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2008 At The Movies

January 7th, 2009 No comments

Another year, another movie wrap-up. Here’s the list of all 2008 releases I tramped down to the multimegaplex to watch. As always, films are listed in terms of domestic box-office because I’m lazy and therefore cribbing from the yearly summary at Box Office Mojo.

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • WALL-E
  • Quantum of Solace
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Get Smart
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Cloverfield
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • Baby Mama
  • Burn After Reading
  • Speed Racer
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars

That’s fifteen, two down from last year. And only five of the top 10, also down two. Maybe I should’ve seen Hancock and Madagascar 2? Eh, maybe not.

Going into 2008, a lot of folks–including myself–were seeing the potential for another 1982, a banner year for filmic geekdom. Certainly, there were a great many prominent genre efforts, despite Star Trek and Harry Potter being pushed back into 2009 for reasons known only to movie marketers.

I suspect that for many geeks and geeks-in-training, it was every bit as big as ’82. Theater clean-up crews are still wiping up the spooge deposited at screenings of The Dark Knight, the bestest movie EVER. Similarly, Iron Man had folks falling over each other on the way to the microphone to proclaim its sublime charms.

For me, 2008 was a little bet “meh.”

First, let’s get The Dark Knight out of the way. It’s telling that I not only didn’t run out and buy the DVD on its day of release (which you can damn well bet I did for Speed Racer), but I didn’t even put it on my Christmas list. Ultimately, I did receive a copy as a holiday gift, and I do intend to give it another whirl.

My relative lack of enthusiasm for The Dark Knight is for much the same reason as my muted reaction to the regenerated James Bond series: it just didn’t give me what I wanted from the franchise. Like Quantum of Solace, I respect the level of talent involved, as well as the need to curb the excesses of the past, but at the end of the day I guess I’m just not ready for a complete reinvention. For me, Dark Knight was only a superhero movie in that someone wore a cape; it was closer in feel to a modern crime drama or even a Silence of the Lambs-style thriller. And I’m sorry, but Heath Ledger is my fourth favorite Joker.

Iron Man was another one that had both fanboys and regular critics touching themselves, but again I struggled to see what the fuss was about. I did actually ask for this one at Christmas, and watched it a second time over the holiday break. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable film. Robert Downey Jr. is having fun, and it shows. On a second viewing, I still found it to suffer from a relative paucity of Iron Man; there are long stretches in which not much happens, and even the final fight is fairly brief. I actually found The Incredible Hulk a bit more satisfying as a superhero film.

The “meh” continued with Indiana Jones and Hellboy II. I enjoyed them, but neither knocked my socks off. I do think that public reaction to Indiana Jones was a bit harsh in that everyone seemed to be anticipating another Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than another Last Crusade. And all the indignation about “nuking the fridge” seemed more about trying to invent a new “jump the shark” meme than a legitimate criticism of a series that has always reveled in unbelievable moments. Back in the day, my dad complained mightily about Indiana Jones getting pulled under that truck in Raiders, and I recall similar audience reactions to Indy using a rubber raft to escape a crashing plane in Temple of Doom. The real problem with Crystal Skull was that damned crystal skull.

Another Lucasfilm release was Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which amounted to little more than a cash-grab culled from the weekly animated series. One thing that has become clear is that for as much bitching as we old-school fans do about the prequels, for today’s kids this is Star Wars, and they love it.

The other entry in the computer-animated space robot sweepstakes was WALL-E, which was a sheer delight, start to finish. I don’t go to enough movies to confidently claim that any of them is the “best of” a given year, but WALL-E was the best that I saw.

Long-time readers will of course know that I absolutely loved Speed Racer. And hey, there are at least two of us: Richard Corliss over at Time magazine put it on his top 10 list. It reminded me of another film I adored, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, not only because of its entirely green-screened sets and hyper-unreality, but because in both cases audiences just didn’t seem to care. A lot of folks who were perfectly okay with the likes of Transformers suddenly demanded complex plots and realistic characters from their popcorn flicks. Whatever. I think that blogger Chris Sims summed it up best when he chalked up its poor reception to people who actively hated joy.

Cloverfield was another movie made expressly for me. Despite my ongoing hassle with Hasbro over my duplicate Cloverfield monster, I really liked this modern take on the venerable giant monster movie subgenre.

I saw a few good comedies this year. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had a lot of good moments–especially the climactic Dracula puppet musical–but I could’ve done without having to see Jason Segal’s junk. Tropic Thunder was ridiculous fun, with Robert Downey Jr. once again the big draw, though no moment was funnier than one featuring Ben Stiller and his would-be adopted “son”. Despite my well-documented love of Tina Fey, I felt that Baby Mama went a bit flat, and wasn’t nearly as good as Mean Girls. Get Smart managed not to tread upon my affection for the original TV series, and I felt that both Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway acquitted themselves in the roles created by Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Finally there was Burn After Reading, which alternated between hilarious and too weird for words.

Can’t say that there’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2009, aside from the aforementioned Star Trek and Harry Potter (and it must be said that this is my least favorite story in the Potter series). Land of the Lost is on my radar, though the inclusion of Will Ferrell makes me wonder what they’re going for; at least it appears to include old-school Sleestak. Terminator: Salvation has my interest, if only because it’ll finally pay off the future war we’ve been promised since the original film. And the new Wolverine flick looks promising; while I don’t have the Wolverine love that most comics fans do, I’ll admit that Hugh Jackman was a lot of fun in the previous X-Men films. Oh, and Watchmen, assuming it actually comes out.

More Movies

July 20th, 2008 No comments

This was the weekend that I was determined to get caught up on this summer’s flicks. In addition to the aforementioned Dark Knight, I also took in Hellboy II and WALL*E.

Vic and I went to Hellboy II on Friday night, when everyone (and I mean everyone, I think the whole county was there) was seeing Batman. The multiplex literally canceled all of the evening screenings at one of the two auditoriums slated for Hellboy to handle Bat-overflow. Poor Hellboy: number one last week, now a forgotten freak. Someone at Universal should have their head examined for opening it a week before Batmania.

I enjoyed Hellboy II quite a bit, though it didn’t reach my too-high expectations. I love the breezy humor of the Hellboy films, and I appreciate that this version of the character is still a part of the B.P.R.D. team. (Unlike Mike Mignola’s comics series, which for years has had Hellboy on a solo vision quest.)

I was initially intrigued by the premise of the film, in which the faerie world intended to rise up against modern humanity, but I was disappointed that the rebellion was really just one pissed-off elf. In general, I found the villain of the piece uninteresting.

However, the imagination on display was enthralling. I loved the humongous plant elemental, the chattering tooth fairies and the many strange denizens of the Troll Market. I also got a kick out of the many background details, such as the episode of Night Gallery on Hellboy’s TV and the inclusion of one of the aliens from Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is said to be one of director Guillermo del Toro’s dream film projects.

I do hope that there will be a Hellboy III, though I’m concerned that the Batman-fueled audience drop-off may discourage that. I like this cast, and I want to see them pay off the still-percolating idea that Hellboy himself is destined to be the harbinger of the Apocalypse.

Today we went to see WALL*E. Now, normally I don’t like to comment on people that I know personally in this blog, but I feel that I must make an exception. Recently, one of my friends (who shall remain nameless, but knows who he is) told me that not only didn’t he enjoy WALL*E, but that he was bored by it. Now, I mean this with all due respect, but…

You, sir, are a crack-smoking monkey. (I still love ya, man.)

Rarely do I reach the end of a movie and feel the desire to stand up and applaud, but this was such a case. I sincerely believe this is Pixar’s greatest effort to date. It’s sweet, sad, uplifting and hilarious. It takes its liabilities–little dialogue, mechanical characters and a garbage-choked future–and turns them into huge advantages.

WALL*E himself is a triumph of wringing expression and personality out of often subtle movement. But even more impressive is the “acting ability” of his lady love EVE, who has less of a face and even fewer moving parts. And who knew one could make such a winning character out of a mute, unnamed cockroach?

The Pixar animators have terrific comic timing, as they prove in the short that precedes WALL*E. Presto is an excellent throwback to the physics ballet of vintage Warner Bros. cartoons, with its central conceit–a pair of linked magical hats–played out in endless permutations. WALL*E follows with many fun sight gags of its own.

The main feature is something of a Lorax for the new millennium, but it takes Dr. Seuss’ storyline a step further by having its characters actually plant the seed and reclaim the Earth. And while its eco-friendly message may not be anything new, it’s got a second moral up its sleeve: that you can accomplish miracles if you just get off your dead, fat ass. I think it’s telling that the fate of the human race ultimately depends on someone pushing a button marked “manual.”

One of the many things I loved about WALL*E is the way that its title character touches everyone he meets. His quirky friendliness literally causes others to consider new perspectives and try new things, from something as simple as waving goodbye to the rebellious act of willfully jumping off one’s assigned path.

Like many movie summers, this one often makes up in volume what it lacks in substance, so it’s nice when something like WALL*E comes along as a good example of the latter.

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