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The Films of Ang Lee

Pushing Hands

The Wedding Banquet

Eat Drink Man Woman

Sense and Sensibility

The Ice Storm

Ride with the Devil

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Hulk (June 22/03)

Ang Lee's Hulk is really two movies: one concerned with familial relationships and haunted pasts, and another featuring a big green guy smashing things and soaring through the skies. The two never really connect, and that disjointed feeling (combined with a storyline that would have trouble filling a 60-minute TV show, let alone a two and a half hour movie) turns Hulk, which follows Eric Bana's Bruce Banner as he transforms into the title creature, into the first really bad comic book movie since its re-emergence over the last few years. The chief complaint of Hulk among its detractors is that there's no joy in the movie; unlike Spider-Man and X-Men, there's not a whole lot here to get excited about. Apart from a sequence that sees Hulk fighting three mutant dogs, the film's tone is decidedly downbeat and oftentimes threatens to rival Ordinary People for father-son angst. It's almost a full hour before Banner transforms into the Hulk, with a hefty dose of sorrow and pity working its way through the leads. The script goes to great pains to show how conflicted Bruce is, both in his work and in his personal life (but mostly in the latter) - the problem is, though, he's just not a particularly interesting character. But he's practically Michael Corleone compared to his father, who (as portrayed by Nick Nolte) is shown to be an intense and very insane force in Bruce's life. That's all well and good, but we never really find out why David is so determined to finish his research. And Nolte goes for the gusto, which could've been a good thing, but his performance comes off as over-the-top since we never find out what's driving the character. But aside from inconsistencies within the script, Hulk fails in its action sequences - a sure sign that Lee was absolutely the wrong choice to direct the film. The most glaring fault of the movie's visual look is Lee's overuse of split-screen, which he's repeatedly said is supposed to be reminiscent of a comic book's pages. But it just doesn't work, as Lee inserts this device into the most inappropriate moments - including a shot of a helicopter landing shown from three different angles. And then, of course, there's the Hulk himself - who's been brought to the screen using only computers. While I will admit that Hulk's facial expressions are surprisingly detailed and effective, his movements suffer from that same jerkiness that seems to plague all CGI creations. Hulk's real downfall comes at the end, when the movie turns into an all-out CGI-fest. The last 15-minutes or so are completely incomprehensible and disorienting, it's impossible not to wonder what the heck Lee was thinking. Up until that point, he had made a movie that was (at the very least) watchable - so the transition to over-the-top visual histrionics, a la Batman and Robin, is baffling (putting it mildly). And the film is left wide open for a sequel, in a scene that is admittedly more entertaining that much of what came before it. Let's hope the reins are handed to someone more suitable for the material, should that come to pass.

out of

Brokeback Mountain

Lust, Caution

Taking Woodstock

Life of Pi (November 25/15)

Based on Yann Martel's best-selling novel, Life of Pi follows Suraj Sharma's Pi Patel as he and his family embark on a journey to North America on an enormous cargo ship - with a catastrophic storm sinking said ship and leaving Pi to fight for his life aboard a small lifeboat alongside a vicious tiger. It's clear immediately that scripter David Magee isn't looking to stray too far from the source material, as Life of Pi, for better or worse, contains virtually all of the beats and plot developments held within Martel's lackluster book. This proves to be especially problematic in the film's opening half hour, which details Pi's exploration of various religions, as it's ultimately difficult to work up much interest in or enthusiasm for the protagonist's spiritual journey. And although director Ang Lee does a superb job with the movie's enthralling shipwreck sequence, Life of Pi progresses into a midsection that's just about as stagnant and uneventful as one might've feared - with the ongoing undercurrent of animal unpleasantness only exacerbating the movie's hands-off feel. The inclusion of a few admittedly engrossing interludes during this stretch - eg Pi goes to impressive lengths to save the tiger's life, the lifeboat is overrun by flying fish, etc - staves off total boredom, though it remains clear that Lee is concerned more with pretty, slick visuals than with cultivating (and maintaining) a compelling narrative. It goes without saying, then, that the big revelation contained within the movie's final few minutes falls disappointingly flat (ie it simply isn't able to make the emotional impact Lee is going for), which ultimately confirms Life of Pi's place as an underwhelming adaptation of an underwhelming book.

out of

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (November 18/17)

Based on a book by Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk follows Joe Alwyn's Billy Lynn as he and his platoon are brought home for a victory tour after a brutal Iraq battle - with the movie detailing the characters' exploits at the expansive Superbowl game where the title happening is to transpire. It's a decidedly thin premise that's employed to watchable yet far-from-spectacular effect by director Ang Lee, as the filmmaker spends a good chunk of screentime emphasizing the various minutiae involved in the buildup to the aforementioned Superbowl event - with the movie detailing, among other things, the protagonists' initial arrival at the stadium, their press conference before the game, their interactions with the two teams' athletes, etc, etc. It's clear, however, that Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk benefits substantially from its uniformly terrific performances, with, especially, Alwyn's impressively captivating and thoroughly sympathetic turn as the tortured central figure compensating for the movie's somewhat erratic atmosphere on an ongoing basis (ie the film is at its best when focused on the subdued, character-study-like exploits of its hero). And while Lee's aggressively in-your-face visual choices remain a rather palpable distraction - eg the movie often seems as though it's attempting a new record for tight close-up shots - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk also contains a number of Iraq-set battle sequences that are far more engrossing and enthralling than one might've anticipated. (There's one in particular that rivals anything in most contemporary action movies in terms of pure thrills.) It's ultimately difficult to justify Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk's almost two-hour running time, as there is, in the end, simply not enough material here to sustain a picture of this length (and yet it's difficult to deny the impact of a few key performances and sequences).

out of

© David Nusair