Seen at the Movies:
I wanted to like The Hulk more than I did. After the sublime Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, anything seemed possible for director Ang Lee, including making something serious and psychologically complex out of the Marvel Comics character best known for inspiring a cheesy 1970s TV series. And at times, he succeeds. The film is grandly designed with more split-screen effects than have possibly ever been used in a movie; these multiple panels of information, which of course remind one of comic frames, join simultaneous actions and past and present events in the life of protagonist Bruce Banner. The fluidity of the editing, which matches the thrilling grace with which Banner’s titular id-like alter-ego flies through the air (much as the characters in Crouching Tiger did) conveys an unusual poetic quality on the film.
The Hulk photo: ILM/Universal Studios
But there are several crucial problems here. One is the exposition, which makes hash of the central story for neophytes like me. A lot of effort is spent accounting for the combination of genetic mutation and environmental factors that bring out Banner’s inner hulk, and it still doesn’t make much sense. Not that such a thing has to, but the more you try to explain something like this, the more nonsensical it’s likely to seem. Then there’s the matter of Banner’s father (Nick Nolte), a government scientist who starts all the trouble with his experiments before Bruce is even conceived. This character’s motivations are largely mystifying, and seem to change direction from one scene to the next. Does he want to save his son? Destroy him? Discard boring old Bruce in favor of the Hulk? Because, in the form of actor Eric Bana, Bruce is indeed boring--another big flaw. His voice and affect are flat, and if he’s supposed to be smoldering, somebody should have fanned the flame just a bit more. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in this guy.
The Hulk photo: Peter Sorel/Universal Studios
It’s a relief when Banner transforms into the big green fellow, an entirely CGI creation that never looks like anything else, but is entertaining nonetheless. Overall, the work ILM, under Dennis Muren’s supervision, did on the Hulk’s movements is a triumph, and it’s amusing to note that Lee himself modeled for some of the character’s motion capture. Close-ups of the Hulk’s face are less effective--the emotion he shows when eyeing ladylove Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) looks comical (as in silly, not comic book-like). Special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri does an outstanding job matching ILM’s computer effects with their physical traces, and all of it is shot with gusto by Frederick Elmes. The production design, by Rick Heinrichs, takes its desert-y palette from De Chirico, while costume designer Marit Allen had the thankless task of designing Banner’s purple stretch underwear, which miraculously stays intact as the Hulk fills it out. --John Calhoun
Ang Lee with designer Rick Heinrichs. Photo: Sam Urdank/Universal Studios
Seen at PS 122: Flow is the work of a fantastically gifted writer and performer named Will Power. It’s also something of a new theatre form: an entire play, performed by a solo artist, entirely in the rhythms of rap. Flow is the story of seven urban griots, a collection of highly singular characters who pass on their hard-won wisdom by telling stories. With shape-shifting skill and lightning-quick transitions, Power embodies each of them. My particular favorites were the old wino Breeze, with his story of a roach named Fred and his efforts to save his kind ("We gotta bring this genocide to an end," says Fred); Preacha Man, the blissfully vegan Whole Foods checkout clerk ("Organic, non-irradiated coconut milk? Aisle Three," he helpfully informs a customer); and Besombee, the dance teacher whose life is dedicated to preventing his students from ingesting all toxins, from cigarettes to liquor to Twinkies. The performance is set to the electric mixing work of DJ Reborn, who provides the backbeat for this tumultuous verbal music. Behind the laughter and wordplay is a serious tale about how communities thrive by cherishing their traditions; these characters constitute an endangered species, struggling for survival in a harsh urban environment. If I have a reservation about this production, it’s that, by setting the entire 80-minute text to a hip-hop beat, Power is forced to pitch the entire story at the same level of intensity; about two-thirds of the way through, I started to get weary of all that percussion. If he wants to keep working in this form, he’ll have to find a way to provide more emotional and rhythmic variety. His director, Danny Hoch, took a couple of years to develop his performing style, so let’s just say now that Will Power is a big talent, and you should keep your eye on him. David Ellis' setting, with its weird, blood-red streetscape, dominated by an Escher-like pattern of stereo speakers, is a true original (Ellis also supplied video images suggesting the storm that wreaks havoc late in the play). Sarah Sidman’s lighting, with its confidently executed shifts of color and angle provides a visual equivalent of DJ Reborn’s aural mix. Gabriel Berry’s costumes are most appropriate. This co-production of New York Theatre Workshop and the New York City Hip-Hop Theatre Festival looks like one of the summer’s real surprises. --David Barbour
Flow photo: Joan Marcus