WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 8

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my eighth WWW:

1) The Legend of Butch & Sundance:
The no-frills credits as the film began were definitely a clue to its origins as a made-for-TV movie, as the acting and plot structure would soon betray as well. We revisit the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film my dad took my mom to see on the night he proposed, so already we're treading on sacred ground. To be fair, the idea of revitalizing the Western genre with younger actors isn't a bad idea, but anachronisms do slip through. Filmmakers should note that, in the old days, the term “dude” was not used with the same colloquial familiarity that it is today. Despite little faults like this, there is an entertaining bit of banter and gunplay as the two young legends meet and become friends. There's a love triangle, which tries to break predictability by having the young woman fall for both of our title characters, and but we're subsequently less sympathetic once she starts manipulating both men and acting cutesy about it. The tone just seems off. The plot also falls into episodic territory, with convenient shifts at just about the point the movie would be broken up into multiple episodes in syndication. And ultimately, that ends up being one of the greatest flaws, that the whole thing feels like exactly what it is: a pilot for a series that never gets picked up. By television standards, I enjoyed it, but leaving one loose end for future “episodes” while clearly establishing the premise for an ongoing series makes it fall short of a quality theatrical or even DVD release. I gave it a 3 out of 5 stars because I was entertained and didn't dislike it, but I was definitely judging it as a television movie and nothing more.

2) Green Lantern: First Flight:
Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern, finally gets the animated spotlight after previous modern DC animated series focused on his successors such as Kyle Rayner or John Stewart. We get the classic origin story, as the cool-under-pressure test pilot meets a dying alien peacekeeper and inherits his weapon, a ring which controls green energy allowing the user to fly and create forcefields and other constructs. Christopher Meloni captures Jordan's demeanor, taking everything in stride and adapting to the most out-of-the-ordinary situations. He soon meets the larger force of the Green Lantern Corps, and is taken under the wing of Sinestro who, voiced by Victor Garber, steals the show. Bruce Timm, describes what follows as a Training Day scenario, and I don't think that spoils too much, as even newcomers should wonder why anyone trusts someone named “Sinestro”. Will the rookie prove himself and outshine a corrupt veteran? The tale reaches epic proportions, and does an excellent job condensing years of comic book history into just over an hour. I hope the upcoming live-action movie will be as good.

3) Prison Break: The Final Break:
If you were a fan of Prison Break the series, you'll definitely want to check out this direct-to-DVD coda. The last episode of the four season drama wrapped things up, but a four year leap between scenes toward the end made it all feel a little rushed. Not wanting to be dictated by the limits of a network episode order, the creators and actors filled in the blanks. There's the usual levels of contrivance, convenience and coincidence placing key characters in key positions for the sake of storytelling and seeing familiar faces, and on some level the movie retreads parts of the first season but set in a women's prison. But there are the usual twists, insane planning, and strategy that made the show great and made Michael Scofield such a watchable character. In the end, the film underscores how much he was willing to sacrifice for those he loved and how much of a master strategist he was. The man could not only see design flaws in architecture and exploit them, but those in people as well. I got the sense that the events of the film were a condensed version of what we might have gotten had the show been renewed for a fifth season, and I don't think it would have been as good drawn out for another 22 episodes. In a world where series are either cut down too soon or run too long, it's nice to have one that told a complete story, and ran for just the right amount of time to tell it.

4) The Spiderwick Chronicles:
Having not read the novels on which this film was based, I cannot say how faithfully it interpreted the source material. I will say that it was an enjoyable movie and that Freddie Highmore did a good job playing twin brothers. The tone reminded me initially of The NeverEnding Story, based on a young boy finding a book full of fantasy creatures and being sucked into that world. But the premise is actually that his great, great uncle discovered that these creatures are real, and concealed in the world around us, and the book reveals how to see them, since most cannot be seen if they don't want to be. And, as the boy discovers the secrets of the book and his brother and sister are drawn into the threat it poses, it starts to feel a lot more like Gremlins. Children might be the main target audience, but the movie is surprisingly dark at times. There are cuts and scrapes and blood and a few messy deaths along the way. Even the emotional tone of the non-fantastic side of the world is dark. The children and their mother are in the house where the book is discovered because the father has abandoned them for another woman. The daughter of the man who wrote the chronicles is in an asylum because no one believes her stories about goblins and trolls. A child tells his mother he hates her. There are some truly dark moments, offset by lighter ones thanks to the vocal talents of past legend Martin Short and future legend Seth Rogen. The crazy of Nick Nolte is put to good use here as well, making for a truly imposing adversary as he leads the forces of evil in an attempt to get the book that holds the secrets and weaknesses of all the other magical creatures. In the end, it makes for a great adventure and I enjoyed the ride.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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