Film Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Release Date: June 8th, 2008 (Gibson Amphitheatre premiere)
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Written by: Zak Penn
Based on: Hulk by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt, Robert Downey Jr., Martin Starr, Lou Ferrigno

Marvel Studios, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[Preparing to finish the Hulk off] Any last words?” – Abomination, “Hulk… SMASH!” – The Incredible Hulk

A few months after the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man, we got the second film in the now massive Avengers franchise. I feel like people actually forget about this movie now, as there has never been a sequel to it and the character of the Incredible Hulk was recast by the time 2012’s Avengers rolled around. Edward Norton, like Eric Bana, only got to play the Hulk once. Granted, Bana’s Hulk film is not a part of this continuity.

The Incredible Hulk is pretty decent as an introduction to this version of the Hulk character. It benefits from not being bogged down by an origin story, as that was covered in that earlier, unrelated Hulk film and the two movies are only separated by five years. However, the details or a rundown of the origin should have been mentioned, as opposed to just giving the audience a flashback scene cut into the opening credits.

A problem with this film and it being a part of the larger MCU canon, is that everything that happens in it doesn’t really matter to the bigger picture and really, this could be removed from continuity and no one would notice. In fact, I feel like it should be non-canonical.

One, the Hulk role was recast and given to Mark Ruffalo. Two, where the hell has General “Thunderbolt” Ross been since this movie? He had a meeting with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark but for what reason? Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross has also never resurfaced in favor of Marvel switching Hulk’s love interest to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Where are these two people who were so important to the Hulk’s story? Also, Tim Blake Nelson is exposed to magic Hulk juice and was turning into the Hulk villain, The Leader. Seriously, where the hell is The Leader? I want the f’n Leader! I love The Leader!

Granted, they’d probably ruin The Leader, as Marvel doesn’t do anywhere near as good of a job developing their villains as they do their heroes. Which is a big bone of contention for me in regards to the larger Avengers franchise.

Time also hasn’t been kind to this film and watching it now, when there’s like two dozen more MCU films, makes it feel even more out of place.

And while I’m speaking of time not being kind, the CGI is less than impressive and the film is pretty slow because it doesn’t have the flow that the later Marvel movies have. While I did like the slower pace in Iron Man, that film managed its time better and developed its plot and its characters very effectively. The Incredible Hulk doesn’t develop much of anything, it just relies on you knowing these characters based off of the unrelated Hulk film from 2003. But even then, the characters here still have a different personality. Norton’s Hulk is different than Bana’s and the same goes for Liv Tyler in the role Jennifer Connelly played and William Hurt taking over from Sam Elliot.

The Incredible Hulk is far from a bad movie and it’s decent as a standalone story but it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the MCU and relies on knowledge and history that the film doesn’t actually give you. The actors did a good job with the material but it was still a weak effort, overall.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Iron Man and Iron Man 2, as its wedged between the two. Also, Avengers, as that’s the next time that the Hulk is seen.

Film Review: Birdman (2014)

Release Date: August 27th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo
Music by: Antonio Sánchez
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 119 Minutes

birdmanReview:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu seems to be making the sort of films that the big wigs in Hollywood seem to love. Michael Keaton seems to be having a real career resurgence over the last few years. So seeing the two collaborate is really interesting. Throw in an all-star cast on top of Keaton and you might find yourself with something truly special, at least on paper.

Birdman is a fairly refreshing film. It has some very unique elements to it but it doesn’t necessarily tread new or daring territory. It is a movie that I’m on the fence with.

Let me talk about the positives, many of which should be quite obvious, even without seeing the film.

To start, the acting is incredible. This is one of the best performances of Michael Keaton’s career. He truly shines and really lets loose. He also looks like he is intimately enjoying his craft.

Zach Galifianakis is a guy I’ve never been a fan of. However, he shows that he has what it takes to reach the next level and I enjoyed him in Birdman. Edward Norton gives one of the best performances of his career. Granted, he is always great in just about every role but this is up there with his part in Fight Club for me. Emma Stone, as good as she is, has never been better. Naomi Watts was also solid but didn’t have a lot of screen time, which is also how it went for Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. These three women were stellar but needed more time to shine. Riseborough especially won me over.

The direction was very good and Iñárritu got the most out of his cast. The cinematography was phenomenal; the color palate and the lighting were stunning. The score to the film was perfect, as the jazz drummer flawlessly built up the right kind of tension and mood from scene-to-scene.

Now as far as the plot goes, there wasn’t much there to captivate me. Sure, Keaton’s Riggan is a good character with a lot of complexity but I’ve seen this story before. It is about an old actor, past the prime of his career, trying to hold on to his fame and asking himself, constantly, what the meaning of everything is. It is a midlife crisis playing out on film from a self-absorbed, sometimes douchebaggy man, that seems more like a spoiled child that can’t handle it when reality starts to set in. Therefore, he creates a fantasy world in his head, which sometimes teases that it might be real but never is. In fact, the teases get kind of annoying, as the overall story is more interesting than these little psychotic flourishes throughout the picture.

People often times question the film’s ending, asking if he actually did have these special powers or if there was some hidden meaning. The final scene sees his daughter look to the sky and smile, supposedly confirming that her father can fly like Birdman, the famous superhero he played twenty years prior. Throughout the film, you see people react to Riggan’s use of his powers in his fantasies. Why would the ending be any different? I think it is to signify that Riggan is still slightly mad, as opposed to it proving that he isn’t actually crazy and that he truly has superpowers. In fact, I feel like that was absolutely obvious but people want to read too much into things and have debates for the sake of debating. I don’t see it as an ambiguous ending at all. But it’s good for the filmmakers, as people will discuss it for years to come.

I did enjoy the film, despite the things that just didn’t grab me. It is certainly a showcase of great acting, directing, the use of music in film and cinematography. It is the type of film that a film lover loves. However, from a writer’s standpoint, it just feels very thin and not as unique as it tries to be. So many other films have walked the line between the real and surreal and done it much more effectively. Look at Terry Gilliam’s work for example.

It is also hard to not see the similarity between Birdman, the fantasy character, and the bird wings sprouting from the back of Jonathan Pryce’s character, in the midst of his fantasies in Gilliam’s Brazil.

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Release Date: February 6th, 2014 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson

American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Studio Babelsberg, Scott Rudin Productions, TSG Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 100 Minutes

the_grand_budapest_hotelReview:

The Grand Budapest Hotel did the unthinkable, it became the highest rated film on IMDb of Wes Anderson’s career, despite the director making countless classics before it. It cracked the top 200 films of all-time and currently sits at 204 on IMDb’s well-known and highly referenced Top 250 list. That’s pretty impressive considering The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Royal TenenbaumsRushmoreMoonrise Kingdom and others came out before it.

Let me get into the fantastic cast, which is huge.

In somewhat of a small role, never has F. Murray Abraham been better. That is a big statement to make, as he has been an actor featured in countless films over the last several decades but his ability to pull the filmgoer in, as he did, is a gift bestowed upon very few. This also brought out amazing performances by the rest of the cast, which isn’t just a who’s who of those cemented in Wes Anderson lore, it is a who’s who of Hollywood’s most talented crop.

You get Bill Murray in a small but amusing role, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe in an amazing sequence, Adrien Brody as a fantastic asshole, not to mention Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric and Tom Wilkinson.

The bulk of the acting duties are split between the pair of the spectacular Ralph Fiennes and his perfect sidekick Tony Revolori. Saoirse Ronan, who is becoming a favorite of mine, was near perfection as the apple of the young Revolori’s eye. Léa Seydoux also shows up and she is alluring as ever, even as a maid in the hotel.

As a director, Wes Anderson never disappoints, at least in my experiences with his work. This was another gem to add to his seemingly flawless resume but going beyond that, one could argue that this was Anderson’s magnum opus. The high accolades and ratings for this film probably reflect that.

With this picture, Anderson broke his own mold and took some chances that he never has before, which paid off tremendously. For instance, there was a level of violence in this film that one wouldn’t expect from him. Yet, such changes in Anderson’s narrative tone were only enhanced by his crisp and colorful style, thus bringing a new layer to his methodical visual technique that added some depth to his artistic repertoire.

Wes Anderson found a way to reinvent himself and still stay true to his craft and style, giving his few critics something new to chew on and dissect that should thwart the naysayers who relish in the countless parodies of Anderson’s work.

Not to say that I don’t enjoy the parodies myself but Anderson proved that his quirkiness and visual approach aren’t predictable and mundane but that they work exceptionally well and are still presented in new ways: refreshing and enjoyable as the first time one experienced his style. For a filmmaker with such a specific visual aesthetic, such a feat is unheard of after having this much longevity.