GET SMART

I wasn’t a big fan of Get Smart when Don Adams starred as Maxwell Smart in the television series. I enjoyed it a lot, but I was more into serious spying, as with James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry enjoyed their take on spydom and the recent big-screen treatment takes a lot from that treatment.

I also have to admit that I’m new to Steve Carell. I haven’t seen any of the episodes of The Office yet, though everyone I know treats me like I just kicked their dog when I mention this. I saw him in Evan Almighty and was really impressed with how he managed several saving graces during a movie that just didn’t come together the way it should have. Carell’s performances and everyday demeanor just really appealed to me.

With the summer upon us, I’ve tried to take my wife and son out to the theater once a week. We’ve got a new Warren Theater in town and I’m trying to patronize it because it is so good. When we saw Get Smart was releasing, we figured we’d go see it, but we weren’t in any hurry to. My wife and I had both seen the television series, and my ten year old has lately developed a love of spy movies.

Director Peter Segal has a history of comedic movie successes and definitely kept the original series in mind when he made the movie. However, the character of Maxwell Smart stands out as capable as well as socially inadequate. I was surprised to see Smart in action, proving himself to be a great shot as well as good in a fight. I didn’t expect that and it made the movie even more enjoyable. The first shooting range exercise with Smart and Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) caught me off-guard. From then on, I paid more attention because I knew things weren’t going to be exactly as I remembered.

From the beginning of the film, with all the security doors opening and closing ponderously, and with the phone booth waiting at the end, the movie feels incredibly like an episode of the television series. When Smart was revealed to be an analyst, that underscored the pedantic way his character always delivered his lines and the way his mind worked while building subterfuges. It was a refreshing “origin” story in that respect.

Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 is sexy, provocative, and violent, as much a perfect foil for Steve Carell’s Maxwell Smart as Barbara Feldon was to Don Adams. She looked absolutely lovely and was excellent in the role.

Dwayne Johnson stars as smug, self-assured Agent 23, but he’s supportive of Maxwell Smart’s promotion to a field agent. He’s got an ease for bringing larger-than-life characters to movie screens that seems almost innate for him.

Alan Arkin as the Chief was simply inspired. I was laughing constantly whenever he was involved. Arkin’s pitch-perfect delivery of his lines and the way his voice naturally is works well together. I didn’t think anyone would replace Edward Platt as the original Chief from the series, and in truth Arkin hasn’t, but he comes close. His interpretation of the character was great but still different than Platt’s.

The plot, while not terribly original – since it menaces L. A. with yet another nuclear device, serves to hold the story together. Maxwell Smart saving the world in his own inimitable style is what the film is all about, and it delivers everything the trailers promise.

But the goodness doesn’t end there. Bruce and Lloyd, two of the nerdy agents in the movie, also have a direct-to-DVD solo adventure that’s out in stores now. Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control is an adventure actually sandwiched during the same time frame as the movie. Sort of a meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch spin-off that looks great. Masi Oka (Heroes) and Nate Torrence (Capital One commercials) play the title heroes. Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement) plays Hymie the Robot.

Get Smart is a must-see summer movie. Take the family because this one has something for everybody.

 

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THE INCREDIBLE HULK

After seeing Ang Lee’s version of the Incredible Hulk a few years ago, I was dead-set against seeing the new release. Just didn’t need the aggravation. But two things changed my mind. Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. just blew me away, and my ten year old developed a raging interest in the Hulk while at a recent science fiction convention.

So bright and early this morning, after reconstructive nasal surgery yesterday, I took my wife and son to see the movie at 10:30. I’d stayed away from any reviews because I wanted to see the film cold and walk away with my own opinion. I figured being post-op would allow me to be numbed if the movie stunk.

Instead, I got a trip back to my childhood, and a chance to introduce my son to the television Hulk I grew up with (not exactly the Marvel Comics, but close). The second film has evidently completely done away with the previous film and leapfrogged from the television series that starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. While the title shots rolled, so did a similar short backstory that echoed everything that the television series had perpetrated during the creation of the Hulk.

Interestingly enough, the serum that changed Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) into the Hulk was part of the same Super Soldier project that created Captain America back in World War II, though General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt in a great supporting role) didn’t mention Cap by name. However, that link was one more linchpin tying the Marvel/Hollywood universe together. The cameo with Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark was another one. There are also references to SHIELD although Nick Fury was conspicuously absent.

After the opening credits finished and the backstory was in place, the movie jumped right into Bruce Banner’s life just as it would have in one of those television episodes. The backdrop of Brazil was amazingly beautiful, and watching Banner trying to learn the language and co-exist with the culture while maintaining his isolation was great. The premise of a man on the run isn’t a new one, but it’s really well rendered in this movie. I felt immediately for Banner’s plight.

The story seemed to move slowly at first. I have to admit, I had a Hulk jones. Probably most filmgoers did. My ten year old took it in stride, though his patience was waning at the end. We wanted the Hulk, we wanted, “Hulk smash!” echoing in our ears.

The first taste we got of it only left us wanting more. The fight scenes were occluded by the shadows and the darkness of the factory, but the choreography was pretty well done. I was almost frustrated, but I knew it was early in the movie. The monster remained just out of sight.

Tim Roth plays Emil Blonsky/the Abomination and does a really good job though the role is somewhat truncated by needing to fit the film into a two-hour delivery. The bits between Ross and Blonsky, where Blonsky basically sells his soul to the general in exchange for power, are well done. Ross is a complicated character, and Hurt portrayed both sides of the man fairly.

Liv Tyler was terrific as Bruce’s love, Betty Ross. She’s intelligent, emotional, and – next to the Hulk – incredibly fragile. The scenes she shared with the monster (especially since we know they were computer-generated and nothing was really there for her to act with) were fantastic. I loved the scene with her and the Hulk in the cave, especially when the lightning and thunder arced across the night and scared him into growling back at it and throwing a boulder.

I also enjoyed the fact that Banner wasn’t reduced to simply being a geeky wimp. He learned to fight, adding martial arts to his doctoral degrees, and handled himself well until he was outmatched. This was the same kind of intelligent, resourceful Banner we got in the comics and in the television show. Man and monster were both given time on the stage, and both worked well.

Of course, the movie wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a Stan Lee cameo, and it was there. I didn’t expect it the way it was shown, but it was funny. However, what would have happened to him if he drank a soda containing some of Banner’s gamma-spiked blood?

The movie paces itself well throughout, and doesn’t quite become a scream-fest of action till the end. The section where Banner meets Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), a confidant he’s been doing research with on the gamma radiation, is quite unexpectedly humorous. It doesn’t last long, but Sterns’s obvious fanboy appreciation of the monster before him plays well.

Looking at all the numerous crumbs seeded throughout the movie, I knew that Marvel hopes this will only be the start of a brand-new Hulk franchise. Betty is dating a psychologist named Leonard Samson (Doc Samson in the comic series) and Sterns is said to be set up to become the Leader (another gamma-radiation spawned opponent for the Hulk).

I had a good time with the movie. It wasn’t Iron Man but I enjoyed it a lot. The Hulk is a difficult character to deal with, and I think this approach was probably the best way to take it at this time. I was really thankful we weren’t marched through another origin story so soon after the last movie. This way we got Hulk action nearer the beginning.

Go see the movie and enjoy.

SPEED RACER

The live-action version of Speed Racer screamed onto movie screens this past weekend. The snarling, high-velocity, throaty roar of big engines gunning for the checkered flag brought fans, young and old, to the theater. But whether or not the movie is a success depends in large part on why you went there to see it.

If you go see the film to revisit your childhood with an eye to layering in computer graphics and getting vibrated by Dolby sound or THX, you’re going to get your money’s worth. If you take your child there to let them indulge in a new hero (complete with new cartoon series and video game to back it), you’ll probably be happy.

But if you go to the theater expecting something new and different, or something serious, you may be somewhat underwhelmed.

The original cartoon (anime) run of the series debuted in 1967 in Japan, and was the first breakout hit to sweep the American television audience. Although it was heavily edited to bring it to within the parameters of an American family show, the episodes still had more plot than youngsters were used to getting with their cartoons. Still, they plopped in front of the set and pushed it to one of the hottest shows on any network.

The recent movie release stays with the familiar story. Speed Racer is a young daredevil driver that ends up competing in organized races against nefarious foes. He’s supported by his family. John Goodman turns in a fun rendition of Pops, while Spritle and Chim-Chim are there in all their glory – getting into all kinds of mischief and eating their weight in snacks every time they’re onscreen. Susan Sarandon stars as Speed’s mom and portrays a mix of June Cleaver as well as modern sensibilities and pride.

Matthew Fox (Lost) stars as Racer X but doesn’t really do a lot more than let the uniform act. He delivers lines, but they’re pretty light given the movie. Still, he’s a guy that portrays the caring, older brother well.

Christina Ricci plays Trixie, Speed’s gal Friday, and looks absolutely charming. Unfortunately, the main drive in this film is the car and CGI. Ricci doesn’t get enough screen time to leave a mark.

Emile Hirsch stars as Speed. He looks the part, even in the traditional racing outfit that Speed wears that no NASCAR driver would be caught dead in. He’s given a few emotional scenes, but they’re too few and spread out too far during the course of the film.

Speed Racer has been in development since 1992 and went through a number of hands. Ultimately it ended up with the Wachowski Brothers (Matrix trilogy). They elected to go heavy on the action and the CG, which isn’t a totally bad call, and they stuck to the elements of Speed’s history.

I have to admit, I took my 10 year old and he had a blast with the movie. And there were times that I was totally conscious of the theme music playing in the background that lulled me into forgiving what I was watching.

I honestly don’t know that anyone could have made the movie that I think I would have wanted to see. The original cartoon run gave the fans pretty much everything we needed, and the people new to the franchise just didn’t get enough in this movie to buy in.

The CG stuff was awesome at times. I mean, I believed cars could jump and flip and race up mountains (okay, the Batmobile kind of broke ground for that). But when the racing sections cropped up along the tracks, I have to admit to being lost most of the time. I just couldn’t tell what was going on. The driving technique seemed to hover somewhere between stunt driving, racing, and drifting. I thought the protective “balls” that covered the drivers during the event of an explosion was cool and a lot of fun, but there just wasn’t enough scenes like that to win me over.

Speed Racer is a fun film if you have a child or can be a child for a little while. But it’s a snack at best, and not a meal that will stick with you and give you much to talk about later.

INTELLIGENCE

With the writers’ strike going on in the United States, viewers started looking for other shows to replace the plethora of reruns that plagued the evening/weekend viewing landscape. BBC shows got picked up for early American runs as well as being brought over for the first time. I ended up watching a lot of new shows myself, which makes viewing time even more complicated because now I’m trying to watch even more television than ever.

I’m thankful for the DVD market. It keeps me sane and makes DVR choices easier now that new shows are airing again. My home television library is burgeoning, though. With so much television hitting the entertainment shelves, I know I appreciate it when someone points out a winner to me, so I wanted to address Intelligence, a Canadian cop show with ongoing stories.

The other big market that’s pushed into the United States belongs to Canada. As it turns out, Canadian TV (where a lot of successful American shows are being shot) is capable of producing slickly made crime and science fiction shows.

Intelligence is part of the cream of the crop. The movie pilot came out in November 2005 and the regular series was slotted for 13 episodes a year thereafter. The show ran for two years and was cancelled in March of 2008, leaving a lot of unhappy fans behind.

An ensemble show of cops and criminals forced into collusion against the world terrorist threat, Intelligence, offered some of the best human relationships that BBC’s Spooks (called MI5 in the United States) and twisting setbacks that 24 can offer. I’ve only watched the first season and will be picking up the second, but I can’t believe Canadian Broadcasting made the decision to axe this show. It had everything a crime/drama television fan could want. Star Trek’s franchise shows didn’t have anything on the plot potential and constant, threatened realignment of main characters that Intelligence had working for it.

The kernel of the story revolves around the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s decision to recruit informants within criminal branches to keep an eye on possible terrorist threat. This is the perfect setting for uneasy alliances, treachery, and sudden violence. I thought it was the perfect television formula, like when Jack Bauer has to use sources outside government agencies or when the Federation first started teaming up with the Klingons.

The two principle characters are Mary Spaulding (Klea Scott), the director of the CSIS’s Asian Pacific Region. She’s hardworking and loyal, a woman in dangerous territory because she’s dealing with people who take care of their own interests first. Not only that, but her immediate second, Ted Altman (Matt Frewer in a totally cold and menacing role), would cut her throat immediately in order to get her position. Spaulding comes from a long line of military-oriented people, though, and she’s extremely bright and capable, and willing to make an on-the-fly decision when the wheels come off of an operation. Her personal life is a mess, though, but that’s what endeared her to me.

On the flip side of the coin, Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) is a career criminal. His hands are dirty and bloody. Reardon is a fair-minded man for a crook and has his own code of honor. But he will also kill anyone or destroy anything that menaces his family. But, as it turns out, his family is also his Achilles’ heel. His brother Michael is a drug user that just can’t quite kick the habit. His ex-wife Francine is also a coke user and falls off into the deep end on a regular basis. There’s also a lot of friction with Jimmy’s business partner, Ronnie, who gets increasingly unhappy with the deal Jimmy’s struck with the police. Jimmy feels like the real deal to me. He’s quick and vicious when he needs to be, but he takes his time when he can. I think his character is deep and layered, and I really love watching him get squeezed by family, the police, or the other gangs trying to take over his turf.

The ensemble cast provides a constant draw that I enjoy a lot. The odds and alliances continually shift throughout this first season. Spaulding and Reardon end up having to depend on each other during times when each comes under fire, but they don’t trust each other, and they resent the fact that they need each other. I like the fact that both of them are plagued by family problems because it gives them common ground to play on and earn my sympathies.

As this first season progresses, Reardon has to fight through family problems as well as increasing opposition from a local motorcycle gang (the Disciples) that is trying to take over his drug business. Spaulding continually gets whipsawed by CSIS as well as Altman and other police agents that don’t like her or want her out of the way because they don’t like her because she’s a woman.

One of the amusing things for me as an American was the presentation of American intelligence agencies and the DEA being presented in a somewhat negative light. We like to think of ourselves as superheroes out to rid the world of evil. We often forget that outside of our country we’re often viewed as interfering busybodies or opportunists.

If you haven’t seen or heard of Intelligence, the first season is out on DVD now. Hopefully the second season will be along soon. If you want a smart, savvy show, Intelligence fits the bill quite nicely and will deliver hours of viewing pleasure.

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