The Green Hornet (2011) – Review

GREEN_HORNET_Poster3I saw a film today that I had to watch on two levels.
If I were simply a film-goer who had no real idea about who the title character was, I saw an simple action comedy, an affectionate spoof of comic book heroes. It featured good, if ultimately cartoonishly absurd action sequences and a fairly decent 2-D to 3-D conversion. Consistently amusing, but never particularly funny, and pretty much devoid of any real wit or point. An aimless but fun popcorn movie, possibly appealing to an audience who may feel burned out by more serious-minded superhero films.
As an actual fan of the 75-year-old character of radio, comics, TV and film, I’m pretty much appalled. While it’s obvious the writers, star Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg know or researched a lot about The Green Hornet, this just doesn’t seem to be a Green Hornet movie. The premise seems more like: “How do we write a movie in which Seth Rogen plays a masked crime fighter?” Every choice in the film gives the appearance of  servicing that concept.

Rogen’s Britt Reid isn’t a smooth playboy or thrill-seeking daredevil, he’s a kind of  sad, petulant man-child trying to extend his frat-boy years into a continuing lifestyle, thanks to being the son of a rich newspaper publisher. Well, even that could be acceptable, if he finally becomes inspired to do something positive, if extreme with his life. The idea is toyed with, but you never really buy it, because he remains the same jackass and flop he always was throughout the film, only now with a literally unbelievably talented sidekick.
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And although Jay Chou does a good, if oddly tentative-feeling job as Kato, and every effort is made to show that he is a full partner—in fact the vital part of the team—Kato remains a sidekick.  Despite his fighting prowess and technical expertise in just about everything, he also comes off as being a bit of a jerk sometimes.
That’s no insult, because everybody in the film is pretty much a jerk, no matter how smart or scary they’re supposed to be. Britt’s dad James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) is a charmless, insensitive agressive Type-A personality-hole. The villain Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is an insecure, hypersensitive, charismaless schmuck, despite being a murderous sociopath who has somehow managed to become the major crime boss of L.A. 
Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), who becomes Britt Reid’s secretary/researcher, supposedly with a degree in criminology, comes off as a little clueless.  The D.A. Frank Scanlon (David Harbour) turns out to be a screw-up (and more). James Franco makes a cameo as a rival drug lord, who is also an loud-mouthed idiot.

The only character does not seem to be a major dip is Mike Axford, normally the comic relief in the Green Hornet universe. That’s probably because Edward James Olmos plays Axford (now the editor in chief of the Daily Sentinel) in a very low-key and bland style in the few scenes he’s actually in the film.

Gondry_GHMichel Gondry does give the film a little visual flair, which helps give the movie some life. The 3-D works alright, though in the theater I attended some scenes and the end titles were noticably cut off on the sides, to the extent that some action, and certainly credits, were not completely visble on-screen.

The action is nicely staged, and works well at first, but the situations the heroes are placed in reach truly PINK-PANTHER levels of ludicrousness at times by the end of the film — without, I must repeat, ever actually managing to be laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe you’ll smile and snicker a bit.

The Real Star of the film?
The Real Star of the film?

The Black Beauty survives things that even a tank couldn’t bear up under. It’s used as a wall-crushing battering ram repeatedly. That is presented as The Hornet and Kato’s standard tactic in dealing with drug labs. It gets cut in half and is still drive-able. Seriously. If the word serious can be ascribed to anything the film.

The Green Hornet and Kato actually kill people in this film, accidentally and intentionally, which is very much against the original conception of the character. Makes the gas gun pretty much pointless. I’m surprised the Trendle family—still the owners—let that get by. Maybe the ups and downs of trying to get a movie made since at least the 1990’s wore them out.
 
All that aside, it’s hard to hate THE GREEN HORNET. It’s kind of like that guy at the party who’s trying really hard to be likeable and amusing, but winds up being loud and a little tiresome by the end of the night.
Like I said, I didn’t hate it. It’s passably amusing, and I don’t regret seeing it, even though I might really wish it hadn’t been made in this way. I sure don’t think it’s a good Green Hornet film. If Seth Rogen had played the Blue Wombat, I might have thought it was decent slacker/stoner action comedy.
If you don’t feel nostalgic about the character, and are looking for a little undemanding fun amongst the winter doldrums, you might well enjoy the movie.
THE GREEN HORNET (2011) Columbia Pictures
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, and David Harbor.
Directed by Michel Gondry, Produced by Neal H. Moritz , Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.  Based on The Green Hornet by
George W. Trendle and Fran Striker.
Music by James Newton Howard,  Cinematography by John Schwartzman Editing by Michael Tronick. 
A Studio Original Film, distributed by Columbia Pictures.

The Green Hornet: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast #1

A Race to Top Billing: Seth Rogen (right) and Jay Chou defy death in THE GREEN HORNET.
A Race to Top Billing: Seth Rogen (right) and Jay Chou defy death in THE GREEN HORNET.

It’s all change, baby, and with that in mind we’re experimenting with the format of the podcast. We’ve stripped away the news and theatrical and homevid release segments, combining them with our weekly Post-Mortem bull session to form what will be called the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast. What’s left, now dubbed the Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast, will provide us with time to stretch out, unhinge our brains and mouths, and let the conversation about the week’s top release take us where it will.
And brudder, do we have a kick-off film for the new format. THE GREEN HORNET arrives in theaters with a clouded past that’s only been partially concealed by a late-in-the-game decision to convert it to 3D. Did the extra months give its creators — including director Michel Gondry and star/co-writer Seth Rogen — time enough to find the right balance between super-hero action and Apatow bro-comedy? Join Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to find out.

[serialposts]

75 Years of The Green Hornet

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Part One: The Hornet Takes Flight

January 31st, 1936 marked the radio debut of Detroit radio station WXYZ’s new masked crime fighter, THE GREEN HORNET. Their previous mystery man THE LONE RANGER had proved a huge hit, and station owner George W. Trendle was determined to catch lightning in a bottle once again.
With Lone Ranger writer/creator Fran (Francis Hamilton) Striker, and director of the Ranger and other XYZ shows James Jewell, he determined to come up with a modern-day paladin who could combat political and corporate corruption, along with racketeers as well as outright mobsters. Rather than bringing “law and order to the early Western United States”, this new champion of justice would also strike at “criminals within the law” in a large city. Such a vigilante would be at odds with the police as well as wrong-doers, so a new angle was needed. The solution: make the masked man a wanted criminal in the eyes of authority, a modern Robin Hood.
Fran Striker provided for that in the first adventures. Britt Reid, a globe-trotting young playboy, was given the job of publisher of The Daily Sentinel by his father Dan Reid, a maverick newsman and wealthy entrepreneur with a social conscience. Perhaps that would sober the young rascal up. Unknown to his hard-driven father, Britt Reid already had that serious side, hidden under a devil-may-care attitude. During his travels in the orient, Britt had saved the life of a man named Kato. This man would become young Reid’s friend and ally, and who despite his inventive genius would pose as a simple manservant.
Together they had built a suped-up car which they called The Black Beauty, since it had been assembled in secret in what used to be the stables of the older building where Reid lived. When the supercharger was cut in, the engine sounded like an angry hornet.

The Green Hornet Strikes, A Better Little Book
The Green Hornet Strikes, A Better Little Book

Outraged by a particular criminal, they had ridden out to deal with him in vigilante fashion. However, the miscreant was killed by another wrong-doer, and “The Hornet” was now wanted for murder. This, Reid realized was the perfect cover. He could now pose as a criminal, walk into their dens, and trick, blackmail, and betray them to the police — or set them up to wipe each other out. Rather than carrying a pair of six-shooters, the Hornet would carry a non-lethal gas gun.
As can be seen, The Green Hornet was an admixture of many other fictional heroes. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnston McCulley’s Zorro (the day-time wastrel Don Diego Dela Vega). Some of McCulley’s literary creations, such as The Crimson Clown, The Black Star, and The Bat used gas guns and bombs, rather than bullets. The legend of Robin Hood was mentioned as an inspiration, and I think the ‘bent’ hero Jimmie Dale, alias The Grey Seal had a particular influence, conscious or not.
Beginning in 1910 in Street and Smith’s People’s Magazine, The Grey Seal was named for the diamond-shaped gray paper seal he left as a ‘signature’, and not from emulating in any way a sea-going mammal. James Dale was a bored playboy, an expert on locks and safes due to his father’s business, who turned to safe-cracking as an amusing hobby. If any items were removed, they would either be returned, or if taken from a no-good, donated to a worthy cause. However, his secret was discovered by a young woman, who “blackmailed” him into becoming an active agent of justice.
Donning a black mask, coat, and slouch hat, The Grey Seal would deal with villains in the New York City badlands as well as in the salons of the rich. Author Frank Packard’s Jimmie Dale appeared a number of magazine serials, several novels, and a 16-chapter silent movie serial, ALIAS THE GREY SEAL (1917).
I should note that for the first few episodes (no recordings are known to survive) the Green Hornet was referred to a simply The Hornet. and the program actually called THE ADVENTURES OF THE HORNET, according to researchers  Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson.  However, it’s been reported in books such as Wyxie Wonderland (a book on the history of WXYZ) that the station’s legal staff raised the issue that the show bore some similarities to the pulp magazine character The Spider, such as the insect-derived name, often being thought a criminal and wanted by the police, leaving a red spider mark as a signature on his work —usually dead criminals, as Richard Wentworth’s alter-ego carried .45 automatics which he used quite liberally— and having an “oriental” aide (Sikh warrior Ram Sing serving as chauffeur and knife-wielding enforcer).
Always a shrewd businessman, George Trendle decided after some discussion to re-christen the character the GREEN Hornet, which seemed sufficient to make the name unique. There are no actual green hornets to be found in nature.
By the way, the radio Green Hornet did NOT dress all in green. He wore a hat, topcoat ( generally tan or camel in offically approved artwork), and often a scarf. To hide his identity, he wore a black mask over the lower part of his face. After a while, he sported a green Hornet insignia on the mask, like the ones emblazoned on the seals he left to mark his involvement in cases.
Al Hodge as Britt Reid in WXYZ publicy still
Al Hodge as Britt Reid in WXYZ publicy still

Britt Reid/The Green Hornet was played by the powerfully-voiced Al Hodge from 1936 to 1943, with another stint in 1945. Hodge would later go on to play science fiction hero CAPTAIN VIDEO on television for the Dumont network in the 1950’s.
Donovan Faust played the part for awhile, followed by Robert Hall, and Jack McCarthy from 1947 to the show’s end in 1952. Known to older New Yorkers as “Captain” Jack McCarthy, he would serve as WPIX-TV’s kids show host (showing mostly Popeye cartoons), staff announcer, and presenter of the Saint Patrick’s Day parades during the 1960’s and 70’s.
The role of Kato was originated by Tokutaro Hayashi, known as Raymond Toyo. The fact that he was of Japanese descent had something to do with Kato intially being identified as Japanese, rather than Chinese or another Asian nationality. (Reid and Kato met in either Hong Kong or Singapore.)
Legend had it that Kato became Filipino after Pearl Harbor, which makes a good story. However, the show had described the character as being from the Philippines as early as 1939. In later years, actors such as Rollon Parker (who often doubled as the Newsboy usually heard at the end of the programs, assuring us that The Green Hornet was Still At Large), Michael Tolland, and others played the role.
Lee Allman and Jim Irwin as Casey and Axford,
Lee Allman and Jim Irwin as Casey and Axford.

One of the characters that would make the Hornet’s life more difficult was former police officer Mike Axford. Axford actually pre-dated the Green Hornet series; he had been in many episodes of WARNER LESTER, MANHUNTER, an offshoot of WXYZ’s MANHUNTERS series, which featured various crime fighters, and also birthed the Lone Ranger. On WARNER LESTER, Axford had begun as a hard-nosed Irish cop, eventually becoming more friendly and avuncular to the hero.
On THE GREEN HORNET, he would begin as a retired police officer, now a bodyguard the elder Reid had afflicted upon his “wild” son, and living in the same home. Soon Britt would give him a job as a reporter for the Sentinel, and gently evict him from his digs. The character would mellow into a largely comedic role, though still often a menace to the Hornet, who he longed to unmask. Jim Irwin originated the role, and played the part until 1938. Gilbert Shea would play Axford from 1939.
Taking the side of the Hornet was Lenore “Casey” Case, who had been Dan Reid’s secretary when he was publisher. The part was played thoughout the entire series by Leonore “Lee” Allman, director Jim Jewell’s sister. Though she may have suspected after a number of years, Casey did not actually learn Britt Reid was the Hornet for a fact until 1948.
Ghornetlogo1940Like THE LONE RANGER, one of the things that made THE GREEN HORNET memorable was the music. WXYZ tended to use orchestral recordings of classical works. The theme was Rimsky-Korsokov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee, an apt choice. Igor Stravinsky’s Infernal Dance from The Firebird was also often used. As Russia did not recognize copyright at the time, the piece was effectively in the public domain in the U.S., and fair game.  These cues and others from various sources really gave the shows gravitas, as many radio adventure series used no dramatic music or relied upon an organist to provide accompaniment.
Also adding zip was the Hornet buzz, attributed variously to the Black Beauty’s engine, horn, or appearing apropos of nothing, simply as a dramatic device to signify the Green Hornet was present, much as a filtered laugh heralded The Shadow. Various buzzing devices were tried, including humming through a wax paper-covered comb, before the sound crew obtained a theremin, the early Russian-invented electronic musical instrument.
The show went out on WXYZ Detroit, and the stations of the loosely aligned Michigan Radio Network. In 1938, it was picked up by the Mutual Network (flagship station WOR, New York), and in later years by the NBC Blue Network, and it’s successor ABC.
THE GREEN HORNET became a national success, and soon Hollywood would come calling.
To Be Continued…

'Green Hornet' Behind The Scenes Featurette

Via Yahoo Movies here’s Columbia Pictures THE GREEN HORNET: A DIFFERENT KIND OF SUPERHERO. 
Star  Seth Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg explain their revisionist take on the venerable masked hero team of radio, movie serials, comics, and television.

Directed by Michel Gondry, THE GREEN HORNET stars Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, and Tom Wilkinson.
It opena in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D on January 14th, 2011.
Note: Due to formatting requirements, this featurette won’t display via our front page video player.

Gondry Calls Superhero Fans Fascists

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via The Guardian

Interviewed by the UK’s The Guardian, Michel Gondry, director of Sony/Columbia’s THE GREEN HORNET showed surprisingly thin skin for a professional regarding the Comic Con audience walking out on his poorly-received panel this summer.

“I usually identify with the nerds, but these ones just reinforce the social rules. Their values are fascistic. All those people marching around in capes and masks and boots. The superhero imagery is totally fascist!”

While there may arguably be an element of fascism in the superhero/vigilante concept, Gondry seems to be unaware of the actual meaning the word. Fascism refers to a movement that combines far right and far left ideologies, promoting an ultra-nationalistic, modern and mechanized semi-socialistic state organized around a corporate model. Generally, authority is vested in a strong leader who controls both civil  and military forces.
In recent decades, it’s been used as a pejorative label by various people who think that anyone who disagrees or disapproves of something they’ve created or support is a bad person. 

Enjoying  superhero films that show respect for the traditional depictions of the characters is not a character flaw.  On the other hand, using hyperbole that compares someone with a different, possibly somewhat conservative  view of things to jackbooted thugs is, in my opinion a rather large character flaw… or at least a lapse in taste and  judgement.

He goes on to say:  
“When you step into this genre, they feel it belongs to them. They want you to conform, or they won’t like you. They want the conventional. But it’s fine. The movie’s been doing very well, I think, whenever we’ve screened it to normal people.”

From that statement, one must assume that Gondry feels superhero fans are not “normal people”.

Earlier in the interview, the director said:
“I don’t mock things, which makes me more vulnerable to mockery myself. If you’re cynical, you’re protected from mockery. But I have to be nice. I don’t think I have irony. A sense of humour, yes, but not irony.” 

So he doesn’t mock people and he wants to be nice?  Is Michel Gondry sure he has no sense of irony? (Which, in case you’ve forgotten, means saying the opposite of what you mean, for purposes of humor or  sarcasm.)
greenhornet_photo2Irritation at his apparently contemptuous assessment of a potentially significant segment of THE GREEN HORNET’s audience aside, I truly hope that Gondry’s authentic talents as a director make the film worth viewing. Some of the action sequences look promising. Perhaps the action-comedy approach will work better in context than it seemed in the rather labored and juvenile gags showcased in the trailers.
Next year will mark The Green Hornet’s 75th Anniversary, and it would be nice if the film helped revive interest in the venerable character.

'Green Hornet' TV Spots

Sony/Columbia Pictures has starting running three TV commercials for THE GREEN HORNET, and has posted them on their youTube site.
The action-comedy is due in theatres in standard, 3D, and IMAX 3D formats on January 14th, 2011. 
Directed by Michel Gondry, THE GREEN HORNET stars Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, and Tom Wilkinson.
Check out the other two Ad clips at the link above.

New Green Hornet Trailer

The latest trailer from Sony/Columbia’s THE GREEN HORNET.
Well, it looks like it might actually be a fun action-comedy.
The problem is, it’s called THE GREEN HORNET, and just about guaranteed alienate any long-time fans of the 74-year-old radio/TV character—and possibly comic book fans in general.
The word is that preview audiences were enthusiastic about the film in test screenings.
Due out January 14th, 2011 directed by Michel Gondry from a script by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, based on the characters created by Fran Striker and George W. Trendle.
It stars Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Cristoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson, and Edward Furlong.
via The Moive Reel

Green Hornet 'Graphic Novel' Preview

Green Hornet adCheck out THE GREEN HORNET’s ‘graphic novel’ -style slideshow preview of the upcoming film at the official site.
There’s also an “Augmented Reality” game at Experience BlackBeauty.com — but you apparently need to have a webcam live in order to play. 
THE GREEN HORNET will be released to IMAX® theatres, simultaneously with the film’s wide domestic 2D and 3D release by Sony Pictures on January 14, 2011.

New Green Hornet Pic, Interview

green_hornet_RogenSuperheroHype has an interesting, 5-page set visit and interviews about THE GREEN HORNET online.
Here’s a few excerpts from their interview with director Michel Gondry.
Regarding taking on the script:

What I liked was when I was asked again by Seth and Evan was that they bring back the spirit of the action comedy that I didn’t see for a while now.
There is a sleek and immenseness in the superhero movie that I am not really a big fan of. It’s very much about the attitude and everything is as to be a like super posed. As the approach of Seth and Evan was much human and fun of course.

And on the reality-shifting fight scenes:

I was trying to find a way to enhance the fight and use a technique that has not been used before. So basically we shoot at a higher rate. We shoot with one camera and then we separate and sometimes one guy is going faster and the other guy is going slower and then the guy who gets slower gets faster and etc.
It’s sort of like you buy a time from the future and then you have to reimburse it. So what it does is it really makes the transfer of energy when somebody hits somebody else so the guy who hits the next guy goes very fast and then the guy when he receives the hit he goes faster.

Read the entire article at the link above.