Kinda-Review: Green Hornet (In Which I Become An Old Fuddy-Duddy)

I wanted to go see Tron again.

Heather was going out for a girls’ night with some friends, so the boys and I were having a guys’ night — dinner and a movie. There aren’t many kids’ movies out right now; and they’d pretty much seen them, except for Yogi Bear, and I do have some standards.

I’d seen Tron thrice before, and the boys had seen it twice. They’d seen Green Hornet once before, and I’d not seen it at all, and Finn really pushed for Green Hornet (because he wanted me to see it) over Tron.

I normally would have balked at the PG-13 rating — the recommended age is older than both boys put together — but their granny had already taken them, and all involved swore it wasn’t that bad. So I’m not going to be exposing them to anything they haven’t already seen. Well, OK, then, Green Hornet it is.

I should have stuck with Tron.

The thing that I’ve been wondering since then is whether it was really that reprehensible, or whether it was just my perspective was different watching it with the boys. What would I have thought if I was watching it by myself?

And it was reprehensible. The “heroes” treated each other badly. They treated women badly. Their language was awful. They fought police and put them in mortal danger on a lark. (And these are the good guys.) They were cavalier about destruction of property and endangering bystanders. Arguably, they had no redeeming traits at all. Sure, there’s a “redemptive” level of “helping others,” but it’s really far more about their own self-indulgence; their “help” is self-centered, dangerous and largely unproductive. Even their climactic battle, presented as being important, is ultimately pretty whimsical.

And I’ll admit a further bias that, while I’ve never been a huge Green Hornet fan, I felt like the movie was disrespectful to the original source, which is something that’s a big turn-off for me in movies. If you want to remake  a property, remake it in the spirit of the original. If you want to make something in a different spirit, then use some creativity and do it with your own invention instead of someone else’s.

So I can’t swear that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Green Hornet if I had seen it by myself, but I would imagine probably not. (Adding to this theory — I’ve never seen, nor had any desire to see, any other Seth Rogen movie.)

But it’s another piece of evidence for the state in the growing case that being around the boys is making me an old fuddy-duddy. Exhibit #193 — Last week, I was at the comic book store, picking up my weekly comics. (A good exhibit for the defense, let the record show.) Caden wanted a book, and I grabbed a Star Wars comic off the shelf because it featured on the cover a large number of Clone Troopers, which Caden loves. (I’m not sure whether the prosecution or plaintiff arguments are supported better by the fact that part of me finds it wrong that their post-prequel upbringing makes them think stormtroopers are good guys and not care about Han Solo.)

Flipping through it, I saw that it showed Anakin, sans a good chunk of his arms and legs, dangling from the ceiling, having his cybernetic systems replaced. Later in the book, and somewhat subtly, a minor character’s head is visible mid-frame, having been removed from its proper place via lightsaber. Is this appropriate for a five-year-old? How am I supposed to know? Is it any worse than the last Star Wars movie, which he’s seen?

And I found myself thinking a weird thought, that I never thought I would think.

And let me point out, I think it should be optional, I think you should be able to publish whatever sort of comic book you want, but I think there should be a way of knowing what comic books are appropriate for what audiences.

But, dadgumit, I miss when books were approved by the Comics Code Authority.

Review: “Country Strong”

Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund in 'Country Strong'

“Country Strong” is a good movie.

It’s also  two-thirds of a great movie.

First, the good. The music is incredible. It’s always a challenge making a movie about a fictional great artist, because it has to be believable. If you’re making a movie about a great writer, but the writing in the movie is crap, the movie falls apart. The audience isn’t going to buy you’re movie about a great painter if they think they could paint just as well. If a movie says something is a hit song, it has to sound like it could be a hit song in real life.

“Country Strong” succeeds quite well in that respect, having drafted the best and brightest songwriters to create songs that, had they not been used in the movie, might even have been more successful in the hands of the right artist. At the beginning of the movie, two characters start riffing an idea for a song, and you hope that the finished version will re-appear later.

The soundtrackis strong enough to be a good country compilation album, with no weak links. In fact, for those wanting to buy the music,  I would recommend the download-only “More Music” companion album,with the actual movie tracks, over the official soundtrack album, which has polished and produced re-recordings of the songs by major acts.

(Two personal notes — For being someone with no taste for country music just three years or so, it amused me that I watched the credits for the songwriters, and recognized more of the names than Heather, who was one of the people that inspired my interest. Second, I am more than a little jealous of Garrett Hedlund, who last month got to play in the Tron universe and this month is singing a Lori McKenna-penned song on screen. I would hope for some your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate moment where he’s eventually singing a Lori McKenna song in a Tron movie, but my head threatens to explode when I try to imagine that combination actually working.)

The McKenna-penned track, “Chances Are,”is perhaps less distinctively Lori than some of the other songs she’s written for others but no less solid; with her personality a bit sublimated to the personality of the film.

“Country Strong” presents itself as a vignette on the struggle between love and fame; postulating that you can’t have both. (Which makes the casting of Tim McGraw somewhat ironic — he and Faith Hill are very much the counter argument to the film’s hypothesis.) It also, perhaps even more interestingly, explores the similarly conflicted relationship between fame and artistic integrity.

It’s the story of country star Kelly Canter, played quite convincingly by Gwyneth Paltrow, and her husband-manager James Canter, played convincingly by country star Tim McGraw, with both actors disappearing into their roles. When we first see Kelly, she is in residential rehab for drug abuse; her husband comes to take her out early to mount a three-date comeback tour.

Joining them for the shows are up-and-comers Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester). Both are types — Beau is a fictional Lance Miller, Chiles starts out as a screen version of Taylor Swift. If you said “who?” to the Lance Miller reference, that’s the point — Beau is the artist who, despite his talent, is too “real country” to make it to fame in today’s world of country pop. (Appropriately enough, Miller has a songwriting credit for the film.) Chiles is the beauty-queen ingenue singing radio-friendly bubble-gum country for teenage girls. Hedlund and Meester also turn in strong performances, their characters at times overshadowing the leads.

But that’s the flaw of “Country Strong” — it can’t decide which of these stories it really wants to tell, and it isn’t willing to commit to being a true ensemble anthology. The movie is good; a version of the movie half-and-hour longer could have been Oscar-quality. As it is, the film goes beyond the idea of “show, don’t tell” and barely even shows. We see what the characters do, but all too often, we don’t fully understand why. Is Kelly in a struggle to fight for her dreams against her demons, or is she so far gone that she randomly has good days and bad? Is James selfishly trying to sell his wife for his own gain, or is he really trying to do what he thinks she needs? How much is Chiles evolving as a character, and how much is she just responding to where she is?

Ironically, a version of “Country Strong” that was longer and more raw could have explored these issues better and been a brilliant film, but perhaps less postured as a hopeful commercially successful — the movie itself is ultimately a victim of the struggle it addresses, between artistic integrity and fame.

None of that changes the fact that, despite what the movie could have been, it does what it chose to do quite well — with great music, brilliant acting and a compelling story arc.

With the character exploration the movie didn’t get into, it’s essentially a lighter fictional version of “Walk The Line,” but with enough in common that there many people who enjoyed that movie will like this one.

Chances Are.

Heather wrote her own review of the movie on her blog yesterday.

Review (Kind Of): “Tron Legacy”

kevin and sam flynn in tron legacy

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m biased.

I’m biased in part because I was born at the right time to love the original Tron, and had conversations in college about how cool a sequel could be. (Answer: Not nearly as cool then as it could be now, given how movie-making has changed in the intervening years.) So I wanted to see a sequel to Tron, and I wanted to like it.

But I’m biased for another reason. I still have vague memories of my dad taking me to see the original Tron in the theater that used to be in what used to be Parkway City Mall the year I turned seven. Friday night, Heather needed to do some Christmas shopping, so I took the boys, seven and almost-five, to see Tron Legacy. And it was really cool sharing with Finn something that I got to do at the same age. As an added bonus, the next day, we all went to a Christmas church service Sunday night, and I got to watch Finn and my dad talking about Tron, getting to be both the kid and the adult at the same time.

Arguably, that was the ideal way to see Tron Legacy — with the recaptured joy of the child that I was 28 years ago, and vicariously through the fun of a child enjoying the neon thrills of the new film. For all the world-building and exposition and family emotion, it’s still, ultimately, a movie about guys that throw glowing Frisbees at each other. It’s a tribute to how much fun the original Tron was, and this movie is, that they can make kids want to leave the theater and have fights with Frisbees.

And it is fun. It’s pretty and frenetic and glossy and cool, and unabashedly and unapologetically fun. Thanks to changes in technology and movie-making over the intervening years, it’s a much more polished and mature and accessible film than the original Tron, with a more rooted emotional core, but at the same time it takes itself less seriously in a lot of ways. As critics will point out, it’s not perfect, but, really, that’s OK.

And me? I bought my toy Tron disc the next night.

Time And Again

Though I’ve never seen it, I bought a copy of Wall Streeton Blu-Ray this week.

I’ve heard it’s a good movie, and rather significant, and all that, I’ve just never really cared enough to watch it.

I bought it because the sequel is coming out this weekend, and I want to watch the first one so I can watch the second.

That said, my feelings about the sequel are really not that much different than the first. It looks rather interesting, but I don’t know that it’s really something I would, for its own merits, be in a big hurry to go see.

Either movie individually, I’d be somewhat blasé about. Put both of them together, and I’m extremely interested.

Basically, it’s less the plots of either movie that I’m interested in, than the passage of time between the two. Between the two movies is a span of 23 years, and I’m a sucker for long-term storytelling like that.

I watched the original Rockyon DVD, but, while I’ve seen bits and pieces of the next four Rocky movies, I’ve never watched any of them all the way through. I never had any desire to do so. Rocky Balboa,I watched the weekend it opened. I loved the idea of the character being revisited 16 years after the last movie, and 30 years after the first.

I’m also a sucker for aging for some reason, and can easily get into movies that deal with that subject. It wasn’t as long a gap since the first movie, but that’s part of why I love Star Trek II,which is a meditation on the aging of Kirk and his crew, 16 years after the beginning of the five-year mission. It’s fascinating to see them deal with being past their prime, a theme that was even more prevalent in Rocky Balboa; you never see movies about action heroes after the action ends. This was one of my disappointments with the latest Indiana Jonesmovie, I would have preferred it deal a little more with aging and the passage of time. (One of my disappointments.)

To a lesser extent, Kevin Smith dealt with this in a different way in Clerks II;his characters are still young, but at an age that they should no longer be the man-children that they were in the first film. I’m intrigued by the rumors of a third Bill & Ted movie for the same reasons. I have a hard time envisioning a real-time-aged Bill and Ted.

And, oh, sweet Tron: Legacy. Old Jeff Bridges and young Jeff Bridges in the same movie? Yeah, count me in.

What about you? Do you have any favorite long-delay sequels?