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An experiment gone horribly wrong
Ang Lee's Hulk may be the very first true comic book film. Forget about Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men; this movie is a comic book right down to the font used for the opening credits. Comic book fans (myself included) are probably intrigued by this idea, but after just a few minutes into Hulk, one realizes that the comic book style does not translate well onto celluloid. At all. It ends up being a self-indulgent bubble-gun fantasy, totally devoid of any deeper meaning. This is not the film that the Incredible Hulk deserves.
Hulk, directed by Ang Lee (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is the story of a genetic scientist, Bruce Banner (played by Eric Bana), on the verge of a great discovery in the field of cell reproduction. He is accidentally exposed to gamma radiation during an experiment gone awry, which, in conjunction with his own already altered DNA, causes him to become a rampaging green giant when he is properly provoked. It may sound silly, but it actually had great potential to be a very serious analysis of rage and the human psyche. Unfortunately, the potential for Hulk to be a serious film is tossed out the window by Lee who chooses to edit the film not as a conventional director would, but instead as if each frame were part of a comic book, complete with frames within frames, freeze-frames and odd cuts.
The common problem with films adapted from comic books is that they tend to fall prey to the 'cheese factor.' The corny dialogue and ridiculous situations that can be accepted in comic books don't translate well into live action films. Hulk overcomes this obstacle admirably. The dialogue is well written and mostly well acted, especially by Jennifer Connelly, who obviously takes her role as seriously as her role in A Beautiful Mind (for which she won an Oscar). Bana, in his first leading role, is also relatively good, especially in his scenes opposite Connelly. The supporting cast, however, often rely on worn stereotypes to portray their characters, especially Josh Lucas as Talbot and the over-the-top Nick Nolte as David Banner.
One of the biggest concerns going into the movie theatre was the appearance of the Hulk himself. The CGI (computer generated imagery) had come under a lot of criticism by pretty much everyone that had seen the trailer. Lo and behold, the CGI is actually quite good. It's by no means worse than Gollum from The Two Towers (commonly considered the benchmark in computer generated characters): the only difference is that the Hulk switches back and forth from human to computer, which accentuates the difference between the two. The only thing that can really be complained about is that the Hulk is able to jump what appears to be several miles in a single bound. Even with one's belief properly suspended, this appears out of place and silly.
Even with the slight qualms about the effects and the acting, the film is still not all that bad. Until you actually sit down and watch it: the film's editing renders it practically unwatchable. The comic book style split-screens and cuts are, to be frank, nauseating. Many of the special effects have a deliberately lo-fi look, as if they're attempting to capture the `comic book magic' on screen. They look out of place and ridiculous. (Watch for the gamma rays.) The script, performances, and even the direction (before post-production) are all good. It is Lee's ambition to create the world's first moving comic strip that smashes (pun intended) this film into mediocrity. Lee's split-screens and digital tinkering ruin scenes that demand a serious tone from the audience. A more conventional approach could have saved this movie from being the campy farce that it winds up as.
It's ironic how film mirrors reality. An experiment gone horribly wrong turns something good (the well intentioned screenplay) into something disastrous (the finished product). It's also ironic that a film about anger management left me so angry.
(Note: the PG rating on Hulk is not to be taken lightly. There are several scenes involving violence against animals that children may find very disturbing.)
Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Too Much or Not Enough
The reason I saw Eraserhead was because of it's cult following and also because I absolutely LOVED Lost Highway (1997). So I thought I'd check out one of David Lynch's earlier works. Bad move.
The thing about Eraserhead is this: it's either so thoroughly coated with overly complex metaphors that it is totally indecipherable to anyone, or it's just totally random images sewn together. Either way, the movie is pointless. While the imagery is interesting (the "baby" especially), it's not enough to sustain anyone's interest for 90 minutes. This is why you need a script that is more than 20 pages. This is way you need a plot.
Lynch has obviously learned a lot about writing since 1977. Eraserhead is dark (sometimes to the point of frustration), confusing (always to the point of frustration) and not really all that disturbing (which is also frustrating, because you know it's supposed to be)!
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Turn the 'hip' knob to 11
Director Steven Soderbergh (who won an Oscar for 2000's Traffic) achieved what most film-makers probably couldn't do: knock Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone out of the #1 box office spot after only 3 weeks on top. Soderbergh's film, Ocean's Eleven grossed $38.1 million on it's opening weekend, devastating Potter's $14.7 million. How exactly did he perform this feat? Well, being able to put names like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon on the bill couldn't have hurt.
The television commercials for Ocean's Eleven manage to introduce 4 or 5 of the main characters, but that doesn't totally do the cast justice. George Clooney (who previously worked with Soderbergh on 1998's Out of Sight) stars as recently released prisoner, Danny Ocean. Ocean and partner, Dusty Ryan (played by Brad Pitt), assemble an all-star group of differently-skilled criminals to aid in their robbery of 3 major Las Vegas casinos. Ocean's Eleven consists of Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle and 5 more names you'll probably recognize. That 70's Show's Topher Grace (who appeared in Traffic) and Dawson's Creek's Joshua Jackson briefly appear as themselves in a poker game in one of the opening scenes. Andy Garcia also shines as the owner of the 3 target casinos. The cast is truly massive, and many of the stars go underused, most notably Julia Roberts who plays Danny's ex-wife Tess, who happens to be dating Andy Garcias character. Roberts is, for reasons unbeknownst to me, listed proceeding an `and introducing' in the closing credits. Now, if you've seen the commercials, you probably noticed that they're quite unorthodox. The first time I saw one, I didn't know what to make of it. The plot was totally unclear, and it was so hip and stylish it would make Quentin Tarintino green with envy. Well, that hip style is not only represented in the casting but also (more so, even) in the editing. There's a few chic-looking cuts on image/shape, several split screens, and more fancy cuts than you can shake a stick at. The soundtrack is mostly cool-sounding jazz, which is a reasonable update from the Rat Pack-era that the original film was made in. The costumes are practically taken straight from the pages of GQ. The budget on sunglasses alone in this movie would probably rival that of the entire filming of The Blair Witch Project.
As for the plot, it's divided into three main sections: the opening (character introductions, plot development, etc.), the middle (planning of the heist and training of the crew) and the ending (the execution of the robbery). The movie as a whole is quite fast paced. I didn't stop to look at my watch once during its approximately 100 minute duration. Each of the three parts of the movie are consistently stylish, funny, action-packed and just plain entertaining. The dialogue has it's moments of cliché, but those don't take away from the overall likability of the movie. Screenplay writer Ted Griffin more than successfully updated the 1960 version of this movie for a suave, modern audience. Overall, Ocean's Eleven is the kind of movie you can just sit back and enjoy. The pacing is quick, and the dialogue is funny, the action is, well, also funny, and it's so packed with stars that Carl Sagan may come back from the dead just to study it. 7.5 out of a possible 10.