Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quizzes: Which 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' gang member are you? and Which Shakespearean villain are you?

A couple of my quizzes, just for fun:

Which 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' gang member are you?

Which Shakespearean villain are you?

Ordinary People

The moving film 'Ordinary People' details a family recovering from one son's accidental death and another son's failed suicide attempt. Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) is the teenage son, dealing with post-traumatic stress; he almost died along with his brother, whom he watched drown, and memories of his near suicide hang over him. Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), his mother, plays the perfect housewife, beautiful, active, charming, and all too practical. Calvin (Donald Sutherland), the compassionate father, is caught between his fragile son and brittle wife. We follow the parents, as they receive unhelpful advice from friends and colleagues, and Conrad, as he attempts to readjust to school life after returning from a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), causes Conrad to confront his feelings.

Robert Redford emphasizes the pristine homes of affluent families and their amusingly mundane small talk, masking the deeper issues in these individuals' lives. The dialogue is funny, introspective, and believable. Because of the presence of a psychiatrist and a focus on intense emotional upheaval, characters delve deep into feelings. Sometimes the theories and speeches come across as dated and affected; symbols and realizations are at times overdone. Still, the film holds up remarkably well after thirty years.

The acting is all around excellent. Hutton is lovely as the awkward Conrad, internally tumultuous and outwardly tense. As the genial but passive father, Sutherland ably portrays Calvin's desire to appease his wife and aid his pained but impenetrable son. Moore is remarkable as Beth, a woman whose intense selfishness, resentment, and fear emerge as smiling, rigid perfectionism. Hirsch's is an appealing presence in a rare positive portrayal of a psychiatrist, and Conrad's teenage peers, both obtuse and guileless, are realistic.

Pachelbel's Canon comprises almost the entire, spare score. This can be grating, but other melodies are usually blessedly subtle. 'Ordinary People' ultimately suffers a touch from time and contrivance, but, overall, it a powerful, therapeutic depiction of a family striving to push through grief and depression.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The title summarizes the plot. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is about the origins of the X-man Wolverine.

It begins in the 19th century. One young boy (Troy Sivan), is ill in bed; another, slightly older one (Michael-James Olsen) sits near him. There is a hullabaloo downstairs: the older boy's father has shot the younger one's father! The younger boy sprouts bones from his fist, screams into the ceiling, and attacks the murderer. As the man dies, he says that he is his real father, and the two boys run into the woods, vowing to stick together as brothers.

After this melodramatic opening scene, an entertaining title sequence follows the older brothers fighting in the Civil War, both World Wars, and finally the Vietnam War. (Their apparent immortality is never explained.) The brothers, who sport facial hair resembling their father's, are now known as Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber).
Victor's penchant for violence gets the two of them "executed."

They survive the firing squad, and so are approached by the sinister William Stryker (Danny Huston). He has found two nearly indestructible men who are more than a century old
, and what does he do? He asks them to join his special ops team.

This band of badasses is comprised of immoral dudes with other supernatural abilities. Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) is amazing with guns (and can jump really high). Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand) can punch tanks and make them explode. (He appears later in an incredibly dumb scene.) Bolt (Dominic Monaghan) controls electricity. Perhaps most amazing of all is the ruthless, talkative Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). He uses samurai swords to block and cut through

So they go about doing their thing, killing folks evil and sometimes innocent. Victor quite enjoys himself, but Logan eventually quits. Unfortunately, the multi-talented band is hardly seen again. We instead follow Logan as he goes to Canada, moves in with a beautiful schoolteacher Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), and becomes a lumberjack. Of course, both Stryker and Victor come calling, and Logan becomes Wolverine.

There are a few fun, ludicrously over-the-top action scenes. But the dialogue is incredibly hackneyed, and the plot feels like soggy cereal. The whole movie consists of, "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened?" moments. The story makes no sense and isn't even consistent with the earlier X-Men movies. Yet the previous movies let us know that both Wolverine and his brother survive, muting any suspense. First Victor is undefeatable; then Wolverine is even more undefeatable; then another mutant is REALLY undefeatable. This isn't exciting. It's just a chance for action and explosions. One of the pleasures of the other X-Men movies was seeing mutants with different powers face off against each other. In this case, they're mostly really good fighters.

The quieter scenes are also cliche and nonsensical. When the naked (buff as ever) Logan comes across an old couple, he looks like a crazy. He breaks their bathroom sink and radiator. So what do they do? Give him food and clothes. The old man also seems to have the ability to read Logan's mind, because he gives him advice accordingly.

As for the acting, Hugh Jackman as Logan shows his anger and grief by yelling to the heavens. He is
supposedly a shady character, but, other than his defense of his brother, we hardly see his dark side or any real moral equivocation. Most of the minor characters are wooden and underdeveloped, including a potentially interesting Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), a fellow with ... some sort of undefined powers. He appears only briefly and his motivations are a mystery. As Stryker, Huston is low-key and uninteresting.

There are a few fine actors here. As the melancholy Bolt, Dominic Monaghan impresses in a minuscule role. Lynn Collins is lovely and subtle as the schoolteacher girlfriend. Most amusing of all is Liev Schreiber as the brutal Victor, who delivers his horrendous lines as well as he can.

There were opportunities here
for moral probing of sorts, humor, and even entertaining predictability. While the film is fun, in a way, it is just too dumb to be satisfying.

In the Land of Women

In the Land of Male/Female Fantasy

After his self-centered girlfriend breaks up with him, struggling writer Carter Webb (Adam Brody) moves
from L.A. to a small town in Michigan to care for his grandmother. Across the street, live two daughters (Kristen Stewart, Makenzie Vega) and two parents (Meg Ryan, Clark Gregg). The beautiful women in the family open up to, reveal their deepest insecurities and feelings to, and fall for Carter in some way. Carter always says the right things to set them on their true paths. Which is more unlikely: to have as a neighbor a cute, sensitive (he cares for his grandmother...) dude who is willing to support or berate if necessary any woman he comes upon? Or to move across from a family full of beautiful women, all of whom are wounded and in need of attention and support? Pure fantasy, and not a believable one at that. Plus, while Vega did well in the role, kudos to having the most unrealistic child character I have ever seen.