Tag Archives: Superheroes

Movie Review: Deadpool (2016)

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Rating: C-/ Loud, crass, self-indulgent, and with more dick and blow job jokes than a stand-up comedy hour commandeered entirely by drunken frat boys, Deadpool is an over-rated, interminable mess. You can practically hear the jokes fall flat at delivery, which is kind of sad, because you can tell it really really wants to be funny, but somehow it just keeps coming up short of charm and laughs. Continue reading Movie Review: Deadpool (2016)

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Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

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Rating: C/ How do I hate Rorschach’s Batman voice? Let me count the ways. Set in an alternate timeline where Richard Nixon tries to shut down a group of masked vigilantes, the premise of Watchmen is admittedly original. I really liked the opening montage, where director Zack Snyder recreates famous moments from the 60’s and 70’s with a superhero twist. But Watchmen also proves to be both over-baked and overblown, attempting to portray the relentless ugliness of human nature with a stylized superhero movie format and falling short of greatness. Continue reading Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

Westlake Soul by Rio Youers

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With a premise like this, ‘Westlake Soul’ could be an absolute horror show, but Rio Youers’ skillful blend of liberating fantasy and harrowing reality manages not to fall into this trap; bittersweet, moving, quietly heartbreaking, definitely. A morbid geek show of suffering and tragedy, no. Bad things sometimes happen to good people; the peculiarly named Westlake Soul (former surfing champion and the son of aging hippies) is all too familiar with this. Like Shawn McDaniel, the protagonist of Terry Trueman’s ‘Stuck in Neutral,’ Westlake is trapped within his own body and rendered thoroughly unable to communicate.

While ‘Stuck in Neutral”s principal character suffered from debilitating Cerebral Palsy, Westlake is in a persistent vegetative state following a near-fatal surfing accident. A keen mind trapped within  a broken body, Westlake cannot convince anyone of his sentience. So when his grieving parents decide to disengage his feeding tube, Westlake must prepare for a slow, painful death by starvation while his parents, totally unaware of his cognizance, look on.

This all sounds terribly grim and depressing, but the subject matter is lightened somewhat by Westlake’s sense of humor and resilience concerning his mortality as well as his best-kept secret- Having had 100% of his mental capacity awakened by the accident, Westlake discovers the powers of astral projection and ESP, as well as an active fantasy life (?) where he plays the role of an able-bodied superhero battling the evil Doctor Quietus, the very personification of death.

In between astral projecting himself wherever he wants, carrying on long conversations with Hub, the family dog, and falling in love with his beautiful carer Yvette, Westlake watches as everyone he loves gives up believing in the possibility of his recovery. He is the ultimate passive observer- as inert and impotently defenseless as a lawn ornament, but mentally able and even capable of the most extraordinary power of all, finding humor and hope in his terrible situation.

Sometimes Westlake’s character seems a bit glib and immature as well as overly sexual minded (you can astral project anywhere in the universe so you go to Angelina Jolie’s pad to watch her take a shower??) but we have to remember we are reading the narrative of a 21-year-old guy, one who just months ago was getting smashed at beach parties and nightclubs. The caretaker eroticism is a little icky (the protagonist yearning over his dream girl while she changes his diaper,) but it’s not as disturbing as Yvette’s apparent returning of his affections.

What was with that kiss? Yes, Westlake is sentient and fully willing, but Yvette has no way of knowing that. While Westlake was enthusing about how awesome the kiss was, I kept thinking “she kissed a diaper-clad vegetable? With tongue?” Good luck finding a novel where a male caretaker smooches (i.e. molests) a female patient in a persistent vegetative state. On the other hand, the author does an amazing job of balancing the fantasy elements (Doctor Quietus and Westlake’s special powers) with the heartrending family drama and emotional significance of the family’s final decision.

I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up twice during this novel’s touching passages regarding love and mortality. When you think about it, Westlake’s a pretty profound guy, albeit young and rather immature in some respects. “Westlake Soul” has been described as a superhero book, but to call it a comic book-esque novel would be to misrepresent it, as well as it’s considerable depth. “…Soul” is less of a book about heroes, super or otherwise, and more a book about life- the unfairness of it, but also the beauty, the wonder, and the gift of being human. Westlake reminds us how tenuous our fragile grip on life is, and how we can’t take that fragility for granted. And he makes you laugh as well. That perhaps, is the greatest gift he imparts.

Mystery Men (1999)

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How many movies can it be said are actually so bad they’re painful to watch? There have certainly been quite a few throughout film history, but I tend to watch movies that I like, or at least can tolerate. Oh, I’ve seen my share of stinkers, but seldom have I seen a comedy like “Mystery Men” where joke after joke falls pitifully flat; where even admittedly creative ideas (a superhero who can only turn invisible when no one’s watching) are executed with cringe-worthy ineptitude.

If you go onto Imdb, you will find people desperately exulting “Mystery Men” as ‘hilarious’ and ‘underrated’ and ‘unfairly maligned by the critics.’ Okay. To say something is ‘underrated’ is to imply it has value. Even Ben Stiller hates this movie, which is funny, because he’s one of the worst things about it. The biggest ‘mystery’ is how they got actual actors like William H. Macy and Geoffrey Rush to play in it.

Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller,) The Shoveler (William H. Macy,) and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) are desperate superhero wannabes operating in the futuristic Champion City. Their ‘powers’ are debatable- Blue Raja hurls forks at people (nicked from his mama’s silverware drawer,) Mr. Furious gets mad… really, really mad… to no particular effect, and The Shoveler, well, hits people with a shovel, but not particularly well, because superhuman ability isn’t a strong suite with this trio.

They are overshadowed by Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear,) a snarky, arrogant a-hole as well as the the city’s champion (harkening to the insufferable Captain Hammer and the later- and much more preferable- “Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” The problem is, Amazing doesn’t have any villains to fight to make himself look good, so he poses as his lawyer alter ego Lance Hunt (unrecognizable when he puts glasses on- a contrivance of Clark Kent absurdity) and single-handedly releases maniacal supervillain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush, sporting one of the most ridiculous accents- German? Austrian?- in film history and armed with razor-sharp fingernails) from an institution for the criminally insane.

When Captain Amazing reaps what he sows and ends up in Casanova’s evil clutches, it’s up to Champion City’s three affable superhero-wannabe losers- joined  by some fresh faces- to save the locals from a disastrously malignant machine and a plan for world domination, courtesy of Casanova and his two disco-dancing sidekicks. Although this movie is terrible, William H. Macy doesn’t totally embarrass himself and Hank Azaria is tolerable (how cute were Blue Raja and his mother together?- “Cheerio, Mummy!”)

It just seems like “Mystery Men” is going for very obvious, broad gags (like Paul Reubens as a repulsive little weirdo with a severe speech impediment whose superpower- shall we call it that?- is atomic flatulence.) Hate to break this to the studios, but farts are not quite as funny as they are imagined to be. I mean, I don’t break into hysterical laughter every time someone rips one. The jokes featured in “Mystery Men” are about 1/10 as funny as the writers presume they are, with actors that seem like they are playing an extended game of dress-up on their off time and accidentally got filmed.

Which is too bad, because some of the ideas are pretty good. I thought routinely, “This joke could be funny, if it was put in a funnier context and refined a little.” Champion City was an interesting setting, and the premise could work with a drastically different approach. But ultimately “Mystery Men” is hard to watch, filled to the brim with ludicrous dialogue, insipid characters, and wasted talent. On the up side (?), this movie would make amazing blackmail material– “Send me 50 grand or this gets sent on disc to all your potential employers.” Oh, the horror. But seriously, AVOID. If you rent this travesty, you’ll be sorry.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Quipping, self-aware superheroes save the day in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a fun if somewhat overhyped action/sci-fi helmed by James Gunn, the director of dark comedies such as “Slither” and “Super.” “Guardians of the Galaxy” never takes itself too seriously, which is a good thing, but there are some painfully standard characters and set-ups, such as Zoe Saldana playing the sexy fantasy femme fatale who doesn’t take shit from anybody for about the hundredth time, and to some extent even Chris Pratt as the stoic, smart alecky muscle bound protagonist.

These aren’t bad characters, we just feel like we’ve seen them and their kin before, in many, many blockbusters. And we have haven’t we? That doesn’t make the experience not fun. Bereaved kid turned intergalactic crook Peter Quill (Pratt) acquires a artifact of overwhelming power, but he doesn’t realize it’s significance until a genetically engineered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper,) his tree companion (voiced by Vin Diesel), and a deadly female assassin (Saldana) try to take it from him.

Together the four of them must escape from a secure prison in the recesses of space and make the decision to work together- despite their complete dislike for each other- and defeat Ronan (Lee Pace,) a maniacal dictator who wants to wipe out an entire race of people as well as anyone who stands in his way. Accompanied by his three former adversaries and an angry extraterrestrial named Drax (Dave Bautista) who is determined to kill Ronan in retaliation for the death of his wife and daughter, Peter goes on an epic adventure that could result in new lives for he and his four companions- or their deaths.

I’ll be honest- this movie didn’t rock my world. I guess I was just expecting more than what I got considering all the hype. That said, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a shamelessly fun and entertaining film that bears up to multiple viewings. Is it particularly unique in the universe of superhero movies? Sadly, no. But it’s well-done for its kind of movie, although it doesn’t break spectacularly out of the confines of it’s genre. The performances are charming, the special effects stunning, and the humor fresh, frenetic, and funny.

The Rocket Raccoon-Groot duo comes off best out of a buoyant if sometimes standard cast of characters, although the romance between Peter and Gamora (Saldana) is beyond predictable. I liked the look of Ronan, the main villain (although he himself could have been a bit more compelling) but Ronan’s superior baddie looked beyond lame with his obviously CGI features and massive chin. Although “Guardians of the Galaxy” is not a great film, it is a good one, and it doesn’t take an outstanding critic to see that it is a fun one. I only hope that the upcoming sequel will be up to par.

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Batman (1989)

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Tim Burton’s “Batman” is often overlooked in favor of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but the 1989 version is in many ways better, not to mention more light-hearted and fun. I think “Batman”‘s charm lies in the fact that it doesn’t try to be anything more than a goofy, campy superhero movie. It’s dark, sure, as is Burton’s incarnation of a bleak, crime-ridden Gotham, but it doesn’t try to be as ‘gritty’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘realistic’ as Nolan’s series.

Plus, Jack Nicholson as Joker! Now, I am not going to hate on the late Heath Ledger (it is Chris Nolan who kind of lost me after “Memento,”) but Nicholson is really boss as Batman’s nemesis and owned the role in a way that Ledger couldn’t quite muster (to be fair, picking between the performances is kind of like comparing apples and oranges.)

Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is an eccentric millionaire who uses his massive fortune to fight crime as Batman. Jack Napier (Nicholson) is a thug who is two-timed by his boss (Jack Palance) and left for dead, emerging from a vat of chemicals as the deformed, maniacal joker. Bruce is pursued by newspaper photographer and Batman enthusiast Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger,) who doesn’t know his true identity.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t know the first thing bout relationships- and the Joker is on the prowl,  promising, in the spirit of generosity, to make Gotham’s 200th anniversary an occasion to remember (whether that memory will be regarded fondly is an entirely different matter.)

Michael Keaton is enjoyable as an obtuse vigilante who doesn’t know how to balance his love life and his self-appointed job as a crime-fighting superhero. I wasn’t too impressed with Vicki Vale. Kim Basinger was not too bad, but as with many superhero’s girlfriends, I felt very ‘meh’ about Vicki’s character. Unlike, say, Mary Jane Watson in “Spider-Man”, I never really felt like Vicki cared about either her boyfriend or his heroic alter ego. She seemed to only be after a good story for the newspaper.

She was also constantly doing stupid things like just standing there in the museum Joker besieged when she has an opportunity to get away (why don’t you take the oxygen mask with you) and reaching for the Joker’s hand to pull her up when he and Batman are dangling from a building (because the bad guy’s going to have a road to Damascus right halfway through trying to kill you, mmm-kay.)

Whereas Vicki is typically lifeless, passive female lead who suffers vague but persistent sexual threats from the baddie, Nicholson’s Joker is terrific- a villain worth cheering about (if not for.) His performance is a triumph of black comedy while still being frightening and sinister (I remember being scared by the “Love that Joker’ sequence with the smiling corpses of the models  when I watched this movie as a kid.)

Keaton proves to be a more fun, lighter, and  less self-serious Batman than Christian Bale (another plus the compete lack of Bale’s annoying growly Batman voice.) “Batman” features creative sets, great humor, and an outstanding turn by Jack Nicholson. I remain unsure whether to watch the sequels, as I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s all downhill from here, but the original should go down in history as a effective superhero movie that’s a cut above the rest.

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