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I am – Hercules!!

Everything’s still all kinda rerunny on the TV side of Ain’t It Cool, so I’m suddenly seeing a lot of movies, biding my time before CBS trots out “Big Brother,” my shameful and all-consuming summer obsession.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the meantime, o my brothers:

Spider-Man 2

As a character-driven action film, “Spider-Man 2” rates right up there with the likes of “Die Hard” and “Aliens” and the “Terminator” movies and “The Empire Strikes Back.” I can’t wait to see it again, it will be the biggest movie of the year, and I think it could even end up outgrossing “Titanic.” It’s got everything the first film had and more.

In broad strokes, its plot is weirdly parallel to the one employed by “Superman II.” It deals with a guy who ditches his superpowers to accommodate the girl he likes, then winds up re-embracing his superhumanity when the same girl is imperiled by grudge-bearing supervillainy. But where Clark Kent’s decision was a deliberate one, Peter Parker’s seems to be steered by the subconscious.

Part one felt very much like a film Sam Raimi directed, but this second installment feels like something Raimi generated from scratch. It feels like something the guy who made “Darkman” and “Army of Darkness” would write and direct if you gave him free rein and a towering pile of cash. Its pacing rivals “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The action scenes are generally much more exciting and less obligatory. The elevated train fight is frightening and suspenseful and ultimately pretty moving.

Genius-level comedy abounds, but the exchange with Bruce Campbell is show-stopper. So is the “I’m back!” scene. Peter Parker’s newspaper boss, J. Jonah Jameson, is more sharply drawn this time around and every single scene he visits is a comic home-run.

We also get a huuuuge bad-guy upgrade. If the Green Goblin had perhaps worn out his welcome at junctures, Otto Octavius seems to be utilized much more pointedly, and sparingly. His mechanized arms are scary and cool and sometimes pretty amusing, and the way in which they’re attached to the doctor’s spine (as demonstrated in those unfortunate TV commercials) is both convincing and quietly horrifying. We’re left wanting more.

The ending is happier, I think, and more satisfying. There are loads of great surprises, and none greater than the last big one, which is a sort of a gigantor double-surprise. If someone even hints about what it is in talkback, know that banishment will ensue.



The Life Aquatic

All of Wes Anderson’s movies are great, and "The Life Aquatic" is my favorite to date – mostly because Anderson has finally situated centerstage longtime collaborator and comedy ubergenius Bill Murray.

Murray is a riot as Steve Zissou, a vain, disreputable American version of Jacques Cousteau who makes self-important, vaguely fraudulent documentaries about his own underwater adventuring. Zissou is out to revive his career by confronting the aquatic monster that lunched on Zissou’s elderly partner. Along the way, there are semi-unanticipated obstacles.

The underlying sadness one always associates with Anderson’s films still lurks, but this boasts the silliest comedy of any of the director’s efforts to date. Silly films are good if they’re funny, and, make no mistake, “The Life Aquatic” is fricking hilarious.

The film constitues an absolute career peak for Willem DaFoe, who seems to be rapidly morphing into David Letterman’s old recurring sidekick Brother Theodore. DaFoe has never been, and almost certainly will never be, as entertaining as he is as Klaus Daimler, Zissou’s relentlessly insecure German second-in-command.

Even beyond Zissou and Daimler, the film contains inspired characters numerous enough to fill four or five movies. I particularly enjoyed the always-reliable Jeff Goldblum, very funny as Zissou’s oblivious and much-better-financed oceanographic and romantic rival. Cate Blanchett has never been cuter as the skeptical and disparaging journalist Zissou covets. Owen Wilson pulls many a sneaky laugh out of Ned Plympton, an adoring Zissou fan who may actually be the filmmaker’s son.

Much (most?) of the film unfurls as a Zissou-made documentary, allowing for unusually propulsive pacing, agreeably abrupt transitions and much hilarious captioning.

Longtime Anderson fans will enjoy “Bottle Rocket” flashbacks as Zissou turns clumsy action hero at key junctures. The beach-storming sequences suggest what “Charlie’s Angels” might have been like had Bosley been dispatched to do all the rescuing.

Per Anderson tradition, the music is wonderful, particularly the Devo tune that accompanies one extremely gratifyingly comic montage.

"Life Aquatic" is another one I'm keen to see again, like now, but it won't have a proper run in cinemas until year's end.



The Terminal

A romantic comedy from Steven Spielberg, "The Terminal" pretty much screams “Capraesque!” and is worth seeing if only to glimpse 1) the comic mastery one associates with Tom Hanks, and 2) the handful of really, really funny sight gags that punctuate a left-field dinner-date scene.

It’s about a traveller who finds himself unable to leave a New York airport after a war erases his European homeland from the globe and his passport is rendered invalid. Viktor the visitor manages to infuriate the airport’s head Homeland Security officer (Stanley Tucci) by figuring out how to survive and even thrive among the restrooms, bars, and coffee shops that line the facility. Catherine Zeta-Jones has never been more adorable as an American flight attendant who takes an interest in Viktor.

The film only finds itself undone when the script lapses a bit too readily into sentimentality. It might have been smarter to drop the more dramatic elements, which seem at odds with the film’s unlikely premise.


The Hercules T. Strong Rating System:
***** better than we deserve
**** better than most motion pictures
*** actually worth your valuable time
** as horrible as most stuff on TV
* makes you quietly pray for a fire

I am – Hercules!!

Looking for bumper stickers, plush toys and girls’ underwear covered with cartoon double-amputees? Visit The Herc Store!

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