Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Director Report Card: Bryan Singer (2000-2006)

4. X-Men
As his past films proved, (especially “The Usual Suspects”) Bryan Singer can do good stuff with ensemble films. And if “X-Men” is nothing else, it is an ensemble film. That the picture’s greatest strength. How the character’s personalities, as well as their superpowers, are understood shortly after meeting them. As soon as we understand those things, the fun stuff, mainly how they interact, can start.The film spends most of it’s time focusing on the cast and even then some characters are left underdeveloped. The story also takes a back seat and is not as strong as it probably should be which means the experience as a whole is not completely satisfying.

Still, on a superhero movie level, “X-Men” is highly successful. The action sequences are well done, the movie is fun, and many of the characters are a case of actor and material being perfectly matched. (Halle Berry aside, everybody gives a great performance.)
[Grade: B+]

5. X2
First off, this sequel improves upon its predecessor by shaping a much stronger story. The tale builds to a nice tension by the end and all the pieces are expertly set up. It maintains the problem of having too many characters and some cast members are underdeveloped or underused. (I’m glad I’m not a Cyclops fan as his part has been reduced significantly.) The movie is smart enough to leave enough room for new characters however, allowing Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler and Brain Cox as General Stryker to shine in their respective parts.

The action scenes are a step-up too. Magnento’s escape, Nightcrawler’s White House assault, the invasion on the school, and Wolverine’s fight with Lady Deathstrike are all memorable set-pieces. While this film is superior to the first, generally speaking, it lacks that sense of comic book fun and excitement that is really necessary for a project such as this. While it’s not a big issue, I think the film takes itself maybe a little too seriously. Still, “X2” is a great sequel.
[Grade: A-]

6. Superman Returns
Visually, this is Bryon Singer's best looking film. His camera dances in and around scenes in a way that I didn't really expect from him. Many of the effects are beautifully done. Not once did I point at an effect and say, "That looks fake." Most notable is the big airplane crash scene, which is just a very well staged, thrilling, and brilliantly paced scene. Kevin Spacey, though a little broad at times, seems to be having a pretty good time playing Lex Luthor. And for a movie that is nearly three hours long, not once did I stop to check the time.My biggest complaint with this film is the acting from the two leads. Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane never really convinced me. Brandon Routh lacks a certain charm and all the good stuff he does is basically just ripped from Chris Reeve's performance. Because of this their relationship is never quite as emotionally involving as it should be. What really saves the movie, in the end, is that it's just so heartfelt. Singer's love for the character and the material is palpable. The whole thing is just a big fuzzy love-letter to the Christopher Reeve films, and maybe to a lesser degree, the whole idea of comic book heroes. I'm still not sure if that's a good thing, in the long run, as a fresher approach probably would have been better. Yet this is still a highly enjoyable film and great summer blockbuster fare. Now if only they had found a better actor to play Superman. [Grade: A-]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Director Report Card: Bryan Singer (1993-1998)

1. Public Access
Certainly an interesting little movie, even if it doesn’t actually do too much with its premise. Not completely unlike Singer’s next film, “Public Access” is a movie that actually spends more time telling you what it’s not about. We are ask to draw our own conclusion; not a bad things at all, but we’re not really given enough to figure much out.
Still, I found plenty to enjoy here. The discussion about small town values is compelling stuff. A lot is done with what was obviously a small budget. Ron Marquette’s lead performance is deceptively deep. Singer’s direction is stylish and colorful with some interesting visual clues and subtexts. “Public Access” is not required viewing, but fans of the director or of smart indies might want to give it a look, if they have nothing else to watch. [Grade: B-]

2. The Usual Suspects
An intricate puzzle box of a movie. The plot is complicated and really demands your attention, but this appears to be a ploy just to drawl you into the movie’s world. Or it could just be to confuse, cause you to over think things (Much like Chazz Palminteri’s character does), so when the twist ending does comes, it hits harder then you’d expected. I’d probably hate the movie for that if the twist wasn’t as awesome as it is.
The movie might be easily dismissed as a one-time pony if it weren’t for the care taken to bring the story to life. Bryan Singer’s direction is cool and smooth, in perfect neo-noir style. There is a great ensemble cast here. All the individual characters are well acted, memorable, likable, and well-rounded. Possibly more important is how well they play off each other. Each character is design to play off the rest of the team in order to produce maximum drama. So while the big twist gets you the first time, it’s the multiple layers that make you come back for seconds. [Grade: A]

3. Apt Pupil
What’s best about this feature is its acting. Ian McKellen, despite an obviously fake German accent, is certainly a fine actor and gives a good performance and Brad Renfro does a good job as well. Their personalities don’t quite clash and click as they should and that causes the film too loose a lot of tension. The character interaction is still entertaining to watch, but the mentor/enemies concept just didn’t seem very rounded to me.
Singer’s direction does manage to produce at least two scenes of actual tension, Renfro’s frenzied bike-ride through the tunnel and the sequence with the homeless man being them. The nature of evil in people is the main theme, something carried over from the original Stephen King novella, and that gives the final product considerable more strength. The way these two people affect each other, how their beliefs contaminate one another, is fascinating and makes up for the noticeable lack of tension. The final act drags a little but I really liked the ending. So, if you go in expecting more of a character study and less of a thriller, you’ll probably be pretty satisfied. [Grade: B+]