Monday, June 30, 2008


In some ways the ideal person to view Jacques Demy’s 1969 film MODEL SHOP would be somebody who has already seen his first feature LOLA, loves it, then watches MODEL SHOP with no awareness whatsoever that the lead character from the earlier film is going to turn up once again. The first moment Lola appears in the Los Angeles set-film, a million miles away from the small town of Nantes where we last saw her, would be a wonderful surprise for someone who wasn’t expecting it. When Anouk Aimée makes that initial appearance in MODEL SHOP it’s hard not to think of seeing someone you loved long ago for the first time in years. It gives us a Lola who is older, much more world-weary yet still beautiful beyond words. The film never reaches the rapturous heights of LOLA but it is automatically special in that gives us another look at Aimée in the role, which makes it a little frustrating when we don’t get to spend more time with her. But in a way that frustration, that feeling of being so close to what you desire to you can almost touch it, is what the film is about. It’s what L.A. can be like as well. And, unfortunately, it’s the ultimate feeling one has after seeing the movie which makes it slightly frustrating.

I return to the films of Jacques Demy often, finding myself exhilarated by how the stories are told but also in its expressions of both the hope in searching for and the impossibility of romance. On the surface they can seem light but something in them speaks to the messiness of relationships, how you can’t ever assume you will end up with the one you want to. His earlier films were set in provincial towns in France. People meet and fall in love with each other on the streets, in shops, in cafes and those movies feel alive like few others do to me. At a certain point in the sixties Demy came to Hollywood to explore making films here. MODEL SHOP is the one film he ever made for a studio, Columbia to be precise, and it feels like a response to his own perceptions of Los Angeles. There’s very little walking, for one thing. There is, however, a lot of driving as a result and he seems to see this not as a bad thing but simply an alternative way to perceive your surroundings. I don’t love this film the way I do some of his others—there are enough things wrong with it which prevent it from reaching such heights—but it remains special to me because within his worldview of romance is a setting that I know better and feel like I can relate to more than his earlier works. The way this town sometimes works means that you can find yourself in the middle of the night having the most fascinating conversation with a beautiful girl who you’ve never met before. And you will possibly never see her again. It can be part of the trap of Los Angeles, in how it gives you a glimpse of everything you think you could possibly want but then just as quickly pulls it right back again. Somehow I suspect that Jacques Demy understood that.

Twenty-six year-old George Matthews (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY’s Gary Lockwood) lives in a tiny house at the edge of Venice with girlfriend Gloria (SKIDOO’S Alexandra Hay). Their aimless relationship is at its breaking point just as George is informed that he has one day to come up with the money to prevent his snazzy sports car from being repossessed. As he drives around town trying to raise money to deal with this Joe Gillis-like situation, he encounters a mysterious woman who he will eventually learn is referred to as Lola (Aimée). He follows her into a Model Shop, a tiny studio where customers can rent out girls to take pictures of them, where he learns she works. After paying for a session, George is soon informed about his draft notice, leading him to seek Lola out again, searching for some sort of connection as he tries to express his feelings to her.

MODEL SHOP is known by very few people today outside of fans of Jacques Demy and possibly the band Spirit who composed the music and makes a cameo as well (it’s a very good album). I first saw the film several years ago at the American Cinematheque following a screening of Michael Sarne’s JOANNA. The q&a for the first film ran long, causing the start for MODEL SHOP to be held up until close to midnight. It’s not really the sort of film to view that late at night and at a certain point the people I had come with bailed, deciding that they couldn’t take more of Gary Lockwood driving aimlessly around L.A. Make no mistake, a great deal of MODEL SHOP consists of him driving around. Driving, parking, stopping at traffic lights, turing, driving some more. Long chunks go by without much of anything happening. It never occurred to me to leave because of this. In fact, I kind of loved it. The second viewing was a few years later, again at the Egyptian, on a double bill with B.W.L. Norton’s CISCO PIKE, another film with a lead character wandering aimlessly around Los Angeles. And this past weekend I was driving across town myself to the Aero in Santa Monica to see MODEL SHOP once again, if for no other reason than to try to figure out why I was driving across town to see it again. Even on that first viewing I found the extended driving sequences somehow moving and to me they still are. There are few other films which pause to look around this city as much as this one does and at certain points it is genuinely striking to recognize certain sections of the city to see how much it has changed and what is still there (how long has that Midas on Sunset across from KTLA been around?). Though George lives in Venice, illogically most of what we see of him driving is in the Hollywood area. It doesn’t make much sense, but then again driving in L.A. never makes much sense anyway. Unlike Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT, which seems to use Los Angeles as a symbol for everything that is wrong with modern culture, it’s very clear that Demy is taking these pauses to notice everything he feels is beautiful about the place. He even has several characters mention how much they love the city in spite of what they say everyone else thinks, with George at one point saying how he considers it to be “pure poetry.” Made and released before the Tate-LaBianca murders, MODEL SHOP presents a city relaxed enough where George, driving around the Hollywood Hills, picks up a cute young hitchhiker who expresses her thanks by giving him a joint. The carefree atmosphere of the time dissipated long ago but every now and then the traffic breaks and you have one of those moments where that feeling is still there.

“You were dreaming,” Gloria tells George in the first line of the film, saying that she heard him mutter only the single word “love” while he was asleep. Only he doesn’t remember what the dream was. Right from the beginning he is made to be a kindred spirit to the male leads in various other Demy films. More specifically, in many ways George is simply another version of the character Roland Cassard, the male lead of LOLA who was memorably played by Marc Michel. Both men are introduced at a point where they are going nowhere in their lives. Roland is fired just at the beginning of LOLA and when we meet George is MODEL SHOP he has already left his job at an architectural firm (“Are you still at Hastings?” half the people he meets asks, all they seem to know about him). He still likes architecture, or at least he says so, he just has no interest in spending years working so he can design nothing but service stations and motels. George wants to create something more than that, he just has no idea what it might be. As it is, he seems to have very little ambition except for driving around L.A. Both Roland and George are looking for something to break up the monotony of their lives and the vision that is Lola turns up for them at just the right time.

MODEL SHOP was shown on a double bill at the Aero with Demy’s 1963 film BAY OF ANGELS, which stars Claude Mann as a young man who gets immersed into the world of gambling and in doing so becomes involved with a woman named Jackie Demaistre played by Jeanne Moreau. It seemed slightly unusual that these would be the two films paired together—after all, why not show MODEL SHOP with LOLA? But as it turned out they both have certain unexpected similarities in how they both portray aimless young men becoming involved with enigmatic, slightly older women who are first introduced dressed in white. Certain recurring beats and rhythms in the films become more noticeable than they would otherwise as well. And when late in MODEL SHOP, which was shown second, Lola speaks of how her husband ran off with a gambler named Jackie Demaistre, it provoked an unusual wave of laughter through the audience, just about the only audible response that occurred during the showing. It was as if the movie we had already seen was somehow suddenly intruding on the one we were now watching, surprisingly affecting the plots of both films as a result. Of course, this is not unusual in Demy’s universe. Roland Cassard, once again played by Marc Michel, shows up in a key role in THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, at one point singing of a woman he once loved named Lola who “didn’t love me”. In MODEL SHOP Lola looks at a photo album and talks about some of the people in her life who we remember from the earlier film as well. We even spot some photos of Roland Cassard as she turns the pages but he frustratingly isn’t referred to.

This definitely lends an extra level to MODEL SHOP but it’s only going to be apparent to people familiar with the director’s other films. It really can only partly be considered a sequel to LOLA since to viewers walking in unaware Lola is going to seem as mysterious to them as she ultimately does to George. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that—it’s actually interesting that the film could play so different to two sets of people. But what unfortunately what makes MODEL SHOP so frustrating is in how some of these elements never really come together. Demy’s earlier films—LOLA, BAY OF ANGELS, THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT—move like a rocket through their narratives as the camera seems to glide around effortlessly but MODEL SHOP instead lingers in an extremely slow fashion and winds up feeling somewhat stagnant in comparison. Along with the numerous driving scenes the sections that stick in the mind are mostly silent—being led down the corridor as Lockwood enters the Model Shop for the first time, the actor walking close behind Lola following her down the street, even when he glances around at his surroundings at a tiny burger joint at the corner of Fairfax and Santa Monica. Many of the dialogue scenes, the ones without Lola anyway, such as the arguments between George and Gloria or the numerous scenes of George talking with friends as he tries to borrow money wind up falling flat. Part of this could be an issue of it being directed by someone for whom English is not their first language and might be unable to deal with certain nuances in the performances. Gary Lockwood’s character is difficult to pin down because he’s never as likable as we want him to be. Continually as we’re about to be on his side he says something which makes him out to be a jerk—Roland Cassard in LOLA had issues in his own sadness but even when his actions were questionable it never causes us to wonder why we’re following this guy around. Maybe there is something about Michel which causes us to immediately identify with him and always understand his actions. Lockwood seems somewhat naturally cold as a personality, which may be why he was ideal in the role of Frank Poole, but doesn’t help when he needs to be relatable in at least some small way. George seems to step over the line a few times too many in things he says to Lola and it winds up making him seem like kind of a creep. Ultimately, it becomes a little hard to swallow that Lola would choose him, out of all the men she probably meets, to open up to. Alexandra Hay, a Goldie Hawn-type who passed away in 1993, seems unsure of herself at times, with occasional flashes of over-dramatic mannerisms. While seeing THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT the next night (on a double-bill with THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and that was a wonderful night as well) I was reminded of this at points during Francoise Dorleac’s performance except in that case it was played as someone who seemed to be appropriately behaving that way in the fantastical world of that musical. In MODEL SHOP, it seems like someone overdoing it and not knowing how to overdo it correctly because the direction is being mishandled.

This problem doesn’t arise with Anouk Aimée as Lola who is a true vision and it’s not at all hard to believe that George would become fascinated by her instantly. She doesn’t seem remotely like any other woman who would be encountered in all of Los Angeles. It’s particularly interesting to compare what she does here to her performance in the earlier film. We can see how the character has changed as well as how she remains the same—she seems quieter, sadder now—at one point in LOLA she says “Life’s great, isn’t it?” out of nowhere during a serious conversation and we believe that she believes it, but it’s impossible to imagine this older version of the character expressing such a thought. Still, a few comments she makes about how she has never gotten over someone in her life definitely recalls what she spoke of back in Nantes eight years earlier. After all, some people never really change. It’s one of the most successful examples I’ve ever seen of a years-after-the-fact follow-up performance. She rightly doesn’t play it as she did in 1961 and still manages to believably seem like the same person. Much of this is personal, yes, but I find some moments of her throughout extremely beautiful and sad at the same time. I wish I could have met Aimée as she appears in this film.

Almost more interesting is who didn’t wind up in the movie. Looking for an unknown for the role of George, Demy found a young actor he wished to cast by the name of Harrison Ford. Unfortunately, the studio reportedly decided that Harrison Ford had no future in show business and Gary Lockwood, then hot off 2001, got the lead role. It’s hard not to imagine what that film would have been like, although possibly some of the script and direction issues would have remained even with Ford playing the part. Or maybe the younger Ford, who always seems very boyish in tiny appearances from around this time, could have found a way to make the character more sympathetic. One familiar face who does turn up, surprisingly, is Fred Willard playing the role of a gas station attendant. He doesn’t really do anything and is only onscreen for a minute, but it’s impossible to miss him.

It’s difficult to talk about this movie because my response to it is so personal. There’s something about it which captures not only the aimless feeling of driving around Los Angeles but also what happens when you try to express yourself to such unattainable and, ultimately, unknowable women as Lola. The film displays that unfulfilling feeling of reaching, but missing, what you want in this town like few other films I can think of but unfortunately, the inert effect it gives off translates to the dramatic effect it has as well. “Always try” is what George seems to wind up with and that bit of optimism recalls Roland Cassard saying “There’s a bit of happiness in wanting happiness” at the end of LOLA. The problem is that the overall joyful effect LOLA gives off allows us to believe Cassard. Here, it feels like a death knell being stated by someone who is giving up. It’s hard to ignore the different feeling in Demy’s universe this time out, one that feels ultimately depressing. Maybe he was affected by world events of the time, maybe it was the unfortunate critical response to YOUNG GIRLS and the premature death of star Francoise Dorléac. Maybe I’m overreaching with all this and it’s simply the result of the narrative becoming muddled in his dealings with Columbia Pictures which apparently didn’t go so well. Whatever it is, it seems to result in MODEL SHOP feeling somewhat incomplete, like it’s missing those moments in the earlier films where all the elements seem to combine to provide that feeling of ultimate cinematic rapture. We never get it here and in some ways the end leaves us wanting. And yet, I find myself driving all the way across town to see it yet again when it plays. Or I’ll just have to live my life here in Los Angeles, which sometimes has a tendency to feel like MODEL SHOP more than I care to admit.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

An Itemized Account

One good thing about the new DIRTY HARRY DVD box set is that it gave me the chance to finally see THE ENFORCER, the third film in the series. I don’t know why I’d never seen it, but I liked the fact that in not seeing it I somehow still had a Dirty Harry film to look forward to. So that’s been taken care of now. I wasn’t expecting greatness from it but I was hoping for some seventies action so it's safe to say that it was exactly what I expected.

Like its immediate predecessor MAGNUM FORCE the 1976 THE ENFORCER, directed by James Fargo, doesn’t feel like a sequel as much as it resembles a two-part episode of a Dirty Harry tv show, albeit one that still stars Clint, is rated R and shot in Panavision. The plot has Harry Callahan going up against an SLA-type group called The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force who are engaged in a crime spree to---well, it’s never very clear what their plan is besides “blowing things up” and the fact that there’s a wikipedia page devoted to the group indicates that somebody out there has given more thought to them than the movie ever does. There’s a mention of at least the ringleader being a Vietnam vet discarged on a section eight but the movie never seems to bother trying to have an interesting take on them. They’re certainly the least sociologically interesting villains of the run of the series (I’ll make sure to write about THE DEAD POOL soon enough).

The genuinely interesting aspect of the movie might also be its most dated: Harry’s partner this time around is a woman, played by Tyne Daly. (Harry’s told he has a new partner. Cue the door being opened to reveal her. Harry: “Oh, shit.”) Even if this strands the politics of the movie back in the seventies, it does provide Eastwood with one of his numerous female co-stars designed to challenge him and thereby make his own screen persona more interesting. Actresses like Daly probably weren’t given lead roles in movies like this very much even back in the seventies and she’s very good. She has to be—aside from the interplay between Clint and her there’s not much else to the movie. It’s enjoyable in its seventies way, but Clint’s THE GAUNTLET from the next year is a lot more fun even if it is much more outlandish. The action highlight here is a foot chase that comes at about the midpoint—it’s not great and doesn’t seem to pay much attention to geography but it is fun and scored by Jerry Fielding like a full, funked-out jazz piece. I’d have loved to have seen this performed live as it was being recorded for the movie. By a certain point the chase seems to be going on to allow this music to continue, like it’s existing purely for its own sake. At one point the music is interrupted when the bad guy crashes through a skylight and lands right in the middle of a porn shoot. Which proves that sometimes the seventies really were more fun. This was the only entry in the series not scored by Lalo Schifrin and maybe some of it is more up tempo than he would have allowed but some of it’s so fun that I have no complaints.

Surprisingly, considering how many familiar faces turned up in MAGNUM FORCE in early roles, the cast of THE ENFORCER is pretty nondescript in comparison. Harry Guardino, the Lieutenant in the first film, appears again this time and Bradford Dillman plays the obligatory prick superior who has to spend multiple scenes yelling at Harry about whatever sort of messes he’s getting into. John Crawford plays the Mayor so we unfortunately don’t get to see John Vernon make a return appearance. Albert Popwell, the “Do you feel lucky?” robber from the first film, plays the head of a black militant organization. The villains don’t make much of an impression but familiar character actor Michael Cavanaugh who plays Lalo (maybe in tribute to the absent Schifrin) also turned up in THE GAUNTLET the following year. Supposedly Rob Reiner is an extra who gets bumped into during the chase scene, but after looking at it I’m unconvinced. If anyone out there knows Rob Reiner, feel free to ask.

The climax is set on Alcatraz, not that you’d really notice it. Without getting into spoilers, the film winds up more interested in the plot than in staging an elaborate action scene but I suppose Clint would more than make up for it when he starred in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ for Don Siegel. That it seems to pass up the chance at such a memorable climax underscores how THE ENFORCER is efficient and provides some of what you want from Clint in the mid-70s, but doesn’t exert itself too much otherwise. The fact that there are four credited writers indicates that the movie was stitched together from various story parts so while it cruises along it never tries to do much more than that. There is some enjoyable dialogue here and there (“Personnel? That’s for assholes!” “I was in personnel for ten years!”) but nothing that quite measures up to “A man’s got to know his limitations.” It’s not as enjoyably goofy as THE DEAD POOL and certainly never aspires to the serious level of SUDDEN IMPACT. It does have the interplay with Clint & Tyne Daly and it is a Dirty Harry movie with the action, gunplay and other various elements which that promises. And it was worth finally getting to see it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unintended Diane Arbus Subtext

If you were in L.A. this past weekend, you know how hot it was. Determined to not be trapped in the heat on Sunday, I decided to go to the Arclight. It was the perfect day to plant myself where I knew there would be air conditioning which made it ideal to see something which I already knew was going to be very long. That’s right, I went to see SEX AND THE CITY. Am I going to lose the respect of everyone reading this now? Do I lose my membership in the he-man woman haters club? To give a little history, I went through a period a few years ago when I watched the reruns on TBS. I think I got to see a fair chunk of the run, although looking over the episode guide in a recent Entertainment Weekly it struck me that there were a lot of episodes which, while I knew I had seen, I remembered next to nothing about. And I didn’t particularly have much of a desire to refresh my memory. But it’s not like I’m opposed to movies with women in them. I like women. I like women in movies. If THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is playing on HBO, I’ll stay there and watch it. If I’d been writing this thing in ’05 then you’d know I thought that IN HER SHOES was the best film of that year. So even though I had avoided the crowds that swarmed the Arclight and other theaters on opening weekend I wasn’t dreading SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOTION PICTURE. The show was always kind of zippy and peppy, so there was no reason to think the movie wouldn’t be.

Reviews which describe the film as being five episodes of the show crammed together are incorrect. It would be more accurate to describe SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE as having a narrative arc of a twelve-episode season of the show. In doing this it dispenses with all the stuff which would be the episodic plotlines, the nit-picky stuff that Carrie Bradshaw would try to figure out every week. You know, the parts that were funny and entertaining. For whatever reason, the makers of SEX AND THE CITY: LE FILM (specifically writer/director Michael Patrick King) decided to make a film which focused almost exclusively on the soapy stuff at the expense of the laughs and fun. And since it clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s a long, long sludge. For once I didn’t mind being in an air-conditioned theater for a very long time but for a movie with a narrative that seems to span close to a year, it did feel like I had been in there about that long.

But more than not being a fun movie, SEX AND THE CITY: THE QUICKENING isn’t in anyway a particularly good movie. You could almost say that it’s not really a movie at all. There’s no attempt whatsoever to bring any sort of visual pizzazz to spotlight how these characters have entered a new world onto the silver screen. If this is supposed to be a movie about materialism, great clothes, shoes, hair, all that stuff, what was needed was someone to bring a twenty-first century Sirk/Minnelli vibe to the whole thing to make it as over-the-top as the lives the characters are living. Unfortunately, King has zero eye for this sort of thing. It’s a surprisingly flat-looking movie to the point that some shots even seem badly framed. When STAR TREK:GENERATIONS was made, the first Trek film with the Next Generation cast, they used one of the show directors but knew enough to bring in legendary cinematographer John Alonzo to bring a new, more textured look to it and it’s still one of the best-looking of the series (even if the film isn’t very good). Here, they had the director of photography from the show do the job (John Thomas, who according to the imdb shot Whit Stillman’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, a much, much better movie about relationships among the New York nightlife) and with this harsh, ugly look magnified to such an extent it winds up looking cheaper and less interesting than the show ever did. Couldn’t they have shot it in Scope? Couldn’t there have been some energy brought to the numerous scenes of characters doing nothing but sitting and talking? Shouldn’t the movie have looked brighter and more colorful? If it had embraced that artificiality than maybe the characters wouldn’t have seemed quite so shallow and reprehensible. I would have just been able to accept them as part of this larger-than-life New York. Somehow, in the lightning-fast pace of the series this never seemed like an issue but watching it just reminded me how much I never want to meet any woman remotely like any of them. The film’s idea of enlarging its premise for the big-screen seems to be to take the standard montage of characters looking troubled while sad music plays and makes it at least twice as long as it would be on the show. Maybe three times as long.

For those who love the movie, you don’t need me saying how the actors are. I won’t even make cracks about their age, since that’s not my issue with the thing. If Kim Cattrall were playing her character from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA at this age, that would be fantastic. But they’re playing who they’re playing and they’re exactly what you expect. I always kinda liked Kristin Davis but for some reason she doesn’t get to have her own storyline as much as things just seem to happen to her. She does get to be the recipient of the one big scatological joke, which everyone onscreen seems to think is hilarious. Whatever. Jennifer Hudson, as Carrie Bradshaw’s new assistant, clearly isn’t an actress but the fact that she seems slightly out of place in this context makes her seem more genuine than anyone. Because of this, when she coos over an expensive purse she’s given as a present, it’s like seeing her depart the human race. The familiar recurring characters are pretty much tossed away. Willie Garson and Mario Cantone get to do less than Sulu and Chekov in the average STAR TREK movie. Candice Bergen has great billing for one small, dull scene in which she at least has a good line about Diane Arbus. The various male leads never get much of a chance to be as interesting as they were on the series. Evan Handler in particular has extremely little screen time but he does at least have one moment late in the film where he gets to be particularly menschy. It wasn’t much but there was something about how human it seemed that it just stood out to me and made me interested for about a minute. Of all the people in the movie he’s the only one I’d want to have an actual conversation with.

I know, I know. The movie wasn’t made for me. The movie was made for all those who are extremely invested in these characters to the point of tears and are ecstatic during every second of every montage of the women trying on clothes. During one Sarah Jessica Parker tries on the dress from the opening credits of the TV show and every character coos, maybe because they’ve seen the show as well. It’s kind of like when the marching band plays the Rocky Theme in ROCKY III. At one point Parker bemoans how she can’t get a 917 number for her new cell phone, commenting how 917 is “old New York”. Which makes me ponder how long it’s been since I spent any real time there. I can remember when there was the 8th Street Playhouse, Tower Records and no Starbucks on every corner. But I guess time goes by. Is this the New York that I’m missing? What I’m trying to say is that I’m fully aware that I’m not the target audience for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF SEX AND THE CITY. But that still doesn’t prevent me from thinking that it couldn’t have been better on its own terms. I thought it would be a funny, sexy movie and the most surprising thing is that it isn’t one at all. I just trust that writing this won’t make me seem like any less of a man to anyone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go watch the new DIRTY HARRY DVD box set.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Element of Surprise

Simply put, GET SMART is the best Alan Arkin movie that I’ve seen on my birthday since THE ROCKETEER. Is any greater praise really needed? If it is, then I’ll say that all things considered, it’s easy to imagine this movie turning out much, much worse. Maybe I was just in a good mood, maybe expectations have been lowered these days, but I wound up having a pretty good time with the thing. It gets better as it goes along and even if I wasn’t consistently in hysterics, I did have a grin on my face a good chunk of the time.

I haven’t paid much attention to episodes of the GET SMART series for a long time, but I have a vague recollection of some episodes featuring Maxwell Smart acting like a moron as usual through much of it, then at the end he’s still able to punch out the bad guys regardless. So he wasn’t a total Clouseau-like idiot. These odd tonal issues that I remember meant that the film version could have been all sorts of things. The Bond spoof has been done many times by now, so instead the resulting film directed by Peter Segal and written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember aims to be a straight spy comedy with lots of action mixed in there. It’s a thin line it has to walk and maybe it doesn’t always succeed—this isn’t a movie about plot, after all—but there are definitely enough laughs to give it a passing grade. At the very least, it’s definitely better than THE NUDE BOMB.

Not that there’s a lot of point in going over the plot, but anyway: Steve Carell’s Maxwell Smart is a CONTROL analyst who wants to be a field agent but Arkin’s Chief insists that he’s too valuable where he is. The secret headquarters of the agency is housed within the Smithsonian, a nice touch. When CONTROL security is breached and the identities of all field agents are compromised, Smart is assigned to investigate with new partner Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), who has recently undergone extensive plastic surgery so she won’t be recognized. Naturally, the hotshot 99 has to put up with Smart's inexperience and clumsiness, as well-meaning as he may be. Dwayne Johnson is hotshot Agent 23, Terence Stamp is Siegfried, BORAT’s Ken Davitian is Siegfried’s second in command and James Caan is the President.

It gets off to a slightly shaky start, particularly in how the attack on CONTROL is handled confusingly, but it picks up soon enough for the simple reason that it actually becomes pretty funny. Not always uproarious, but enough to get by. There’s a stretch in the middle where it actually plays like the basic situations and dialogue could have come from an old episode of the show and it works extremely well at times. Carell doesn’t do a Don Adams impression but you could sense how Adams would have played some of this in his performance. Of course, there’s plenty of action, especially in the climax, but by that point it had built up enough goodwill for me that I was willing to go with it.

The chemistry between Carell and Hathaway is better than expected, particularly considering the lameness of the plastic surgery explanation. By this point it’s no surprise how good a comic actor Carell is but it still has to be mentioned how much he creates a fully-realized character even in this context. Hathaway is enjoyable as well, maybe pulling off the role as well as anyone in her age group could. But most of all in the film I enjoyed how funny Alan Arkin is allowed to be and it was a pleasant surprise that the movie clearly knew enough not to waste his presence. The unexpurgated version of a line he has which has already been featured in all the tv ads was probably the single biggest laugh of the film for me. Terence Stamp doesn’t get that much of an opportunity, though there is something wonderful in how he replies “No,” to Carell in the obligatory “Would you believe…” bit. James Caan really just has an extended cameo as the dimwit President, but I’d like to think that in putting him in a scene with Arkin somebody here got a kick out of reuniting the stars of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN over thirty years later (Now if only we could get a DVD…).

In trying to be a straight action-comedy the film never tries to be too much like the series but there are enough nods here and there that I got the feeling that it regards the show with affection, even if it knew enough not to attempt a slavish recreation. I won’t make too big a thing out of it, but it is an enjoyable summer movie with a handful of big laughs. Truthfully, I don’t even really know why I wrote this. But GET SMART was the right sort of birthday movie for the weekend and it allowed me the treat of once again seeing how funny both Steve Carell and Alan Arkin can be. That's all that needs to be said.

Monday, June 23, 2008

They Call Them Millions

Words cannot express how thrilling the opportunity to see Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME AT THE WEST at the Academy in Beverly Hills really is. Billed as the west coast premiere of the new restoration, the night was made slightly better for me when I walked up to the box office, money in hand, and had a ticket handed to me with no payment required. Maybe someone had an extra that they left behind when they picked up theirs up at will call. Maybe the Academy somehow knew that my birthday was the next day and decided to give me a little present. Anyway, the woman rebuffed my efforts to pay and simply said “Buy somebody a ticket to a movie sometime,” before waving me off. Calling it a bargain doesn’t do it justice.

Large theaters like this one were made to show ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. That has to be said. I’ve seen the epic numerous times already, but watching it unfold this time on such a huge screen with that Techniscope imagery and unrivaled power of the Ennio Morricone score occasionally came close to bringing tears to my eyes. Not necessarily because of the story but because of the immense beauty of all the elements that Leone assembled into this unrivaled piece of art. Claudia Cardinale, that first shot of Henry Fonda, the crevices in Charles Bronson’s face that we see during those super extreme close-ups, Gabriele Ferzetti’s desire to see the Pacific, Jason Robards on top of that train car, Claudia Cardinale. It may only partly be about what “The West” really was but it certainly is about a love for the western, for all films, for Claudia Cardinale, that can’t simply be put into words.

The film was introduced by Barry Allen of Paramount’s Film Preservation and Archival Resources department who explained the nature of this restoration in some detail, making a point to state that this restoration had been done entirely on film, not digital. The version of the film shown on Friday night was essentially, as far as I can tell, the cut that I have been familiar with for several years now and have on DVD, though this print had no Paramount logos at the head or tail. There has been discussion through the years of cuts longer by just a few minutes or considerably more, but that was not the case here. It certainly remains longer than what Paramount released in 1969, but it’s no different from what has been seen and available in the past few years. So in terms of restoration we’re presumably talking about the actual materials, not any footage which has long been unseen. I don’t know if this is the way it should be, but this is the way it is.

Thinking about the nature of the narrative, I found myself paying attention to a sequence of events in the middle section and I know I’m not the first two point out some continuity issues here. When Claudia Cardinale’s Jill is confronted by Henry Fonda’s Frank, his appearance leads into a flashback at a cliff dwelling with him and Gabriele Ferzetti’s Morton. Or is it a flashback? In some ways it has to be, but I’m still not sure. Why this flashback at this point in the story? And exactly when does it flash back to? Before the start of the movie? Why are these characters in this location? Did Leone simply find it and decide that he wanted to film something there? Could this be a case of a scene that has a legitimate reason in the narrative but there is no possible place to put it? And as for the love scene between Jill and Frank that occurs at this point what is going on? Is it consensual? How does it convince her to sell the farm? It’s as if ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was subject to the sort of narrative jiggling that can happen in the course of a ‘normal’ film around the 70-minute mark, but the issues are amplified here due to the scope of the film in question. At this point in the narrative we need to get from B to C but maybe someone lost track of how we were supposed to get there.

Most curious to me is the long sequence where Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and Harmonica (Charles Bronson) discuss things at the Sweetwater ranch and determine that they need to start building the town. The more times I see it, the more it becomes apparent that it is the most blatant example of pure exposition that occurs in the entire film. The documentaries on the DVD mention that a great number of scenes, even some that had already been shot, were cut from the script in the middle of production and I honestly wonder if this section was the main result of that pruning. Maybe Leone wanted to present this information as elliptically as possible in other scenes drawn out over a longer period but there was just no time for it. And maybe he deliberately laid all this out as blatantly as possible in one specific sequence to give him the option of losing it if it wasn’t needed. Of course, the amount of information given here is unfortunately necessary for us to follow the plot—it seems to be the one time in the film where these characters, especially Harmonica, are actually making statements without being mysterious. Maybe it provides too much clarity for the dream feel Leone was no doubt going for, but sometimes these things need to make a little bit of sense. As scenes containing nothing but exposition go, it’s still pretty good. But it does a surprising amount of clarity considering how elusive everything around it can be.

And during the final section, I found myself really wondering about the dozens of men now working at Sweetwater, building the rails and the town. How much time has passed for this to happen? A day? A week? A month? It’s not clear how long it’s taken for Frank to ride from where we last saw him so I’m not sure any of those answers manage to make sense. And maybe no answer really matters. In some ways, the film is a dream, just as Claudia Cardinale declares at the end of the DVD documentary, “Cinema is a dream.” Getting to see this majestic film in such a theater is a glorious dream.

“I hope you’ll come back someday.”


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On The Wings Of A Demon

A young woman discovers a strange power within herself which ultimately helps in fighting the forces of evil. Yes, that is Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS but it also could be used to describe John Boorman’s much despised EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC. The two films really aren’t very much alike otherwise but one other thing they do have in common is that fact that they are both pretty much insane. THE HERETIC can be mesmerizing, but it’s also impossible. You can’t ignore the talent behind it (although many have) but there’s no way to ignore the massive miscalculations behind it, both as a sequel to THE EXORCIST and a film on its own.

Released in June 1977, the film became an instant legend upon its release. With audiences showing up expecting two hours of terror, what they got resulted in laughter and boos. With terrible reviews making matters even worse by the end of the second day of release a slightly altered version was already being shown, with the final scene cut off abruptly to roll the credits early. EXORCIST II is a film which shouldn’t have been made, at least not in the way it was. That’s part of what makes it so unique but it can’t be overstated just how wrong some of the film really is. When I read about people trying to defend SPEED RACER I can’t bring myself to get onboard with that praise, but that doesn’t mean I dismiss it. With EXORCIST II, also a Warner Brothers release, there’s a similar thing going on, particularly with the technical innovations which can be found.

Several years after the events of the first film, Father Philip Lamont (Richard Burton) is assigned by the Vatican to investigate the circumstances of the death of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow). He goes to New York to meet Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair again), now several years older and under the watchful eye of Dr. Gene Tuskin (Lousie Fletcher), a psychiatrist experimenting with forms of hypnosis and, using a “synchronizer”, manages to awaken Regan’s dormant memories of what happened in Washington and the demon Pazuzu. You did know that the demon in the first film was named Pazuzu, didn’t you?

I could go on with the synopsis, but my eyes began to cross at just trying to make sense of the plot, with a script credited to William Goodhart but extensively revised by Boorman and “Creative Associate” Rospo Pallenberg. As a result, I haven’t gone into the extensive excursion Burton makes into Africa in search of Kokumo, the boy possessed by Pazuzu many years ago (the exorcism referenced in the first film). Or how locusts figure into all this. Or the number of times Richard Burton says the word “evil”, which would allow for a pretty decent drinking game. What’s good about EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC is that it sincerely tries to explore the direction humanity could be headed in, along with how science and religion may enter into that. Burton’s character discusses the concept of everyone coming together through mental telepathy to form a kind of “world mind”, an interesting concept which is only ever hinted at. And much of it is genuinely astonishing to look at on a technical level, from its early steadicam use to the extensive shooting on soundstages, forfeiting a “realistic” look in favor of something else entirely. But it all feels wrongheaded and as soon as Louise Fletcher begins to describe the synchronizer to Linda Blair (“Regan, I want to show you something…”) you can feel any sort of drama going off the rails very early on with no tangible believability to hold onto. It’s clearly made by people who not only didn’t like the first film, they seem fully willing to ignore not just its plot but all its thematic preoccupations in favor of what they wanted to explore, which ultimately is shortsighted and not a little arrogant. There’s nothing wrong with an audience member going to an EXORCIST sequel and expecting scares, is there? This film, in never attempting to supply any, almost seems to imply that there is. For anyone who has seen or read THE EXORCIST it stands to reason that the character of Regan McNeil serves no purpose in any sort of sequel. Regan’s story is over, done. You could argue that the entire story is done, just as the Georgetown house shouldn’t be presented as some sort of conduit for supernatural activity. William Friedkin always said that he had no interest in any sequel and I believe that. But if there was going to be one, this just seems like it was the wrong way to go.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a director helming a sequel and bringing his own approach to the material—John Frankenheimer’s FRENCH CONNECTION II is certainly different from Friedkin’s original but that film could easily be enjoyed by people who liked the original, even if there isn’t a car chase. But John Boorman who turned down the chance to make THE EXORCIST, always made it clear that he didn’t like the film, something you would think would be a prerequisite for making a sequel. You’d also think that it wouldn’t be too hard to find somebody who liked it. In completely rejecting what people responded to in the first film, it’s hard to imagine how it was thought the movie could succeed.

The fact that MOTHER OF TEARS made the film come to mind also points out how much like one of Dario Argento’s films it really is. With its young female lead, absurd story line, delirium of the visuals and spellbinding Morricone score, you could imagine removing all elements related to THE EXORCIST, adding more horror and a body count and you’d have an Argento film. The main difference in tone is that with Argento’s films it’s like being cornered by a mad intellectual at a party who over multiple glasses of wine involves you in the most fascinating drunken conversation you’ve ever had. With EXORCIST II it’s like a humorless college professor whose clothes, badly in need of a wash, stink of too many cigarettes and he won’t stop shouting at you. It’s a movie where Louise Fletcher says, “The psychological effects of synching with another mind last a long time, it’s very powerful,” in the driest of tones and no one thinks to ask her if she realizes what she just said.

The cast is a problem as well. Ellen Burstyn declined to reprise her role as movie star Chris MacNeil so a line of dialogue simply tells us that she is “on location” (though it’s not explained why she still seems to be in possession of the Georgetown house. Wasn’t she merely renting it while shooting there?). Linda Blair, of course, has a greatly enlarged role this time. She’s cute and seems nice but ultimately seems over her head or perhaps is simply too aware of how the production is spiraling out of control. Richard Burton seems completely somnambulistic as Father Lamont (Jon Voight was once going to play him, which would have worked better) and the droning nature of his performance is a constant problem. If a watermelon crashed to the ground behind him like in AIRPLANE! it’s hard to believe that he would actually notice and there doesn’t seem to be any difference between when the character is in a trance or normal. Pairing him with Louise Fletcher means that there are two actors with icy personas in the leads and even many of the supporting actors have a similarly cool feel to them, making for a detached, humorless film. Before his death Lee J. Cobb was set to reprise his role as Lt Kinderman and it’s difficult to imagine how his persona could have been worked into the tone here. More interesting is Kitty Winn, reprising her role as Sharon and given a much larger role here. She provides an earthiness which the film is otherwise lacking and Boorman seems genuinely interested in her. This was one of the actress’s last appearances before leaving the business. Max Von Sydow appears briefly in various flashbacks, both to how he appeared in the first film and how he looked as a young man (they got lucky with Von Sydow on that point). Ned Beatty from Boorman’s DELIVERANCE gets a big introduction but quickly disappears and we never even get a very good look at his face. Dana Plato appears uncredited as a young autistic girl who Regan unknowingly helps with her powers. At first it’s not a bad scene but, to put it mildly, the actress playing the girl’s mother was probably responsible for a few of those laughs on opening night.

It’s difficult to appreciate over thirty years later just how the movie was received on its release, but a terrific Film Comment article written by Todd McCarthy at the time goes into detail of that period and the series of cuts that occurred over the subsequent weeks (The version with the cut ending used to be found on Warner Home Video, but the DVD is the original version). Boorman is extensively quoted throughout the article but he manages to adequately summarize the shellshock he must have been feeling with the statement “I spent nearly two years on this fucking thing and, uh…” The reputation the movie has is still pretty bad, but whatever happened when the smoke cleared must have been a stepping stone to the studios maintaining more control over such things. After all, this was still several years before the term ‘franchise’ was tossed around so freely (In case anyone cares, the story in the prequels directed by Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader bare no resemblance to what is presented here). Boorman certainly didn’t want to make a bad movie, but he never seems to have taken into account the audience he was making it for. It does have lofty goals, but thematic aspirations and groundbreaking camera work don’t compensate when the narrative is an almost total failure from minute one. When Richard Burton spends half the movie looking for Kokumo (James Earl Jones) only to be treated to a lecture on locusts when he finds him, there’s no way the movie should expect us to stay with it. It’s not playing fair with what would be expected and isn’t giving us an intriguing alternative. Saying the look of the movie isn’t ‘realistic’ is missing the point. What it never does is establish its own reality enough to allow us to enter it. This is something Boorman accomplished on other occasions whether in DELIVERANCE or HOPE AND GLORY so maybe there’s nothing more to say beyond this time he drifted wildly off compass. Interestingly, I vaguely recall reading him refer to Coppola’s DRACULA as “the movie of the decade”. It’s hard to imagine even DRACULA defenders going that far, but the number of things the two films have in common seems significant. Still, it’s hard for me to ever dismiss EXORCIST II, as ludicrous as much of it is. Watching it again, it occurs to me that the delirium of the visuals would work very well while stoned—not that I would know much about that sort of thing. But it is impossible to ignore how stunning the imagery looks even at times when everything else about it is a total failure. And the Ennio Morricone score is at times astounding, if as bizarre as the movie it supports. The delirious track used in the trailer, entitled “Magic and Ecstasy” on the album, is never actually heard, at least not in any version I’ve ever seen. Someone needs to put this in a movie someday.

The movie does certainly have its defenders including Martin Scorsese who only a year after its release was proclaiming how much he admired it. I’ve long since stopped trying to find things in it that link it to THE EXORCIST but maybe Burton’s Father Lamont put it best in his somnambulistic manner which he claims something is “…utterly horrible…and fascinating.” The final shot, one that was cut from the film just after release, is quite exquisitely done in every possible way. Of course, the direction the two characters are walking off into, considering where they are located, is towards nothing, a void, which seems an apt metaphor. And I don’t think Boorman cares. Either way, it’s completely illogical, self-important and ultimately rather maddening. Just like the film.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Someone's Always Getting Rich

In case anyone would want to be reminded of this, today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of SUPERMAN III. Break out the cake and ice cream! I saw it that night when it opened and even as a kid I knew it was no good. All kids knew it was no good. We wanted to see Superman, not a Richard Pryor comedy. And even the stuff in there which was supposed to be in a SUPERMAN movie didn’t thrill us like the Phantom Zone villains did. How was a billionaire who wanted to corner the world coffee crop going to measure up to that? And wasn’t WARGAMES, which just come out, a more enjoyable example of a movie that focused on computers? And, not that it really needs mentioning, the comedy part of it wasn’t any good either. SUPERMAN III lives on, however, as a textbook example of how not to make a sequel to one of these things, but also as a pop-culture punchline, especially in OFFICE SPACE where the embezzling of half-cents gets mentioned by Michael Bolton (memorably played by Dave Herman), referring to it as “a very underrated movie”. Maybe somebody really does think of it as that but I know I don’t. Even so, I find myself watching it every now and then almost because I think that just maybe I can spot the good movie that’s hiding in there somewhere. So far, I’ve failed. I think I always will.

Part of the reason for this nagging feeling is the genuine skill brought to the film by director Richard Lester who is at least smart enough to have an approach to the film he makes. Of course, for this movie it’s the absolute wrong approach. In the footage he shot for SUPERMAN II (another subject entirely) he came close to going too far with some of the gags but here he seems to have been given free reign on that point and as a result he’s ran with it. As a result the tone feels off and confused right from the get-go. The general feeling on the Metropolis slapstick ballet which plays under the opening credits is that it’s funny, but it has no business being in this movie. That’s partly right and the sequence is fairly well-constructed but it’s really only funny in a clinical sense. I get the gags and why they work but I don’t crack a smile at any of it. It’s also sloppy--even as a kid I wondered why Clark Kent was buying a copy of the Daily Planet and Superman never bothers to catch the gun-toting bank robbers who are focused on at one point (we do get an appearance by PINK PANTHER regular Graham Stark in here, however). But while these credits and much of the film for that matter seems to aspire to a Frank Tashlin vibe, there’s nothing particularly likable or charming about any of it. As a matter of fact, much of the film is rather ugly as well. Not in how it’s photographed, but in its approach to the characters. Lester seems to genuinely dislike most of the people onscreen in this film, whether they’re the people work at the Daily Planet, Richard Pryor’s Gus Gorman or simply extras in Metropolis and Smallville. As far as I can tell, the difference in the two places as presented in this film is that city seems to be populated by buffoons, the small town by rubes. It’s kept interesting throughout in the continued emphasis on computers and technology in the mise-en-scène (I wish there was a non-pretentious way to make the point) and it actually makes the film play as a surprising companion piece to Lester’s 1968 masterpiece PETULIA. Feel free to try this double bill sometime. But while in the earlier film there was the feeling of despair at what modern society (or is it American society?) was becoming, here the tone feels like anger at everything in that society. I don’t believe that Lester likes being in these places, I don’t believe that he likes these people. Does Jimmy Olsen have to be no more than a rube who bores Clark Kent with stories about his aunt’s stuffing? Does Superman look down his nose in this way at the people of Earth?

I don’t feel like going over every Richard Pryor-related point to express why his presence doesn’t work. You’ve probably seen this movie before. But even to this day it’s not very clear to me if Gus Gorman is supposed to be a computer savant or a computer genius. The film doesn’t seem to care either and Pryor sure doesn’t seem to. I don’t want to go into the other actors since they seem to be doing the best with what they have—I actually like when Robert Vaughn drops the phone after saying, “I asked you to kill Superman and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one simple thing?” Pamela Stephenson doesn’t seem to have a chance, since she’s playing a bimbo who is secretly a genius. After a few brief nods at this joke it’s simply dropped with no payoff and the bits which were left in feel like somebody forgot to remove them. Reeve, no surprise, is the film’s saving grace, but even he can’t always save it. Everyone seems to like the junkyard fight between the good and evil halves of Superman and it is an ok scene but watching it again it made me wonder, why is the bad half represented by Superman and the good half by Clark Kent? What does that have to do with the character of Kal-El, which is who he is anyway? Is it just so the kids in the audience will be able to tell them apart? That confused feeling, along with how the sequence seems to be missing a slam-bang conclusion, makes me think that the junkyard fight isn’t all that it could be. But it is an ok scene. The only stuff in the film that feels genuine on any level is the interplay between Reeve and Annette O’Toole’s Lana Lang in the scenes where there are periodic mix-ups in what the other person is talking about. It’s nicely written and played by the actors, with not too much of a thing being made of it. It never approaches how well Reeve went with Margot Kidder (please allow me Kidder as Lois Lane) but in this film you take what you can get. As for Kidder's few minutes onscreen, there’s very little to say about her small part except that when we hear about her Bermuda vacation at the end of the movie (“I knew I was onto something when the taxi driver kidnapped me!”) it always made me think of the Disney comedy TRENCHCOAT that she starred in shortly before this was released. But no one remembers TRENCHCOAT anymore.

There’s very little else to say about this movie since I don’t have it in me to go over everything that doesn’t work point by point. I’m sure somebody else already has anyway. In addition to the focus on computers there are other jokes which feel like they came from early-80s topicality, but what must have seemed oddly outdated at the time of release is the oil subplot of the second half, probably inspired by the shortage of the seventies. Weirdly, it seems strangely current looking at it now and as one bit player observes, “You can’t tell me there’s no oil. And you can't tell me someone’s not getting rich off this. Someone’s always getting rich.” It just proves that sometimes these things do become topical again. They just don’t get any better.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hulk Running

Was anybody really asking for a new HULK movie? I know I wasn’t. Were you? It’s as if the studio is saying “We’re going to keep on making HULK movies until you damn well like it and then we’re going to make more of them!” Hollywood logic, I suppose. I guess I’d like to say more good things than I really can about Ang Lee’s HULK. But like most people I just find it too murky, too long and the constant use of telling the story through comic book panels felt more like a clinical dissection of how the form works than somebody expressing their love for the medium. As a result, the whole thing is just not much fun at all. And is there anything wrong with wanting a HULK movie to actually be fun? It may be “interesting” and if forced to I could make a list of things in there that do work (like Jennifer Connelly) but that can only get you so far. So bringing in Louis Leterrier, director of the Jet Li vehicle UNLEASHED (which I remember liking), to direct the reboot entitled THE INCREDIBLE HULK to remind us of a tv show which actually had an interest in the people in front of the camera (giving us fond memories of Susan Sullivan and Mariette Hartley) and presumably deliver all that Hulk Smash everyone wants seems kind of equivalent to RKO firing Orson Welles and putting out stationery reading “Showmanship instead of genius”.

To get somebody who is appropriate for B-level action (which I mean in the best possible way) says something about the aspirations those in charge had for this movie. There’s the impression that under no circumstances were they going to take any chances with this one. The opening credit sequence which functions as a sort of recap to a film we haven’t seen (it certainly doesn’t try to pretend it’s following the Ang Lee version) also conjures up memories of the old tv show with a few small tributes that go by quickly. It’s sort of like the opening credits if SUPERMAN II if the first film didn’t exist. Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt and Tim Roth as the man who will become Abomination are among the leads, all pretty much collecting paychecks. The basic plot places the Bruce Banner, General Ross and Betty Ross characters in the positions you’d expect but mostly winds up feeling like it’s The Hulk by way of the BOURNE series, with an pretty good opening section mostly taking place in Rio that culminates in a mad foot chase over rooftops that feels awfully familiar—you can easily imagine the studio notes coming down as the script was being written, urging them to go further in that direction. What we get isn’t as good as one of the BOURNE chases but it’s well-choreographed enough that you can pretty much follow what’s going on and Leterrier definitely directs most of the normal scenes without any sort of hand-held camera nonsense. It’s certainly a good looking movie, it’s just low on actual ambition.

But for a movie that doesn’t have an original idea in its head, I didn’t really mind THE INCREDIBLE HULK. It definitely feels cut down to within an inch of its life to keep it moving all the time. There’s at least one scene spotlighted in the trailer which doesn’t turn up and it’s pretty clear that character stuff is missing. But at least it’s never boring until, that is, the actual Hulk shows up in the form of yet another CGI creation. I’ll admit that there’s some pretty good stuff in all this but ultimately I don’t care. It’s not interesting, it’s not thrilling. The slightly different CGI Hulk in the other film was one of the main things people complained about but that’s something they didn’t change for this one. I guess you can’t stop the digital madness but that doesn’t mean I have to be forced to like it. When the climax comes in the form of a wrestling match between the Hulk and Abomination on a Toronto street unconvincingly trying to pass itself off as New York (125th Street is much, much wider than it is here) I pretty much tuned out. As for the actors, I spent as much time contemplating the mustache on William Hurt’s face as much as anything—is it supposed to make us think he’s Sam Elliott?

It moves fast but in an effort to satisfy everyone who got bored last time out there’s really not much interesting in there. There’s certainly isn’t a lot of compelling drama attempted in this incarnation of Bruce Banner so not much sticks in the brain. A day after seeing it, there’s really very little to say. When the Surprise Guest Star Cameo turns up at the end, in a scene which feels like it was designed to come at the end credits, I found myself thinking ‘now that’s film I want to see’. Which I suppose is what it’s designed to do. It just didn’t make me think of what I’d actually seen with much fondness. It’s fine to sit through but ultimately that’s about it.