Monday, January 11, 2010

Summer movies

Well a few months later seems the appropriate time to comment on summer movies. Listed in the order I saw them over the summer (no DVDs). There didn't seem to be as many interesting releases this year and several times I wanted to go see something but there wasn't anything particularly attractive, especially with matinees at $8.

Star Trek (J.J. Abrams) - Mentioned earlier as something of an ideal summer movie and the only film here that I want to see again.

The Hangover (Todd Phillips) - With its reconstruction of events remembered only in fragments this resembles a comic version of Memento. It's certainly quite inventive in spots and as funny as almost anything I saw this year. The big problem is that even though this is a movie about a bachelor part in Las Vegas did it have to be so blatantly misogynist? I'm not even trying to be pc about it - this was so severe and completely unnecessary that it took the film down a couple of notches.

Land of the Lost (Brad Silberling) - Yes, I know better than to watch a Will Ferrell movie but the original TV show was a keystone in my childhood. Its oddball adventures and twisting concepts burrowed into my young teenage mind and while I'm sure it would be painful to see now it still couldn't be as painful as this film. From just a few minutes in until the finish it's a "what were they thinking" experience with joke after joke thudding flat and no apparent effort to hold anything together. Was all that potty humor really necessary? (No but why were they even trying?) Danny McBride is the only person to bring anything of life. With any luck Ferrell will soon become a where-are-they-now memory.

Year One (Harold Ramis) - I'll admit that the trailer made me laugh and got me into the theatre. Turns out anything of even passing amusement was in the trailer so we're left with a tedious travel story where stuff just kinda happens and soon I wanted Jack Black's normal stupid hyperactivity, usually something to avoid. Ramis is usually much better but everybody falls now and then.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Michael Bay) - Yep, I've seen the first film again and still think it's a solid action outing. This is something else. It's a bad sign that in the very first scene not only could I not tell the robots apart but it wasn't until later that I realized that some of them were supposed to be the good guys. And it just gets dumber and more anti-sensical from there. A lot could be forgiven for some decent dialogue - during the chase scenes a bit of screwball-esque bickering between LaBeouf and Fox would have done fine but apparently that never crossed anybody's mind. C'mon just hire some sitcom writer for a bit of script doctoring. Then again after a while you just have to shut down and gawk at the purty esploshuns.

Up (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson) - For a while it seemed like Pixar could do no wrong. Then The Incredibles ended up being entertaining but unimaginative, Cars was a complete misfire that looked like a Pixar ripoff, Ratatouille was their first film that was hurt by being done with computer animation (if anything needed cel work this was it) and WALL-E had a landmark first half and a blandly conventional second. Up is a bit of a return though it's got just a bit too much stop-the-bad-guy heroics to really go back to their glory days. And you have to admire them for front-loading such a sad story.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (Carlos Saldanha & Mike Thurmeier) - I saw this in 3D. First surprise was that it was an extra $5 which I would have skipped except I wanted to try modern 3D. It didn't add much if anything to the film. Some of the chases and swinging are appropriately "exciting" but in general I should have watched 2D. Overall the film was a passable time waster, nothing particularly good but not where I kept checking my watch.

Public Enemies (Michael Mann) - I'd hoped for The Untouchables meets Heat but got, well I don't know but something I didn't want. Too much of the story is bogged down in the minutae of the various criminals (possibly a result of basing this on a non-fiction book or at least having paid for the rights and feeling like they needed to use the material). After a while it's hard to tell who's who and harder to much care.

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp) - Possibly not really a summer movie but it came out at the end and got strong promotions during the summer so I'm counting it. I'm a sucker for fake documentaries so when the first scenes appeared that couldn't have been in the "doc" that we're watching I was a bit annoyed. Turns out to have been Blomkamp's strategy to move us into a more standard story - the entire thing ends with a wham-bam action sequence that shows us who really should have directed Transformers. Though Blomkamp doesn't completely follow his premise all the way through (that action sequence remember?) he still has enough clever twists and genuine anomie that it's a distinctive film. I think, though, that most of the positive reviews are congratulating themselves for recognizing the political commentary which is really Blomkamp's biggest mistake. Such a heavy-handed reference to apartheid is pretty pointless or even regressive. By now nobody is going to be swayed about apartheid itself and far far less about actual racism here at home. Certainly Blomkamp stacks the deck by making the aliens anthropomorphic and giving them cute lil' babies. Imagine if they had been genuinely alien with breadloaf-sized slugs for infants, inexplicable murders/sacrifices, strange behavior, etc. Or what if they weren't all the same, what if some were the equivalent of worker insects with leaders of a completely different type. Anti-racism is based on the premise that all people are basically the same (and I'm using "premise" not because I don't believe it but because this is a contested and not self-evident idea). What if the aliens were in fact vastly different? Is it acceptable to put barely sentient drones into a camp? Then again that's not the film he made - his is the one where we recognize the essential humanity of aliens and grant them essentially human rights. For a far more nuanced and complex view of this idea check out American Zombie.