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MOVIE REVIEW – KEVIN SMITH’S ‘RED STATE’

In 1994, this strange little black and white movie called Clerks entered my VCR, and changed the way I thought about movies forever.  The movie’s director, Kevin Smith, wrote an entire movie that entertained mostly through dialogue, and almost all of that dialogue was about sex and drugs.  Smith portrayed the character Silent Bob, half of the stoner duo Jay and Silent Bob (who had small but particular roles in the next two Smith movies, and a prominent role in Dogma before getting their only feature film, 2001′s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.)  Clerks was an independent success, and is still a sort of rite of passage with college kids, nearly 20 years later.

It didn’t take Smith too long to feel his first failure, as his sophomore effort Mallrats was panned by critics and ignored at the box office.  Smith jokingly apologized to critics for the film, and strangely enough the film eventually found its footing through VHS and DVD sales (for the record, ‘Rats is my favorite Smith movie.)  Smith’s success waxed and waned through his nearly 20 year career, enjoying highs (his third film Chasing Amy, the aforementioned J&SBSB) and many lows (Jersey GirlCop Out,the Clerks animated TV show, protests over Dogma – though it was still a moderate box office hit.)  Even if Smith has never had a theatrical smash hit, he’s always had a loyal cult following – comprised mostly of film wannabes and stoners –  who bought up the action figures, comics, and shirts with such tenacity that Smith owned two boutique/comic stores, all in the name of the mini-empire he created.

Since 2001, my faith in Smith has dwindled almost to the point of no return.  I own two copies of both Clerks and Mallrats on DVD, yet when I had the chance to purchase 2008′s Zack and Miri Make a Porno for a paltry $5 at Best Buy recently, I left it on the shelf.  I do get a kick out of his Q&A DVDs, and with his recent announcement to retire from directing, I think it would be a wise career move to continue the series; if there is one thing Smith is still good at, it’s telling a funny story.

When it was announced that his next (and apparently penultimate) film was to be Red State – a horror film – my skepticism was high, expecting it to be some dumb ripoff of every stupid torture porn film that fill theaters these days.  After all, it didn’t take long for Smith to jump ship and begin using cameos and sight gags to elicit laughter, something he used to be able to do just through well-timed, witty and sometimes smart dialogue.  Red State kept getting pushed back, leading me to believe this was to be Smith’s first direct to video film (though it has a September 22nd theatrical release date, you can rent it through Zune and iTunes.)

Smith’s 10th movie delves into fresh ground for the 41-year-old film maker, though I’m not convinced he is ready for what he started out to accomplish.  The plot is simple enough – three high school boys plan to meet up with an older woman who will have sex with all three of them.  Once they arrive, they’re in a whole new world, ruled by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a David Koresh-type religious fanatic who is waging a holy war on queers and fornicators.  Cooper’s followers are made up of only family members, so they can’t be infiltrated by the authorities. When federal agents catch wind that Cooper has finally gone too far, ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is called in defuse the situation and live with the outcome, whether he believes in it or not.

The film starts off and ends like any typical Smith film, plenty of  juvenile jokes about sex and prison rape, proving that despite new territory, Smith’s still not matured enough as a film maker to make a good film without dick jokes.  These jokes, however, have no place in this movie and make it frustrating to watch.  The film takes a different, and refreshing, tone once they show up to get it on.  Perhaps the writer in Smith hasn’t grown up enough to leave the dirty talk for another movie, but as a director he efficiently demonstrates his progression into deeper techniques.  His camera work is top-notch, which can be accredited to the parallel progression of cinematographer and frequent collaborator David Klein.

Like the camera shots, his actors also appear to have lost the static personality so prominent in his previous work. As I write this I note to myself its very unfair to compare this to his previous work, whereas one-dimensional characters and mise en scene photography are okay in a comedy, they have no place in action/thrillers, and this movie is nothing like his previous work.  In between all the crude dialogue that envelops the movie is the good film, the one I wish I had seen from beginning to end.  It’s very terse, tight, and even shocking.  This is real, no holds barred stuff.  It works as a true thriller, too, as I found myself invested in the dilemmas Keenan and other characters faced.

This isn’t the first time Smith stuck his neck out to make a religious film, before the release of Dogma it had already created controversy and the director, then a newly married and father of a newborn, received death threats before the movie even came out.  Red State is sure to cause an uproar at some point going into its theatrical release, as sensationalists are standing by to jump all over the religious themes and direct aim at zealots.  I commend Smith for sticking with the subject matter and making another film, this time one that may even deserve the notoriety it may receive, should people even care enough to notice Smith made another film.   I also give him credit for knowing his source material enough to build a convincing crazy preacher who quotes scripture at the drop of a hat and not just phoning in a script full of made up drivel.  Though not his best work, Red State is a solid film and with some practice, Smith shouldn’t have much trouble making a decent follow-up to this, hopefully this time without the childish humor  he’s relied on so much.  Assuming, of course, he’s even still making movies.

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MOVIE REVIEW – ‘COWBOYS & ALIENS’

Back in the brutal cold of winter, when the promise of warm summer nights spent basking in the glow of countless blockbuster explosions and superhero battles felt like nothing more than a distant dream, a trailer for one of those far off event films played at my local multiplex. It was chock full of everything summer blockbuster audiences flock to: Directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau! Dazzling explosions! Spaceships! Gunfights! Laser Blasts! Seat-rattling sound effects! And most importantly, James Bond and Indiana Jones together in one movie! An epic western mixed with an alien invasion!  Then, the title card came up – “Cowboys & Aliens”.

As the text faded from the screen, something about the combination of those words caused the audience I was with to chuckle and snicker. I knew right there that the mainstream audience wasn’t sold and the film was doomed. In a Summer already packed to the rafters with big-ticket sequels, giant robots, and more superheroes than you could shake a power ring at, this movie with the blunt yet high-concept title was going to get lost in the shuffle. I however, held out hope that it would still be an awesome combination of Daniel Craig pseudo “man-with-no-name” bad-assery and Alien-level extra-terrestrial menace.  Unfortunately, while it’s heads and shoulders above similar Old-west meets technology disasters like Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex, Cowboys & Aliens is a mildly entertaining clash of clichés rather than a compelling mixture of genres.

The plot is set in motion when outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakens in the desert with no memory of who he is, and a strange alien weapon strapped to his wrist. He eventually makes his way to the town of Absolution, a small mining community that barely survives thanks to the cattle trade lorded over by the fearsome former war hero Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). After getting into some trouble in town, Lonergan runs into the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde), and is taken into custody by sheriff Taggert (Keith Carradine). However, before Lonergan can be delivered to Federal Marshalls, Dolarhyde rides into town and demands Jake’s head for robbing him of some gold bullion. At this point, alien spaceships appear in the night sky, snatching townsfolk with high-tension ropes. After the attack, Lonergan and Dolarhyde band together with the survivors to track down the aliens and rescue their captured loved ones.

With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, one would expect the aliens to be a unique and  frightening  presence in the film,  but once again, we are subjected to generic grunting creatures in the ID4/Battle L.A./Cloverfield mold that do not communicate their motives or intentions to the humans at all.  We know nothing about them other than what a key character reveals about them late in the movie in an out-of-nowhere exposition dump.  They also happen to be inexplicably dim-witted for such an advanced species.

For instance, why does a technologically advanced alien race come to Earth and capture humans one by one with simple wires shot from their ships? Do they not have tractor beams or transporter technology? Why not simply fly over the town in the giant ship, capture as many humans as needed, then annihilate the rest of the entire town? Why engage the inferior humans in hand-to-hand combat on the ground when you could simply rain laser beams down upon them? I understand that in order to make it seem believable that a technologically inferior race has a fighting chance against the monsters some liberties must be taken, but these plot holes are just a little too nonsensical to overlook.

Despite being populated by stock western characters like the badass drifter, the vicious cattle baron, the honorable sheriff, the bumbling saloon owner, the beautiful prairie woman, the obligatory black-toothed outlaw gang, and of course a tribe of stereotypical hootin’ and peyote-pushin Apache Indians, The classic western aspect of the film is its strong point.  But considering how ineptly handled the aliens are, unfortunately that’s not saying  much.

Harrison Ford is eminently watchable as always, even though he lays the “surly cattle rancher” shtick on a bit too thick at times. Daniel Craig is captivating  in his usual steely eyed way, dismantling humans and aliens alike with a graceful brutality. Sadly, it’s a one-note role  that never develops much of an arc. Olivia Wilde, who manages to make a frumpy prairie dress look impossibly hot, spends most of the film spouting the exposition necessary to help Lonergan regain his memory and get the audience up to speed on his fairly predictable back story. Veteran faces like Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine,  and Sam Rockwell do the best they can with the so-so dialogue that their old-west ciphers spout in between the explosions.

Jon Favreau continues to lose steam as a big summer blockbuster director. Continuing a trend that has only gotten worse since the second half of the first Iron Man film, Favreau drops the ball when it comes to delivering truly spectacular action sequences that have a sense of danger for the characters involved. Although Cowboys & Aliens is competently shot and has a decent narrative structure, it’s ultimately pulled down by clichéd dialogue and a flat screenplay that surprisingly took five screenwriters to produce.

Cowboys & Aliens promises an intriguing mash-up of two successful genres, but delivers only an adequate summer diversion, nothing more. The whole thing  sort of stays on an even keel, shuffling along like a drifter on horseback who sticks to the safe main path and never deviates into unknown frontiers. It’s shame, there might have been more satisfying adventures off  in the caves and valleys.

MOVIE REVIEW – ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER’

As we near the end of Summer Blockbuster season 2011, superhero movies are teetering on the edge of a deadly precipice. One more misstep like the dismal Green Lantern, and public backlash to a glut of capes in the cinema could send an entire genre careening into the abyss. Thankfully, a film has come along that rights the ship and restores faith in the superhero movie – a shining symbol of hope in a morass of mediocrity. Captain America: The First Avenger more than lives up to expectations and is everything you could want in a rollicking Saturday afternoon popcorn adventure.  Not only is it the best comic-book adaptation out of the four  this year, but it just might be the best overall film of the Summer.

Set in the midst of World War II, the film follows “Scrawny” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a frail 90-lb. weakling who repeatedly fails to gain entrance into the armed forces on account of his sickly physical condition. Meanwhile The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), evil head of the Nazi’s “Deep Science” division known as HYDRA, searches for and discovers the Tesseract (Marvel’s famed Cosmic Cube), an ancient artifact belonging to Thor’s Asgardian Gods. With the aid of creepy Nazi scientist Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), he uses the Tesseract to power invincible Sci-fi-influenced weaponry that will turn the tide of the war.

Back at home, Scrawny Steve hangs out with his soon to be deployed best friend Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes at the World Expo and gets shot down trying to enlist again. But Steve’s sense of honor and big heart garners the attention of Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German Scientist now working for the Allies on a super-soldier serum that can transform American troops into Nazi-crushing super-warriors. Steve goes through the candidate training under the command of ornery (and very funny) Sgt. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and the gorgeous British officer Peggy Carter(Hayley Atwell). Steve proves his mettle and wins the chance to become the first test subject, which is a complete success, transforming him into the perfect physical specimen and the ultimate hand-to –hand fighting machine known as CaptainAmerica.

The First Avenger successfully combines a heroic World War II tale with elements of Science-Fiction and Nazi relic-hunting adventures like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The result is a pulpy, thrilling superhero romp that also knows when to slow down for comedic moments and character development.  Sure the action here is spectacular, but none of it would make a difference if you didn’t care about who Captain America was and what was at stake. Some of the best moments in the film occur when we are learning about Steve’s sense of responsibility and duty to his country and his fellow man, or when Dr. Erskine counsels Steve before his procedure, telling him, “Whatever  happens, stay a good man.”

I had my doubts about Chris Evans when it was announced that he landed the role of Cap, but he completely won me over with his performance. Evans is Captain America, imbuing Steve Rogers with an unapologetic sense of nobility and innocence. It’s so refreshing to see an actor portray a true hero in every sense of the word, without an affected smugness or irony. Chris Evan’s Cap is a man of honor; an everyday Joe just looking to serve his country and do the right thing.  As a longtime comic book fan, it was downright gleeful to see Evans in full Captain America attire in action on the big screen doing things that I had read in countless comic books through the years – throwing his shield at HYDRA goons, jumping through the air off of exploding German war machines,  performing daredevil escapes on a motorcycle, fighting alongside the Howling Commandos, and going toe-to-toe with his arch-nemesis the Red Skull with the fate of the world at stake.

The rest of the film’s cast affords itself well, especially Hayley Atwell as the badass Brit Peggy Carter. She and Steve don’t get to share a drawn-out clichéd romance, but her blossoming affection towards him evolves naturally over the course of events and never feels forced or dull (unlike Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds snoozefest in Green Lantern). Their chemistry is genuine, as is Atwell’s stunning screen presence. Tommy Lee Jones as the gruff Sgt. Phillips is terrific as always; getting the lion’s share of the snappy one-liners.

Comic films often fail or succeed on the quality of their antagonists though, and Weaving as The Red Skull provides a truly menacing villain that’s a classic combination of terrifying appearance and megalomaniacal fervor. The makeup and CGI crew who created the Red Skull’s horrific crimson visage should be commended for pulling the character directly off of the comic page and into the screen. It’s an absolutely perfect translation.

There was some concern that director Joe Johnston, with less-than stellar films like Jurassic Park 3 and the recent Wolfman debacle on his resume, wasn’t a suitable fit to bring the grandeur and glory of Captain America to the big screen. But, as he proved with 1990 cult favorite The Rocketeer, his background in production design (he designed Boba Fett and many iconic starships for George Lucas’ Star Wars saga) makes him a master at capturing a lavish, 1940’s design aesthetic. Every frame of this film is beautifully shot and captures the era perfectly, from the colorful USO propaganda shows, to the grainy newsreel footage, to the secret government science labs complete with old-fashioned dials and electrodes. It’s clear that Johnston just “gets it”. He absolutely nails the visual dynamic and sets just the right tone. All of it is nicely complimented by a triumphant military fanfare-like score by composer Alan Silvestri.

Certainly in this political climate, a Captain America film might have fallen prey to political-minded filmmakers looking to exploit the perceived jingoistic aspects of the character, but Johnston and his screenwriters never let the film get bogged down in heavy handed political metaphor;  instead they embrace Cap’s earnest, flag-waving sensibilities and play everything very straightforward. This is a cut-and-dry good vs. evil story, and a wildly entertaining one…you’d be hard pressed to find a better piece of Summertime escapism at the theater this year.

CONVENTION REVIEW – ‘CONNECTICON 2011’

On a sweltering July Friday, yours truly and two of my best LaserCola staffers drove about 45 minutes south of LaserCola Headquarters to scope out and file a report on ConnectiCon, one of the largest fan conventions in the Northeast United States. The ConnectiCon draws an estimated 8,000 cosplayers, gamers, manga/comic readers, action figure collectors, and Sci-Fi fans every year over the course of a three-day run time to its enormous, bright, and clean facilities at the mammoth Hartford Convention center.

ConnectiCon offers panels and how-to workshops on podcasting, video game design/voiceover technique, drawing Manga and traditional comic art, web site design and promotion, action figure collecting, and more. It also features a huge dealer’s room, a large video game expo/demo area, an artists colony (for webcomickers, t-shirt/sticker designers, sketch artists, etc.), screening rooms, role-playing game competitions, and an after-hours “rave” at the adjoining hotel ballroom. The cost was quite expensive, with a three-day weekend badge coming in at a hefty $60, and one-day passes ranging from $30 on Friday, $40 on Saturday, and $25 for Sunday.

The ConnectiCon website boasts an event that appeals to fans of all the major “geek” genres:

Over 7,000 people attended ConnectiCon in 2010, making it one ofNew England’s largest pop culture events. Why pop culture you ask? Well, because ConnectiCon doesn’t focus on just one element of fandom, the convention’s organizers are fans of a lot of different things, so we focus on all of the awesome stuff that we like including: web comics, anime, console games, board games, table top miniatures, science fiction, fantasy, comics books, role-playing games, live action role-playing, collectible card games, and horror. You name it we’ve probably got something related going on, even Madden Football, and spontaneous games of Twister while folks wait in line! ConnectiCon has “Everything but the kitchen sink!”

However, after spending an hour wandering the three floors of the convention, it became clear to us that Connecticon isn’t so much a Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Comic Book convention as it is an excuse for cosplayers aged 12-16 dressed as characters from Final Fantasy, Pokémon, Bleach, Cowboy Bebop, and other Japanese pop culture icons to mingle, hug each other, and pose for photographs.

The panels and events seem to be an afterthought, finishing a distant second place to the mass photo ops and the main event known as the “Cosplay Masquerade” – a talent show of sorts where the cosplayers perform skits and dance routines based off their favorite Anime, video game, etc. This certainly isn’t a negative thing, but for our group – which consisted of 20 and 30-something hardcore comic book/sci-fi/film nerds – much of the event programming left us feeling bored or out of place amongst the loud, shrieking teen and pre-teen crowd.

We did enjoy strolling through the gargantuan dealer’s room, which was exploding with colorful merchandise from all facets of the nerd universe including movie posters, steampunk accessories, imported DVD’s, comic books, medieval armor/clothing, Asian weaponry, board games, trading cards, action figures, video games, and even Japanese food treats like Pocky. Some controversy was sparked in this area, as a dealer dressed in full Nazi regalia refused to remove the Nazi items he was selling and even harassed Con attendees who demonstrated offense to the merchandise. (LaserCola.com later found out he was asked to leave and will not be returning to the Con next year).

The Dealer's Room

With the attendance that the ConnectiCon draws, one would expect the guest list to be on par with some of the mid-range conventions like Dragon Con in Atlanta or even the New York Comic Con, but comic book artists and writers from the major publishers, as well as any sort of entertainment guests from TV or genre films were nowhere to be found.  Instead, Carlos Ferro and Rachel Robinson – two video game voiceover artists – were the Con’s “signature” guests; hardly a who’s who in the geek community.

Due to poor signage and a combination of bad timing and a lack of interest on our part, we didn’t get a chance to attend any of the panels. We also skipped the “rave” and any after-hours activities. We left the Con with the impression that in order to increase their overall marketability and begin competing with the larger Conventions across the country, the organizers need to divert some of the focus away from the younger cosplaying demographic and put more effort into securing comic artist/writers from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, etc. as well as media guests like actors from Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, LOST, Firefly/Serenity, Star Trek, and Star Wars to help attract more of the older Sci-Fi comic fans to the event. We’d also like to see the convention showcase some movie props like Iron Man’s armor, Thor’s hammer, CaptainAmerica’s shield, Star Wars lightsabers, swords from Lord of the Rings, etc.

Here are our scores for ConnectiCon 2011:

  • Facilities: A+
  • Cosplaying/Photo Ops: A
  • Events/Panels: C
  • Guests: F
  • Signage/Organization: D
  • Dealer Room: B+
  • Value: C-

CLICK HERE for our full ConnectiCon 2011 cosplay gallery!


MOVIE REVIEW – ‘GREEN LANTERN’

When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I liked to root around in my parents’ dresser a lot. One day during one of my raids, I came across my Father’s high school class ring, and my heart leapt. At that age, there was only one person that I knew who wore a ring – The Green Lantern, champion of justice and venerable member of the Super Friends. I immediately slipped the ring over my middle finger and started “flying” all over the house, pointing my “power ring” at my dog, pretending to catch her in a glowing green baseball mitt after a fall, or smashing a bad guy in the face with a giant, green, glowing fist. Decades later, Hollywood has turned one of my beloved childhood heroes into a slick, $200 million production, but it pains me to say that my adventures around the living room with my Dad’s class ring were far more entertaining and exhilarating than this colossal disaster of a superhero film.

In a nutshell, Green Lantern is about a squadron of space cops (called the Green Lantern Corps) who patrol sectors of the universe, using the power of a ring imbued with the green energy of will. Each ring-user can create any object they imagine out of the green energy (usually giant fists and weapons). The rings have a weakness though – they are near powerless against the yellow energy of fear, embodied by an evil cloud of yellow tentacles with a giant head called Parallax. Parallax is wreaking havoc around the universe, and mortally wounds the strongest Green Lantern, Abin Sur (Temura Morrison). His ship crashes on Earth, where his ring must choose a new wearer to take up his mantle.

The ring chooses Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky, irresponsible test pilot who tries to escape from the fearful memories of his Father dying in a plane crash by being as daring as possible in a fighter jet. He tests jets for Ferris Aircraft, which is managed by his (presumably) ex-girlfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). The ring transports Hal to the Green Lantern Corps home world of Oa, where he meets Sinestro, the leader of the Corps, and a bizarre menagerie of CG-created aliens who all bear the ring. Meanwhile on Earth, Hector Hammond, a nerdy scientist, is infected with Parallax’s fear energy while examining Abin Sur’s remains and gains telekinetic powers. Hal must then decide if he has what it takes to stop both Hector and Parallax from wiping out the Earth.

Joyless, disjointed, and dull – Green Lantern suffers from a terribly written screenplay, and a narrative that beats the audience senseless with another tedious origin story, gobs of exposition, and a painfully boring romance. The editing is dreadful, resulting in one of the worst-paced films I have ever seen, (And I sat through Jonah Hex!). A sloppy, un-satisfying climactic battle then materializes out of nowhere without any rising action or buildup to speak of.

All of this ineptitude is rather shocking, considering the film was directed under the normally capable helm of Martin Campbell, who gave us two of the best James Bond films of all time – Goldeneye and Casino Royale; not to mention the Saturday matinee fun of The Mask of Zorro. But despite the colorful and mostly well-crafted CGI effects, and the creative constructs that Hal creates with this power ring, there is no fun to be had here.

Ryan Reynolds does the best he can with the material that he is given in this absolute mess of a screenplay, so Green Lantern’s failure should not rest squarely on his shoulders, but he is still woefully mis-cast in the role (it should have gone to the runner-up Bradley Cooper). I was dreading the snark; the endless wise-cracks and mugs for the camera that are the trademarks of a Ryan Reynolds performance, but aside from a few minor quips, Reynolds usual shtick is completely replaced with a generic affability. Blake Lively, as Hal Jordan’s love interest Carol Ferris, while not reaching January Jones-levels of awfulness, is still very wooden. Her character suffers the same fate of many females in comic-book adaptations: she drowns in1940’s damsel-in-distress and 1980’s empowered- business woman tropes, and in the end is nothing more than a cheerleader for Hal to believe in himself enough to save the world. However, kudos should be given to her character for recognizing Hal Jordan behind the goofy, CGI domino mask, thus making her the single smartest female character in the history of comic-book movies.

The romantic storyline, and anything on Earth that pulls us away from the far more interesting events taking place in outer space, completely drag the film down because the relationships amongst the characters are so poorly defined. One of the most atrocious examples of this occurs at the obligatory “party/fundraiser/press conference” (a trite scene that every superhero origin film has so that all the central characters can be in the same place when something catastrophic happens), when Hal and Hector Hammond bump into one another. The characters share a “Hey, how’s it goin” moment, and act as if they have known each other for years, yet this is the first time the audience has seen them together, and has had no visual clues or any expository dialog whatsoever to enlighten them to any prior relationship. This inexplicably and inexcusably happens several more times over the course of the film, as it’s implied that Hector had/has an obsession for Carol, and a rivalry with Hal for the affections of Hammond’s father, a slimy Senator played by Tim Robbins, whose talents are completely wasted on this arbitrary role.

James Newton Howard, best known for his subtle musical cues in film like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, is a complete mis-match for Green Lantern. The result is one of the weakest superhero scores of all-time. As a long-time comic book reader, I should have felt a sense of awe and wonder as the camera panned over the Lantern’s visually spectacular home planet of Oa, but with the subdued music, it all fell flat. A colorful superhero like this deserves triumphant, bombastic music, but here the score is hardly noticeable at all, and when it is noticeable, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Themes derivative of classic scores like John Williams’ immortal Superman seep through constantly (there are several moments where actual segments from the main Superman theme begin to play!)

The bright spots in Green Lantern (ironic – due to the title and nature of this film) are difficult to find, but some shine through the garish CGI sludge. Mark Strong, coming off excellent villainous roles in Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass is a spot-on Sinestro, the stern, driven leader of the Green Lantern Corps who (SPOILER ALERT) eventually leaves the Corps behind to become Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis. Strong is terrific, imbuing the character with honor, gravitas, and a burning passion to see the Corps use any means necessary to preserve the peace. Sadly, he is given nothing to do with all that fire and rhetoric, aside from make a couple of speeches, and appear in a post-credit reveal that needed far more build-up in order to make sense.

He and the rest of the key Corps members – Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re, and Michael Clarke Duncan (lazily and too obviously cast) as the Corps drill sergeant Kilowog – are truly wasted in this film as characters who are simply there to dump a ton of exposition on Hal, explain the powers of the ring to the audience, and serve as flying deus ex machinas to save the day in the very end. The training sequence on Oa between Kilowog, Tomar Re, Sinestro, and Hal was one of the truly fun moments in the film, but it was cut far too short to have any real impact. I would have liked to have spent more time on Oa, learning more about the different Corps members as well as the blue-skinned Guardians (the enigmatic beings who created the rings). Alas, it was not meant to be.

So, after the surprising quality of Thor and X-men: First Class, the Summer of 2011 has its first superhero dud. Hopefully the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, The Dark Knight Rises, and the promise of an epic superhero team-up in The Avengers, can stave off the inevitable comic book movie backlash that is sure to follow in the wake of this blunder.

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