniqueness shapes the movie into something great and hilarious, like, say, the similarly-themed What About Bob. Instead, this is a case of the actor struggling to retain his integrity and uniqueness while doing a pretty paint by numbers movie (think Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty).

There are moments that are definitely funny. The entire climactic sequence with Owen as Dupree "blowing seven kinds of smoke" in order to create a distraction for his pal Matt Dillon is pretty hilarious. And there's a few other random moments that definitely bring the funny. But overall, we have an uneven mix of Owen Wilson shennanigans coupled with a totally bland couple of Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson, and an embarrasingly lame performance by Michael Douglass. Douglass tries his best to channel the inspired serious-guy-does-comedy stylings of Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents, but let's face it, Michael Douglass is no DeNiro, in drama or comedy. His character here is just straining for laughs, and we, like him, become very uncomfortable whenever he's on screen.

But back to Dillon and Hudson as our main newlywedded couple. Yikes, talk about unlikable. Dillon for some reason plays his character here like he's the freaking Punisher or something, practically growling out his lines and looking at all times like he's about to pop a cap in somebody. In one scene he just unironically calls Owen Wilson a "homo." Okay ...

Hudson also is pretty stiff in this movie, partly because it's how her character is written. But she is just a typical stereotype here - the stern, good head on her shoulders wife who still has a soft spot for her husbands' goofy friend. So yeah, basically she is playing Wilma Flintstone. Nice.

Even Seth Rogen, so good in Freaks and Geeks, 40 Year Old Virgin, etc, is reduced to a lame role that is a combo of a few different sitcom characters we've all seen about 5 billion times. Like everything else in the movie, very paint-by-numbers.

Like I said, it's funny at times, but the two or three memorable lines get drowned out by the other two hours or so of derivative blandness. This movie never really takes things far enough, never pushes the envelope. Owen Wilson's character never does anything THAT bad, except burn down the house, but hey I saw Steve Urkel do that on Family Matters like 15 years ago. Give me something new here. Anything.

And, P.S. - those radio commercials really were annoying.

My Grade: C

Monday, July 10, 2006

Pirates of The Carribean 2: The Review


Pirates 2 is like The Empire Strikes Back by way of The Mummy Returns. It's darker and more complex than the first Pirates, but also BIGGER! LOUDER! CRAZIER! - pretty much a non-stop thrill-ride from start to finish. But is all this sound and fury a bad thing? No Lisa Schwartzbaum, it's not. After my last summer blockbuster experience, filled with brooding, angsty heroes (cough*Superman*cough) and more moping than action, it was nice to see a true summer popcorn movie that thoroughly kicked my ass. Sure, the completely over-the-top, madcap antics of the movie prevent it from having the same gravity and weight of other, more serious-minded franchise like say, Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars. But you won't find a more fun or more entertaining movie that Pirates 2.

What makes Pirates rise above the similarly in-ya-face actioners of Steven Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing, etc - which I have always enjoyed as sugary, B-movie guilty pleasures), is a.) a clever, intricate, and surprisingly continuity-heavy script and b.) great, memorable characters played by a universally talented, charismatic cast.

As far as point A goes - the writers and director Gore Verbinski really mine every little detail from the first movie to create the illusion (I doubt they had this all planned from the beginning) that Pirates exists in a cohesive universe as grand and as interconnected as anything from the mind of JRR Tolkien, Stan Lee, or George Lucas. Seemingly inconsequential details from the first movie are painstakingly referenced and woven into the fabric of a sweeping mythology, and EVERY character, big, small, or simian, is along for the ride and gets their chance to shine. And the remarkable thing is that by acknowledging nearly every dangling plot point, no matter how small, from Part 1, the movie now gives instant credibility to Part 3 - we can now have complete faith that any dangling plot threads from THIS movie will eventually be addressed.

And again, speaking to Point B, even though this movie contains virtually nonstop action, it makes time for plenty of telling character bits that continue the main character arcs from the first movie and set things up for an epic conclusion. Some of the directions that the characters were taken in were surprisingly unexpected. Sure, we all knew that Johnny Depp as "Captain" Jack Sparrow was slowly becoming more heroic, but I didn't expect Kiera Knightly's Elizabeth to go to such dark places, or Orlando Bloom's Will Turner, for that matter. Every character is given more depth than they had in the first movie, so anyone who argues this movie skimps on character in favor of action is full of crap. There is a way to cram in character arcs organically in the midst of all hell breaking loose, and this movie does just that. As far as the main characters go - Depp is hilarious and yet strangely menacing and unpredictable as Sparrow, as always - and man, what an entrance the guy makes. Depp deserves his props for making Sparrow a totally original character far beyond, I'm sure, what he was originally intended as. Knightly and Bloom of course do run the danger of being a little bland at times, but overall they are given a lot more to work with here than in the first movie, and I liked the character of Will Turner a lot more given that he had a bit of depth to him this time around. Also, as I mentioned, each and every supporting character is given a moment to shine, and suddenly characters like the quintissential pirate Gibbs and the comedic duo of Pintel and Ragetti (hilariously played by The Office's McKenzie Crook) went from being just amusing in the first movie to beloved crowd favorites in the second. As far as villains go, Davey Jones was pretty awesome - a classic conflicted bad guy, tragic and grotesque like all the great movie monsters.

But speaking of Davey Jones, let's forget about the script for a moment and talk about the amazing visuals. I love the visual f/x and stunning character design of the movie - one of the first examples I can recall where CGI character and design work in a live-action setting truly conveyed a level of seamless imagination and artistry worthy of the likes of Jim Henson's hand-made creature creations. Davey Jones and his crew looked spectacular, and the sheer size and magnitude of the Kraken reminded me of seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid and thinking that the giant squid was the coolest, scariest thing ever. When Davey Jones bellowed to release the Kraken, it reminded me of the coolness in Sky Captain And The World of Tommorow, when Angelina Jolie ordered for her amphibious squadrons to be readied - and I'm like, "yes, please."

Similarly, the action choreography in Pirates 2 is up there with anything from a Jackie Chan movie, using the same style of frenetic, kinetic stunts combined with animated physical comedy. I'm not ready to put Gore Verbinski on a level with Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson yet in terms of ability to direct amazing and impactful set-piece action sequences, but the pure visual spectacle and non-stop energy of the movie's action scenes makes for few dull moments. The thrilling escape scene from the island of Tortuga and the three way sword-fight between Jack, Will, and Norrington (a rather generic villain in Part 1, here an interesting fallen nobleman looking to reclaim his prestige) were each just awesome to watch. And man, that near-final shot of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, in full pirate regalia, staring with sword pointed down the gaping mouth of the Kraken - damn, talk about a quintissential Pirate moment. Intense.

Pirates 2, is, as I said, a throw-it-all against-the-wall type of movie, sometimes to its detriment. The plot is pretty convoluted, and there are a number of McGuffin-y plot devices that don't get fully explained or elaborated upon. Some of the shifts in character are a bit sudden, as are some of the shifts in location. I'd say that most of the confusing details actually hold up upon analysis, but I agree with some of the complaints that certain plot points could have been made easier to follow. The humor is great, but i'd say the movie almost overdoes it with the wackiness-factor, sometimes detracting from the darker direction of the plot by filling up so much of the movie with over the top humor. As I said in my opening paragraph, the movie almost overtly tries to emulate Star Wars, but the tone is too light and joke-y to carry the impact of Lucas' original trilogy. But on a sidenote, the parallels between this movie and Star Wars, especially in terms of how the plot and characters, almost to a T, mirror the Empire Strikes Back is kind of uncanny. But hey, if the formula works ... And as for my final complaint - I think that in getting so wrapped up in the fantastical aspects of the story, the movie does lose a slight bit of its original edge. At this point, the series is really more Fantasy than pure Pirate fiction, and in that genre shift it loses a bit of the grit, the darkness, the atmosphere of a movie solely focused on pirates and not on mystical monsters and magic. But I'm sure we'll get a movie like that down the line -- that's not what this franchise is about - it's big, fun, over-the top, and I can't really fault it for going in that direction.

Dead Man's Chest is a damn good movie in and of itself, yet now suddenly part of a larger tapestry that should make for a kickass trilogy in the final summation. It's a pure adventure story, filled with imagination and action, but also character and wit. Just as people complained about X-3 giving short shrift to character though, I'm sure a vocal minority wishes that their Pirate movies, like their Superhero movies, would be filled with riveting talking heads and edge-of-your-seat soap opera romances and heroes who mostly stare at things longingly and doubt themsleves. Sorry folks, but this is a movie about PIRATES, a movie that took me to exotic locales, presented non-stop action, memorable characters, humor, an applause-generating cliffhanger ending, and all the plank-walking, rum-drinking, pillaging, plundering, high-seas sailing, sword-fighting, wench-fighting, sea-monster-fighting adventure that one could want from such a movie. So drink up me hearties, yo ho. And bring on Part 3.

My Grade: A -