Monthly Archives: November 2005

THE TRANSPORTER 2

I know these are old news for most of you, but Emily Rose, Flightplan, and Transporter 2 were finally released tonight. The Exorcism sold out when there were only two people left ahead of me in the queue (which surprised me since it’s still the second weekend of Harry Potter) so I went to Transporter 2 because I recalled hearing slightly fewer people hating it than hated Flightplan.

So with extremely low expectations I actually enjoyed it. I agree with the criticism that the Frank character would never (knowingly) agree to transport a person, but at least it was addressed at the beginning of the movie when he says it’s not his usual type of job and he’s doing it as a favor for a friend.

As for the director’s insistence in interviews that the title character is gay — implied in the movie by his inability to bang the brains out of super-duper-hot Amber Valetta “because of who I am” — that’s about as smart an idea as making Superman immune to Kryptonite.

Imagine if Bryan Singer decided to update Superman so he didn’t have a single weakness: “For the first time in 70 years he’s truly invulnerable!”? Stoopid. Analogously, the idea of making a character who can already outdrive and outfight anyone, not to mention dodge bullets, also immune to women, is infinitely lame, not to mention a pathologically stereotypical explanation for Frank’s fastidious garment care. He’s “a new kind of action hero” like James Bond without a weakness is “new.”

There’s no denying similarities with James Bond, which are most invited by the 007 music during the chase scenes. I think the comparison favors Trans2, however, because the last Bond film actually made me hate car chases. The Die Another Die icecapade bored me to death with neverending shots of two cars driving up a circular ramp. You can’t just keep showing the same two shots back and forth! Trans2’s superiority is also due to the fact that it’s 45 minutes shorter than the interminable Die Another Day.

Then the Bourne Supremacy squandered what from the few intelligible glimpses must have been an awesome chase by hiring Michael J. Fox as the cameraman. So it’s been a long time since I enjoyed watching cars in a movie, but Transporter 2 is the most fun I’ve had watching driving on a screen since the online BMW films starring Clive Owen.

Trans2 also costars a gorgeous A8 — with the 12-cylinder engine, identified in the early pan across the grille by the tiny “W12” badge indicating the Volkswagon/Audi design of two V6s fused together. The best family sedan $120,000 can buy. Oh yeah, and the Murcielago was also nice to see on screen for the second time this year, but way more fun than Bruce Wayne just pulling up to a hotel in it. I wish it could have been me fingering those paddle shifters.

Everyone in the theater laughed when Frank flipped the Audi over to dislodge a bomb under his chassis, but I’m all for it because I don’t pay money to see “only things that can happen in real life.” Though it was admittedly out of character with the attempted sophistication of the first movie, it was not out of character with this sequel which was full of wonderfully over-the-top action (the shot of Frank in mid-air reaching for the antidote vials still stands out). I’m sick of realism in film and comics and Trans2 delivered a lot of what the doctor ordered on a very low budget. $32 million is even low enough to forgive the CG airplane because the shots inside the cabin were grin-worthy.

I had heard about the terrible editing of the fight scenes, and while there is definitely some crossing of the “director’s line” it didn’t distract me too much, even during the firehose scene which was the most potentially confusing. I think my brain was able to coherently put together the quick shots because each one was a visually clear “snapshot” from a stable point of view (no matter how different the angles), still preferable to my pet peeve, the TouretteCam.

Trans1’s primary fault of unspeakably loud NuMetal that drowned out everything else (in the theatrical sound mix, if not the DVD) is thankfully corrected in the sequel. At least one of Trans2’s fight scenes is completely unaccompanied by music of any kind. And the movie gets automatic points for using The Servant’s beautiful song Cells, made popular by the trailer for Sin City but which never appeared in the actual movie (a nearly unforgivable defect of that film).

Surely Transporter 2 wasn’t good enough to deserve a review this long, but I did enjoy it and I think it succeeded at what it attempted. But it would be nice if another installment returned the franchise to a European locale and Frank’s original and more promising rules of no names, no changes, and never open the package (unless it’s a woman!).

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE

One of the nice things about not having read any of the Potter books is that I don’t know anything that’s going to happen. My only complaint would be that Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort was quite static, especially after his battle over that lake in HP3. However it was obviously not supposed to be the final statement on that relationship so I guess it did its job as an appetizer. In general I think the movie emphasized plot over spectacle, which contributed to its sense of density. In other words no scene lasted too long, something I seem to be more sensitive to the more movies I see.

On the other hand I was surprised that even after the superheroics of a dozen comic book movies I really felt the wonder of magic, most vividly when Harry finds a way to fly away from the dragon. I was like, Wow it must be really cool to be able to fly! I hope Superman Returns is able to convey the same novelty.

I guess HP3 had more flying in it, but I saw it on a tiny screen on an airplane so the effect was minimized (perhaps as much by flying myself as by the screen size), and the audio was TERRIBLE so I probably missed a lot of the plot details and can’t really compare HP3 from an acting standpoint. But I do think that HP3 was more artistically directed from a photography point of view so it was always visually interesting and I loved the Back to the Future 2 stuff in it. I haven’t seen the first two movies but the impression I get is that they’re overlong if not boring.

Nevertheless I like the idea of the movies growing with the audience. I definitely felt a gradually increasing sense of seriousness, if not dread, as Harry confronts his situations. The fun and games of magic is incrementally yielding to the life and death of magic. So to speak (badly).

I also love the idea of the special nature of Harry being revealed bit by bit over the course of the whole series. From a craft perspective, his qualitative uniqueness is really the only way to account for having a single protagonist to whom all the cool stuff keeps happening in every book/movie. But it’s also just a really interesting mystery, like “Neo’s journey” but without the problem of messianic self-ignorance. You really sympathize with Harry for wanting to be normal (among wizards, I know) but coping with his “special” status without understanding a lot about what’s going on with himself. I liked Alan Rickman’s line about just letting events unfold as they will.

Obviously my knowledge of the story is only through the movies but as someone who was skeptical about the Harry Potter craze initially, I’m happy to say the last two movies have won me over so I guess I’m on the bandwagon and plan to enjoy the ride. Incidentally my Potterization was also inspired by the interpretations of John Granger via the alchemical tradition, and according to friends who keep up with the books his theory is proving justified to the point of being predictive.

So I can’t wait for the next movie, though I have no idea what to expect!

SKY HIGH

On paper (or an online summary), Sky High looks for all the world like a cynical attempt to squeeze more money out of whatever life’s left in the popularity of comic book movies by trying to combine the superhero theme with Harry Potter, but without looking like that X-Men school. But like its fellow superhero comedies Mystery Men and The Incredibles, Sky High turns out to be better than than half of the “real” superhero movies busily released over the past three years.

Though he’s not the main character, the movie rests on the shoulders of super-strongman Kurt Russell to make the world of the movie work, and he succeeds with flying colors (an expression I’ve purposely never used before but which finally seems applicable). Believe it or not, this is actually one of Kurt Russell’s best performances. He plays The Commander as if Adam West were playing Superman, but his genius is in playing it straight without ever once winking at the audience. Neither does he act like he’s slumming in a Disney movie for kids, and his sincere enthusiasm makes it impossible to roll your eyes at him. His costume looks absurd yet this is the first time I’ve ever actually liked him in a movie.

The main character himself, The Commander’s son, in line to be the first third-generation hero, mugs a bit too much for the camera, reminding us we’re watching a movie for kids, but he is average-enough looking to be an everyman every boy can wish he identifies with. His friends are a mix of pseudonymous established characters from comics (“Speed” is The Flash, “Lash” is Mr. Fantastic, Little Larry morphs into The Thing, and Layla is a nice version of Poison Ivy) and Mystery Men-style kids with lame powers (Zach glows a little and Magenta shapeshifts into a gerbil), while others have an amalgam of famous comic book names (Gwen Grayson).

Sky High doesn’t try to replicate the Marvel or DC universe, however, as the identities of famous superheros are well-known to all other heros. The movie’s only bit of self-consciousness is Lynda Carter as Principal Powers and her comment that she’s not Wonder Woman. Bruce Campbell, meanwhile, is surprisingly not underused as the PE Coach.

The pacing is brisk and I was surprised by the relative originality of the plot, which is delightfully Silver Agey and thus more inventive than most superhero comic books which currently seem obsessed with being “realistic.”

This is the light-hearted superhero movie that Fantastic Four wanted to be. There are a couple of fights but they’re wisely not overdone or overlong, and the movie should be commended for not trying to be an action movie. Its fun is found in the script and characters who, derivative as they are, don’t let the fact bother them. Recommended for anyone who feels like smiling for 100 minutes.