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R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D.

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Today’s feature is the 2013 Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges buddy cop flick, R.I.P.D..

The plot of R.I.P.D. is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

The director for the film was Robert Schwentke, whose other credits include RED, Flightplan, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

R.I.P.D. is based on a Dark Horse comic book originally created by Peter Lenkov, who also penned the screenplay for Demolition Man, and has done a fair amount of writing and producing on television. The three other credited writers for the movie were David Dobkin, director of Fred Claus and Wedding Crashers, and the writing duo of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who penned Aeon Flux, The Tuxedo, and Ride Along.

The editor for the movie was Mark Helfrich, who also cut Red Dragon, Season of the Witch, Hercules, Rush Hour, Predator, Scary Movie, Showgirls, and Revenge of the Ninja.

ripd2The score for the film was composed by Christophe Beck, who has provided music for movies like Ant-Man, Get Hard, Frozen, We Are Marshall, and The Tuxedo, among a handful of others.

The cinematographer for R.I.P.D. was Alwin H. Küchler, who has shot a batch of other high-profile movies, which includes Steve Jobs, Sunshine, Hanna, and Divergent.

The cast for R.I.P.D. is headlined by Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water, The Big Lebowski, Starman) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Voices, Green Lantern), with supporting roles filled in by Kevin Bacon (Cop Car, Tremors, Super, Friday The 13th), Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds, RED, Red Dragon), James Hong (Big Trouble In Little China), and Stephanie Szostak (We Bought A Zoo, Iron Man 3).

ripd4During a reddit Ask Me Anything thread, Jeff Bridges commented that he enjoyed making R.I.P.D. with the cast and crew, but attributed the film’s ultimate failure to studio interference. Specifically, Bridges stated that “the suits just cut it against the grain, and I thought, screwed it up”.

Apparently, Zach Galifianakis was originally cast as Roy Powell (the role eventually taken by Jeff Bridges), but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.

The reception for the movie was generally negative. It currently hold a user rating of 5.6/10 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 13% from critics and 38% from audiences. Financially, it also significantly disappointed: it was made on a production budget of $130 million, on which it only grossed $78.3 million in its worldwide theatrical run.

In my opinion, Reynolds and Bridges are both pretty solid in this movie: they are both talented comedic actors, but despite that, they can’t significantly elevate the material that they were given for this flick. That said, they are the sole forces in the movie that make it watchable and entertaining to any degree. Bacon and Parker also fill in good supporting roles, and round out a decent cast. In particular, I have one hell of a soft spot for villainous Bacon. As far as casting goes, I just wish that there was more James Hong, who won my admiration forever with Big Trouble In Little China.

ripd3As far as negatives go, and there are plenty, the thing that stands out most are the effects. Particularly for 2013, the visual effects are incredibly bad, and I’m not quite sure why. Either corners were cut with the budget, or the project as a whole was dramatically rushed. There are moments where the CGI gave me flashbacks to early 2000s movies like Van Helsing or LXG, which is totally inexcusable for a movie outside of the SyFy Channel. The effects were distracting enough to snap me out of any engagement I had with the story, which was limited to begin with.

This brings up another big problem: there isn’t enough time spent in the world created in this movie. The characters never seem to get past the most superficial level of depth, and even the R.I.P.D. institution itself is only shown in passing. Reynolds, who should be the audience’s avatar to the supernatural world, is never properly introduced to his new surroundings, so the audience isn’t either. I understand that the movie wanted to avoid hand-holding, and maintain a chaotic mystique to the world, but the result here is a little too hands-off. There at least needed to be a better establishment of the R.I.P.D. itself early on, much like the Men In Black organization is introduced in that movie.

Speaking of which, I think the comparisons to MIB that have often been bandied about when talking about R.I.P.D. aren’t entirely justified. Supernatural initialisms aside, R.I.P.D. is fairly distinct from M.I.B. for a handful of reasons that might not be noticeable at first glance. First and foremost, the central partner relationships in these two movies are quite different. In MIB, Will Smith is a hammy fish-out-of-water who brings most of the comedy to the table via his misunderstandings, mishaps, and unique perspective. Tommy Lee Jones is mostly a stone-faced straight-man, though quite a good one, and his comedy comes from his nonchalance in the fact of absurdity. In R.I.P.D., the duo is only similar to MIB insofar as one is old and experienced, and the other is new to the force. Reynolds’s character is more of the straight half of the duo, and is in many ways bound by his contemporary law training. His comedy, if you can call it that, comes from the frustrations of adapting to a new set of rules and a new, unfamiliar bureaucracy. Bridges plays the ham: though he has tons of experience as an officer, he is still distinctly anachronistic, which is the source of a lot of the humor around his character. He is still casual in the face of absurdity, but it doesn’t define him in the way that it does Jones in MIB. Really, R.I.P.D. is more complicated than MIB in most ways, but certainly not better for it. MIB keeps characters, concepts, and institutions outlandish, but ultimately simple and digestible.

R.I.P.D. isn’t good by any stretch: the effects are awful, the dialogue is iffy, and the story isn’t terribly engaging, but it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be from the critical response. The cast really saves it from being an unwatchable disaster, but only just. If you are a Ryan Reynolds or Jeff Bridges fan, you probably wouldn’t regret the time spent watching this flick.

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Green Lantern

Green Lantern

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Given the recent success of the Ryan Reynolds-led Deadpool film, as well as the true kickoff of the DC cinematic universe with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have decided that it is high time to take a look at one of the most loathed comic book movies of the modern era: Green Lantern.

Green Lantern was directed by Martin Campbell, whose credits include both of the Antonio Banderas Zorro adaptations, as well as two notable James Bond films (Casino Royale and GoldenEye).

The screenplay for Green Lantern went through a number of iterations over the years, but the final writing credits were given to Michael Goldenberg (Contact), Marc Guggenheim (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Arrow), Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville), and Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl). Interestingly, Greg Berlanti officially signed on to direct Green Lantern as well, but stepped down to instead direct This Is Where I Leave You, and left directing duties to Campbell.

Green Lantern was edited by Stuart Baird, a proficient and long-tenured cutter whose credits include , Tommy, The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2, and Skyfall, among many others.

The cinematographer for the movie was Dion Beebe, a well-regarded director of photography who is best known for movies like Collateral, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, and Edge of Tomorrow.

The score for Green Lantern was provided by James Newton Howard, an 8-time Academy Award nominee who has worked on films such as Nightcrawler, Michael Clayton, The Dark Knight, Lady In The Water, The Hunger Games, Falling Down, The Sixth Sense, Collateral, Waterworld, King Ralph, and Flatliners, among many others.

The cast of Green Lantern is led by Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, who would later get married in 2012. The accessory cast is rounded out by such notables as Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech), Michael Clarke Duncan (Daredevil), Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Tim Robbins (Jacob’s Ladder), Angela Bassett (Malcolm X), and Peter Sarsgaard (Black Mass).

greenlantern2The critical response to Green Lantern was overwhelmingly negative. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.6/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26% from critics and 45% from audiences. Commercially, the movie was ultimately profitable, but failed to come anywhere near its expectations. In total, it raked in just under $220 million on a lofty budget of $200 million.

There was a long history of trying to get a Green Lantern movie made prior to the culmination of this 2011 product. Kevin Smith was apparently approached to write a treatment in the late 1990s, and one of the film’s producers (and DC’s Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns was working on pitching the idea to studios as early as 2000.

Given the high profile of the film, the central roles went through a significant casting process. Some other actors considered for the lead included Sam Worthington, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pine, and Jared Leto. Many fans passionately campaigned on behalf of cult favorite star Nathan Fillion, who endeared himself to Green Lantern loyalists through a number of voice acting gigs as Hal Jordan. Likewise, the role of Sinestro could have easily gone to any one of Hugo Weaving, Jackie Earle Haley, or Geoffrey Rush, the last of whom stuck with the project in a tertiary role after Mark Strong was ultimately cast.

greenlantern3Zack Snyder was apparently approached at some point to direct the film, but decided to hold to his commitment on Watchmen instead. Of course, he would eventually become entwined with DC and Warner Brothers to create Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In the IMDb trivia section for Green Lantern, there is a quote attributed to an anonymous insider, which indicates that the film faced significant interference from Warner Bros:

“[Green Lantern] is not Martin Campbell’s cut of the film, but the studio’s. I live in New Orleans where it was shot, I read the shooting script, all of which was painstakingly filmed with intense research, and all of that was left on the cutting room floor…character development sacrificed for CG, scenes made irrelevant by removing their setup. The movie in the theater starts with an explanation of mythos that is made redundant by the more natural, scripted questions from Hal when he gets the ring. Ten minutes of childhood Hal, Carol, and Hector that sets up Hal’s first ring construct is reduced to an awkwardly placed flashback in the middle of another scene. The training with the ring is almost completely excised except for one minor scene. Most appallingly, the ending completely deletes the fact that Kilowog, Sinestro, and Toma-Re arrive at the end and help Hal defeat Parallax. Not to mention Parallax was supposed to be a 3rd act reveal after we spend the film worried about Hammond going evil, not the main villain for the entire film. I sincerely hope we get a director’s cut or at least all the deleted scenes on the video release”.

Martin Campbell is apparently in agreement with the above statements, and has publicly stated his displeasure with the studio’s editing of the film. However, there has never been an official director’s cut of the movie released.

While most of the filming for Green Lantern was done in New Orleans, most of the exteriors and identifiable landmarks are taken from San Diego. The DC comics setting for the events is the fictional Coast City, which is located on the west coast of the United States.

This film was originally supposed to kick-off a Justice League series of films. Some early iterations of the script even included a Clark Kent cameo, which hints at a future film. However, after the negative reaction to the movie, this idea was delayed until 2013, when Man of Steel was designated to start the DC cinematic universe.

According to director Martin Campbell, Parallax’s design in the movie was inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

“The images of those massive dust clouds coming down the streets from the collapsing World Trade Center are directly associated with terror”

The line “I’ve seen you naked! You think I wouldn’t recognize you because you covered your cheekbones!” was an ad-lib by Blake Lively, and is one of only a few widely-remembered aspects of the film.

Reportedly, Ryan Reynolds and director  Martin Campbell clashed repeatedly on set. Campbell has stated in interviews that his first and only choice for the lead was Bradley Cooper, and Reynolds was cast behind his back. This lead to an uncomfortable experience on set for Reynolds, who’s performance was harshly critiqued by Campbell. Reynolds stated in a Variety interview that the failure of this film was a huge relief, and that he “dreaded doing it again.”

Personally, my issues with Green Lantern are numerous, even as someone not invested in the source material. I managed to avoid it when it first hit theaters, and just saw it for the first time prior to writing this review, so a lot of my thoughts on it are still pretty fresh.

The first notable issue with the movie is the character of Hal Jordan, who is written as an unlikable ego-case. If not for Reynolds having an undeniable natural charm, he would be an insufferable character to get behind. To boot, he doesn’t really improve as a result of the events of the movie, and is basically the same person at the conclusion that he is at the outset of the story.

In relation to this, the human aspect of the plot is really hard to care about. Partially, this is due to a bloated cast and a general lack of chemistry between the performers. However, the way the film is written and cut doesn’t emphasize the characters themselves, instead focusing on action, which makes it hard to get invested in anyone.

In spite of it all, there are some decent performances to be found in Green Lantern, primarily from Strong and Sarsgaard. However, both men receive very little screen time to develop, and don’t get the necessary room to create compelling villains. Played out well, the obsessive nature of Sarsgaard’s character might have worked out, but his infatuations and eccentricities are mostly glossed over by the film.

Perhaps the most criticized aspect of the film is the extensive use of computer generated enhancements. Not only do countless alien creatures appear in fully CGI forms, but the Green Lantern suit itself has no practical elements, and all of the effects of the ring are digitally rendered. Worse than all of that, however, are the CGI modifications made to Strong and Sarsgaard, which are cartoonishly ridiculous. Despite being mostly accurate to the source material, Sinestro still looks like a pink elf-demon when depicted in live action.

I think the filmmakers was just a wee bit overconfident in the abilities of CGI on the whole, and placed a burden upon it that the technology could really handle. This also contributed to the movie’s budget rising significantly, which surely irked Warner Brothers, and contributed to their less-than-generous editing treatment for the film.

The plot itself for Green Lantern isn’t terribly interesting: primarily, it only serves as an origin story, and provides a brief setup for a follow up. While it is necessary to introduce the characters and concepts in some way, origin stories for superheroes are always a bit formulaic, and audiences have started to fatigue on them quite a bit. I think this, as much as anything, contributed to the movie’s critical failure: the story was just too familiar.

The positives of Green Lantern are few and far between, but they aren’t totally nonexistent. However, the movie is boring above all else, and is very difficult to honestly recommend to anyone. Unless someone has a curiosity about the film or is a die hard fan of the character, there isn’t much to recommend here. It is, however, quite a compelling paragon of how not to make a modern superhero movie.

Paper Man

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Max, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
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Movie:
Paper Man
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Pitch:
“It is a coming of age story, where Ryan Reynolds plays Jeff Daniels’s imaginary friend from childhood, who is still sticking around as an adult. I wind up recommending it to a lot of people who like Emma Stone, as this was one of her first really big roles.”

Background:

“Paper Man” is the creation of a co-writer, co-director team of spouses Kieran and Michele Mulroney. This is the only film that either of them has directed, and their writing credits are also pretty limited: Guy Ritchie’s 2011 “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is the only other major feature attributed to them. However, Kieran has a good number of bit acting roles here and there.  Notably, he is also the brother of the more prolific actor, Dermot Mulroney (“Zodiac,” “August: Osage County”).

paper2“Paper Man” features an interesting cast, including Jeff Daniels (still a couple of years off from his resurgence on “The Newsroom”) and Ryan Reynolds, who was coming off of his role as Wade Wilson in the high budget action flick “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (a character he is set to reprise in 2016’s “Deadpool”). As Max mentioned, it also features Emma Stone before she really hit the map. Probably my favorite surprise in the cast, however, is Kieran Culkin, who is well known for his roles in “Igby Goes Down” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” but doesn’t do a whole lot of acting. He also featured in the first two “Home Alone” movies with his brother Macaulay, not that he is particularly recognizable from those.

“Paper Man” was not well relieved by critics or audiences at the time: the film currently holds a 31% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 4.7 from critics and 3.2 from audiences. However, for whatever reason, it has a much higher score with the IMDb users, where it currently has a 6.7.

The crew of “Paper Man” includes editor Sam Seig, who has worked on films such as “Minority Report,” “Munich,” and “Catch Me If You Can,” and cinematographer Eigil Bryld, who has worked on the film “In Bruges” and the acclaimed American adaptation of “House of Cards.”

Review:

I’ve always liked Ryan Reynolds’s comedic roles, even though he hasn’t necessarily picked them well. In “Paper Man,” he is really the comedic force: Jeff Daniels isn’t absent, but he mostly reacts to other characters, and awkwardly stumbles around the film. Reynolds is a great sort of interior monologue / hallucination for Daniels’s character, and definitely illustrates his self-loathing through the dialogue. Without Reynolds’s comedic timing and superhero good looks, the movie probably wouldn’t work so well.

paper3On another front, Emma Stone really proves herself as a dramatic actor in “Paper Man,” and I can see what she started getting better roles after this. Her character has a lot of dramatic weight to haul around in the film, and she definitely makes it work.

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The film has a really interesting premise (a writer with an imaginary friend), but it doesn’t quite work here. A number of the characters are just quirky enough to be beyond belief, but not enough to be outlandishly entertaining on their own. Also, Daniels and Culkin often just come off as…creepy. These are both actors I like, but something about the way they are written is at times off-putting and uncomfortable, and I definitely don’t feel any sort of connection to them (which I assume was intended). Culkin’s character and behavior starts to make a lot more sense as the movie goes on, at least. Again, Reynolds is great comedically and Stone is fantastic dramatically, but the rest of the world around them just isn’t quite up to par. The film also seems to drag on longer than it particularly needs to, but that might just be because there isn’t a whole lot interesting going on (particularly whenever there is an extended on-screen absence of Ryan Reynolds). However, when either Daniels/Reynolds or Daniels/Stone are on screen together, everything clicks into place fantastically either dramatically or comedically, depending on the combo. It is kind of a shame that the rest of the film fails to live up to their respective chemistry.

paper4When it comes down to it, this is a film I can certainly recommend to people who are fond of quirky indie comedies. It isn’t great, but if that is your cup of tea, it is probably worth a watch. Outside of that, I can recommend this to people who are either curious to see a more obscure Emma Stone role, or to anyone who is just dying to see Ryan Reynolds in spandex outside of “Deadpool” or “Green Lantern.” I wish it held together better, but the product as it exists isn’t bad. I think critics were mostly just over-saturated on quirky indie comedies at the time, and were perhaps a bit too harsh on it as a result.