Monday, February 22, 2010

My Movie Year, Part 3.

Continuing my look back on the films I watched via various venues in 2009.

*- viewed in theater.

X-Files: I Want to Believe
* Up

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Dodge City
Sex and the City
Thunder Road

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian


The Most Dangerous Game

Green Lantern: First Flight

There was a time, my friends, when I was a big fan of the X-Files TV series. Witty and fresh, with an appealing pair of leads and a gnarly mystery lurking in the background, it was appointment TV for me in the mid-late 90's. Then, a funny thing happened about four seasons and one feature film in; I first realized that the one-off episodes with monsters and freaks and stuff were a lot more satisfying and just plain fun than the episodes that supposedly advanced the increasingly-becoming-more-obscure alien abduction/invasion storyline that was ostensibly the spine of the entire show. Finally, in 1999 sometime it occurred to me that the writers didn't really have an ending in mind, and they were dangling all these -shocking!- revelations in front of us viewers like a carrot in front of a horse...and I bailed. I no longer cared what happened to Mulder's sister, or how Scully got impregnated by aliens, or what the fuck was up with the Smoking Man, or any of that. I stopped watching and never looked back. By then, it all began to fray at the edges anyway as it barreled into confusion and tedium; David Duchovny left, only making cameo appearances, and new agents were introduced, Tara Kings all of them. The show was mercifully killed in 2002. Then, in 2005, for some reason, someone thought a sequel/update feature film was a good idea, even though only the hardcore X-Files junkies cared...and I Want to Believe was the result. Wisely eschewing the whole dead-end alien conspiracy theory crap, it was back in the "paranormal investigators" mode, and honestly, I didn't think it was all that bad. It felt padded and overlong, but it was good, after all that time, seeing Mulder and Scully again, and Billy Connolly was interesting as a pedophile psychic priest. It had the misfortune of coming out the week after Dark Knight premiered, which sure didn't help the box even though there has been some discussion of a third feature film, it sure seems like we've seen the end of the franchise as we know it, for now, anyway. Mrs. B and I went to see Up on the Fourth of July; it's a tremendously entertaining flick that 1), played terribly on my fear of heights; and 2) moved me to tears at least twice thanks to a couple of highly emotional flashbacks. Heck of a good movie, but I don't know if I'm ever going to watch it again! The third Mummy flick was that rarest of rare things, a third sequel that was actually more fun than its predecessor. Of course, it helps that it starred Brendan Fraser, and was partially set in Tibet. Wanted was another comic book based film that was hamstrung by the arbitrary and mostly unnecessary changes they made to the source material. Still, it had some decent effects and action sequences, and the cast was good. Dodge City, another classic Western that aired on TCM; I am always up for an Errol Flynn pic, especially when Olivia De Havilland plays opposite. I pretty much ignored Sex and the City when it aired on HBO as a regular series; just wasn't my Voutton bag, baby. This is another one I sat and watched on a slow afternoon; the sight of Kim Cattrall naked save for a bare-minimum sushi covering was a plus, but everything else was kinda dull. Thunder Road featured Bob and Jim Mitchum as shine-running brothers; it was a fun and diverting little Fifties flick. I liked the first Narnia movie just fine, as I did the book when I read it as a kid. Somehow, I never got around to reading the sequels. This one wasn't particularly memorable, even though most of the original's cast returned. Still, if they ever put out Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I'll probably check it out too. Coraline was visually beautiful, but the script, adapted from Neil Gaiman's book, held few surprises and was more than a little cloying. Most Dangerous Game was another TCM viewing; it starred the stunning Fay Wray as one of a group of people who have the misfortune of shipwrecking on a remote island and being hunted as game by the nutjob occupant. It's a familiar story, but this was one of the first attempts to film it. Finally, First Flight was an animated Green Lantern movie, which gave us an account of how Hal Jordan of Earth came to get the power of the Power Ring, and join the outer-space peacekeeping Green Lantern Corps. It had its moments, and I didn't think it was terrible, but it didn't blow me away either.

Whew! July was probably my heaviest movie watching month for some reason.

Punisher: War Zone
Transporter 3

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The Big Heat

Max Payne

War Zone was very violent and over-the-top, and was ridiculous fun because of it. I think I preferred Thomas Jane in its predecessor, but Ray Stevenson looked a bit more like Tim Bradstreet's comics covers. Speaking of over the top and silly, Jason Statham (whom I will apparently watch in anything) returned with another Transporter sequel; it was also good fun, especially if you didn't pay too much attention to the script. My grandson, who was very much into the latest Star Trek film, noticed we had STVI on VHS, and wanted to watch it. I've always thought it was one of the best of the Shatner/Nimoy flicks, and Nevan liked it too. The Big Heat was a Fritz Lang noir classic, with Glenn Ford as a driven cop determined to take down a crime syndicate boss. Being able to see movies like this is just one reason why I love TCM so much. Finally, Max Payne was a clumsy attempt to mix the supernatural and cop drama genres; it was pretty bad.

Southland Tales
* Inglourious Basterds

For some reason, as summer made its way into fall, I didn't watch too many movies, especially in September. Part of the reason was that I held on to Southland Tales for several weeks, hoping to get in the mood to finish it and failing. It was a mess, despite an interesting cast. Maybe someday I'll get around to finishing it, but it won't be anytime soon. I did go out and see Basterds, Tarantino's latest, a sly and clever attempt by the movie junkie auteur to demonstrate how film can change and reflect our perceptions of the world around us, all dressed up in Dirty Dozen clothing. Great cast, especially Christoph Waltz as Lanza, the hissable, yet devious and crafty "Jew Hunter", and Brad Pitt, channeling Clark Gable as a Sgt. York-type who heads a group that hunts Nazis. For a far better examination of this film than I can provide, I refer you to Todd Alcott.

I will conclude soon with October through December!

Monday, February 01, 2010

My Movie Year, part 2.

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

The Kingdom

The Spirit

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

Fred Claus

Bride Wars

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.


Space Chimps
Captain Beefheart: Under Review

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the 60's

Tropic Thunder

Citizen Kane



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!