X-Men: This adaptation of the comic book has its heart in the right place. Attitude is important to me when I evaluate a film, and this has both a seriousness and a spirit that appeal to me.
In X-Men, some people have superhuman powers, and the world distrusts these "mutants" (the film references the Holocaust and McCarthyism). Meanwhile, two mutant factions, led by the benevolent Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the cynical Magneto (Ian McKellan), fight over how to use their superpowers.
The film is best when it's more or less quiet, with just these heroes and villains reacting to each other: both sides feel they're doing the right thing, meaning the villains aren't villainous for the sake of villainy. There's even pain and drama, since life for the mutants is a struggle. I admire Wolverine, played by newcomer Hugh Jackman as an anti-hero who really can be a hero.
X-Men's action scenes are relatively standard, except for a few standouts, but at times their matter-of-factness helps, such as when Magneto casually throws around police cars. The constant explaining of The Way The World Is keeps the film from really soaring, but director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) and a list of uncredited writers, including scribes from Usual Suspects and Men In Black, nicely balance the drama and the wit. I've seen X-Men twice, and the small problems I had on first viewing seemed smaller at the second show. Get these people started on a sequel! (And look for X-Men co-creator Stan Lee on a beach.)
The Perfect Storm: My good cry for the summer, as George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner and others go out in a boat and don't come back. I don't care that parts are melodramatic and Hollywood-ed up -- though as much as I admire the actors who play the doomed sailors, I think only Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, as another ship's captain, best avoids playing to cliché...
...but having perhaps the most intense storm ever put on film, pummeling people and ships during fall 1991's "storm of the century," is my kind of overwhelming spectacle. I still remember when I first saw that wave in the preview: I simply couldn't process the image. "What was that?" my mind said, not accepting what I saw. Impressive.
I'm not completely sure if you'd want to watch Storm more than once, but the film still made me care about more than the effects.
The Patriot: There are pieces of a great movie here, as former soldier Mel Gibson fights again when the Revolutionary War hits close to home, but the film feels synthetic – a bugaboo director Roland Emmerich still hasn’t overcome. I liked parts of his films Independence Day, Godzilla and The Thirteenth Floor, which he produced, and I like parts of The Patriot, so this keeps up a pattern.
Immense battles, luminous photography, and solid work by Heath Ledger (10 Things I Hate About You) are among the highlights. But the clichés just wore me down. And I wonder if there’s a Cult of Mel I just don’t get; he bothers me now, with some exceptions…
…like Chicken Run: I love that this title is both dramatic, and has the word “chicken” in it. Tilt!
This clay-animated film, about chickens literally trying to fly the coop before farmers turn them into chicken pot pies, is truly charming, fun and light on its feet. Its low-tech, handmade look belies how much effort went into it. The characters’ spunk made me think of the goofy sincerity of Toy Story. Gibson makes fun of himself as the voice of the desperate Rocky the Flying Rooster. The music includes a chorus of kazoos. And I’m a sucker for quietly bizarre British humor.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle: Piper Perabo IS Olive Oyl! Whoops, wrong cartoon. But put the actress who plays FBI rookie Karen Sympathy in a black wig and she could play that character; she has the jawline for it.
This film mostly keeps the spirit of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s smart-dumb show, with loads of delightfully bad puns and gags, and no mean-spiritedness, as they save the world from Fearless Leader’s diabolical RBTV (Really Bad TV).
It’s not the funniest film of the year, nor the funniest or smartest that Rocky and Bullwinkle have been, but it made me smile from start to finish. What more could I want?
Mission: Impossible-2: The 20 minutes set in Spain are worthwhile (I smiled at the hiding-in-the-bathtub scene), but M:I-2 is a suspense film with little suspense, a wild ride that’s not really fun. There’s none of the intriguing perverseness of Brian DePalma’s M: I in 1996 – or Tom Cruise’s more recent Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia. M: I-2 is just a “Tom is the stud of the earth” film, especially with the pointless opening cliff-climbing scene. It also over-corrects for the murkiness people complained about in 1996 by over-explaining everything.
At least there’s a happy ending, a more-emotional-than-you’d-expect Hans Zimmer score and worthy work by Thandie Newton and Anthony Hopkins, but once again, what’s the point? (…the same problem with Dinosaur, Shaft and Titan A.E., all films I really wanted to like.)
Shanghai Noon: What I most want to say about Jackie Chan’s enjoyable martial arts flick/parody-of-many-Westerns (including a knowing nod to the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) is this:
I want Owen Wilson to play me in the movie of my life.