Resuming my look back on the films I watched via various venues in 2009.
*- viewed in theater.
Kung Fu Panda
Quantum of Solace
Grey Gardens (HBO, 2009)
In the Valley of Elah
Journey to the Center of the Earth (3D)
I found Panda to be a hugely (pun only slightly intended) entertaining martial arts adventure romp that featured some excellent character and background design, as well as several outstanding action setpieces. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it. 2006's Day Watch was the sequel to 2004's Night Watch; both are highly imaginative, if somewhat chaotic and disjointed, films about a struggle between groups of supernatural beings, separated into "Light" versus "Darkness" camps. I don't know if there are plans for more, but if they make any, I will watch them. Quantum, the second Daniel Craig Bond film, didn't impress quite as much as its predecessor Casino Royale did, but was still entertaining although the action-thriller mindset these flicks are crafted with becomes tiresome after a while. Still, I like Craig and I like his take on 007. Gardens, HBO's take on the life of the Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, was very well acted by Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange (I thought Lange was better, but so far Drew has gotten most of the accolades) and kept me interested throughout; I was unfamiliar with their story, and I hadn't seen the 1975 documentary that made them notorious/famous for a while. Elah was one of a multitude of well-meaning but dramatically inert films that came out in the wake of the Iraq conflict; Tommy Lee Jones is low-key and very good, but on the whole the movie wasn't particularly memorable. The Kingdom, another Middle East conflict flick, was the opposite of low-key, taking an action-thriller stance that was often ludicrous. It was diverting, and I didn't get bored, but I don't recommend it. I finally caved and watched Frank Miller's wretched Spirit; it was every bit as excessive, condescending and sour as I expected. Won't do that again. Finally, Brendan Fraser is back doing his lovable lug schtick in yet another take on Verne's novel; it was no classic but did a credible job of creating an epic atmosphere with lots of CGI effects and I liked it OK, but I'm inclined to like Fraser. It originally played in theatres in 3D; I wonder if that made it more of an immersive experience...
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Brian Wilson- That Lucky Old Sun
* Star Trek
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
I liked, didn't love, Ang Lee's Hulk plus I've never really been a fan of the character, not even as a kid, so I wasn't particularly interested in the do-over remake with Ed Norton. This one emphasized action over the family psychodrama that hamstrung its predecessor, a wise approach I think, and featured a more interesting cast overall. Still nothing to write home about, but I give the newer one a slight edge. Lucky Old Sun was a documentary about the making of Wilson's 2008 solo album of the same name; as I am in the bag for all things Beach Boy, I had to screen it. Wilson is a slightly pitiful, but still fascinating, fella...especially when he's working in the studio, where he suddenly becomes focused and aware like you just don't expect when you see him interact with interviewers and people outside the studio. Saw the new Trek in the theater with my son and his son...I liked the cast, that updated the old very nicely, and the nonstop action was exciting. That said, I could have lived without all the time travel bullshit, apparently conceived in order to provide a way to get Nimoy his cameo, and there are more than a few inconsistencies in a script that expects us to believe that the Grand Canyon is a short drive away from Iowa. Fred Claus had some good actors flailing away in a silly script, pretty much what you'd expect. Sometimes you watch stuff just because there's nothing else on and you don't want to get up and go outside, y'know? Which also kinda explains why I subjected myself to the horrible Bride Wars, too. I blame my daughter; she was home watching it, I was probably sitting there doing something on the laptop, and watched it too. Any movie that can cause me to be repulsed by both Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson probably should never have been made.
Captain Beefheart: Under Review
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the 60's
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Stagecoach is, of course, the venerable old John Wayne/John Ford oater; it's definitely a classic and made a star of Wayne. Rocknrolla, a Guy Ritchie effort, was much, much better than his previous film Revolver, but only sporadically recaptured the spark that made Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch so good. Chimps? Well, I guess it was a slow day or something because I recall very little about watching it. I must not have hated it, I guess...I rented a couple of documentaries from Netflix about similar subjects: Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) and his childhood buddy Frank Zappa, both of which went on to make some strange and wonderful music. I know the stories behind each pretty well, but I still will watch anything I can get my hands on about not only them but many artists whose work fascinates me- you never know when you'll see a performance clip or interview excerpt that you haven't seen before. A lot of fine people praised Thunder upon its release; I found it occasionally amusing but not particularly wow- inspiring. Tom Cruise's manic film exec was memorable. Kane is one of my all-time favorite films, perhaps the favorite, and I watch it at least once a year. Bolt was a real surprise, entertaining and clever throughout, and I even got a little something in my eye at the end. Or something like that. Spellbound- another classic Hitchcock film. I will always watch a Hitchcock movie if nothing else is on, he's a favorite filmmaker of mine. Finally, another surprise: I found the Gothed-up and bloody Repo! to be a hoot and a half, with some imaginative concepts and scenes, and some not-bad music as well. Wrote a bit more about it here (scroll down a bit).
Coming eventually, July through September!