Thursday, January 03, 2008


In the past, I've done "best of" lists about movies, music, etc., but the last couple of years I've kinda let that go by the wayside as I haven't really been spending a lot of money to catch current films when they are released; it's more common for me to see a film on DVD than in theatres. But yesterday I was looking around on Wikipedia for something, and happened across a "2007 in movies" page, and was surprised to note that I have, as it turns out, seen several films that came out in the previous year- mostly on DVD, but I've seen them just the same. And I thought I'd share my impressions with you.

Code Name: The Cleaner: Good one to start on, huh- these are in chronological order, so that's the way the ball bounces. Sat and watched this on cable one afternoon when there was nothing else on and I was too lazy to turn off the TV and do something. It's just a silly, stupid contrived spy-movie vehicle for comic actor Cedric the Entertainer, who really is very good in supporting roles but just isn't leading man material. Lucy Liu provides eye candy, but it's not enough.

Alpha Dog: Bleak treatment of what is supposed to be a true story, mostly notable for the fine turn done by Justin Timberlake as a conflicted teen who ends up as accomplice in murder. I got caught up in it, but I don't really have any desire to see it again ever. I watched it with my son, who was visiting, and I thanked him for not turning out like these kids did...

Smokin' Aces: This was hugely entertaining for a while, but got too clever for its own good in the last 30 minutes or so with a headache-inducing conclusion. Still, lots to like, mostly a good cast in offbeat roles. If they ever do a 100 Bullets movie, I hope it looks like this.

Zodiac: Outstanding film, a tad long perhaps but wonderfully acted and completely involving until the unresolved ending, which is frustrating, but hey- they didn't solve the real case on which this is based either so whaddaya expect? Shame on the moviegoing public for not making this a bigger hit. Guess it was that ending.

Grindhouse: Death Proof: I still haven't seen Planet Terror, so the jury is still out on Grindhouse as a whole, but I thought this was awfully pointless and self-indulgent. The wild-ass ending redeems it somewhat, but QT, I think, forgot that setting out to make a grindhouse classic on purpose is something that the Andy Milligans and H.G. Lewises of the world never did...and I would think he'd know better than that.

Spider-Man 3: Too much soap opera, too many villains. They could have made a good movie with the Sandman (and really, the Sandman parts work best) or Venom, but having them both together and icing it with that weepy, tiresome Peter Loves Mary Jane subplot just made for an overlong, noisy, crowded film that was nowhere near as much fun as its predecessors. I know it's contrary to the Way of the American Blockbuster Movie, but sometimes less really is more.

Shrek the Third: Many slagged this one as unnecessary, but really, even though it was kinda by-the-numbers (especially at the end) I enjoyed it as much as 2, and it wasn't a whole lot worse than the first one either, for that matter. It's no landmark of cinema, but it was mostly clever, entertaining and didn't seem to go on forever. Could have been a whole lot worse.

Knocked Up: Now THIS one took me by surprise in a good way- I was expecting a dumb smirkfest, but it's really quite perceptive, with very good performances by the leads and naturalistic dialogue. Of course, there's a fair share of fratboy and geek humor, but it's never mean spirited. I didn't think I'd like this one when a friend loaned it to me, but damned if it might not be one of the best films I saw this past year.

Ocean's Thirteen: If you like the Ocean's films, and I have so far, then you'll probably like this too- Clooney and Co. have a great rapport onscreen. But the payoff in this one was a little too routine for my tastes and that was a letdown.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: I could sit and nitpick this, like I'm sure most of you reading this, but at the end of the day I came away liking this OK, better than Spider-Man 3, anyway. I think, all things considered, the Four are well cast, and they play off each other well. I still have some reservations about Jessica Alba as Sue- she just looks too much like your garden variety bimbo. I say this as someone who grew up with Lee and Kirby's Invisible Girl- her portrayal may play better to non-initiates and those whose memory of the FF in comics doesn't go back much farther than Byrne. Anyway- I thought Doom was more of a credible menace, liked the CGI Silver Surfer even though I never heard Larry Fishburne's voice in my head for all these years when I've read Silver Surfer comics, and even kinda liked Unca Stan's obligatory cameo. I wonder if Unca Jack would have made an appearance in one of these if he'd lived. The big reveal of Galactus was a ripoff. Altogether not a great flick, but no disaster either, and it went down smooth.

Transformers: This one surprised me a little, too. I was prepared to ignore it completely (Transformers, the 80's toys and cartoons, were more my son's thing) until a chance viewing, walking by the electronics department of Walmart, of the scene in the desert in which the Army or Marines or somebody battles this huge robotic scorpion- it was a blast, and I thought that this might be a good, turn-your-brain-off action flick, and maybe I should Netflix it- which I did, and I was right...that's exactly what it is. Fortunately, the script didn't ignore the humans too much and benefited from some good turns by some experienced scene chewers like John Tuturro (of all people). Not bad, for what it is.

Stardust: I've always blown hot and cold over the work of Neil Gaiman- while his work in general isn't exactly innovative, and his writing voice is precious and mannered, he excels at seizing upon a central idea or theme- Underground cities in London, a family of demigods that represent human nature- and then expanding these central ideas brilliantly. When Stardust the 4-issue limited series came out, it was after he had finished up his mostly outstanding Sandman series, and I was curious about how he would follow it up. Frankly, the first issue bored me. As a result, I didn't buy the next three and was mostly unfamiliar with everything but the basic premise, and I think that helped me enjoy this as much as I did, which was quite a bit actually. It's an imaginatively presented, sweeping adventure with a little humor, not excessive but enough to keep it light (even though it sometimes veers too close to Princess Bride territory), and an appealing cast, although Claire Danes, though attractive, is a little too lumpish to be a really entrancing ethereal starperson. If Terry Gilliam had had half the budget and studio interference that Matthew Vaughn was given, Brothers Grimm would have been a masterpiece, so I guess we've come that far at least.

Across the Universe: I love the visual innovation of director Julie Taymor, and of course you all know how much I revere the music of the Beatles, so someone was gonna have to try really hard to get me to dislike this. But sometimes great expectations can lead to bitter disappointment- fortunately, that was not the case. While the script was kinda cliched and obvious, the visuals and imaginative staging and from time to time some of the vocal performances even transcended it. So far, this is my favorite film of last year.

No Country For Old Men: Then again, sometimes great expectations actually do end up leading to colossal disappointment. Sadly, that was the case here. For a good 120 minutes or so, I was excited by the best Coen Bros. flick I've seen since O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Dialogue was outstanding, performances were great, and the direction was excellent. Atmosphere, marvelous. Some of the scenes were Hitchcockian in the tension they delivered. I was absolutely caught up in the cat-and-mouse game between Llewellyn Moss and Chigur, and was anticipating the resolution...

...and beware of spoilers here, those who may be reading and haven't seen it...

...which never came.

Like an ADD-stricken kid, the Coens suddenly dropped it and walked away! We were set up for what surely was going to be the final confrontation in the El Paso hotel. But suddenly, we get Tommy Lee Jones arriving too late at the scene of a shootout which forced us to assume that it hadn't gone well, and shifted the focus to Jones' conflicted and ineffectual character. By not giving us some sort of resolution to what had been established as the backbone of the film, I felt as if a bait-and-switch had been pulled on me, and the longer I sat there the madder I got.

I don't know. The more I think about it, the more I think the theatre must have left out a reel or something. I almost turned to the other five people in there with me and asked them if they felt the same way I did about it. I haven't seen this brought up in any of the reviews or blog posts I've read, either- and I'm 99.9% sure I didn't nod off or something, so I'm just confused and saddened.

I get that the Coens were all about setting up Chigur as some sort of inhuman monster, and thematically dealing with choices we all have to make and the inevitability of death and probably a dozen other things that those more perceptive than I have picked up on...but all I know is that they really fucked up what I thought was, as I said, the backbone of the film, and I just can't wrap my head around that.

I think I'll have to sit down and watch it again when it comes out on DVD, and see if I perceive it any differently. I'm not optimistic. As compromised and bad as The Ladykillers was, at least they followed up on what they promised.

And that's my look at the films of 2007 that I've seen, so far. I'll be getting Eastern Promises today or tomorrow, and I might add it if I get the chance.

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