Monday, August 25, 2008

Summer movie reviews

So, here's a bunch of movies I saw this summer, and what I thought about them. the better ones are at the top.

WALL-E : What a beautiful movie! If you haven't seen this, don't waste any more time. Find a place where this is playing on the big screen and see it this week. Some people were turned off by the eco-preaching, which I agree was occasionally a bit much.* But it's so sweet, and so beautiful, that it's well worth the few moments of environmental earnestness. I think this is a five star movie, and I plan to buy it.

*(For example, let's pretend for a moment that Americans could be buried in the detritus of our own consumerist culture, and would have to flee to space. But can you see this happening to, say, the Congo Republic? No. So the central premise is ridiculous. We're not going to evacuate the whole planet because of Wal-Mart. But that's how it is for all science fiction-- and if the film is good enough, you just suspend disbelief and enjoy the movie.)

The Dark Knight : Wow! I thought that it was crazy for anyone to try to top Jack Nicholson's iconic 1989 performance as the Joker. But Heath Ledger did what I thought was impossible, and I bet he gets a posthumous Oscar for it. Everyone in this movie is great, even down to William Fitchner's brief appearance as a bank manager. This is another one I am sure I'll buy. Five stars.

Iron Man : Fun, exciting, and smart-- this is the perfect summer flick. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Tony Stark, Jeff Bridges is the best he's been in years, and Gwyneth Paltrow is absolutely delightful. It's highly re-watchable. I saw it twice in theaters, and can't wait to pick up the DVD so I can watch it again. It's just fun. I give this one five stars as well.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army : This was my happiest surprise of the summer. I liked the first Hellboy, and wanted to be excited about the sequel, but the trailer didn't thrill me. But I am so glad I went and saw it. This is an old-school fairy tale, full of ethereal wonder and grim terror. It's also really funny. Four stars, and I am going to buy it, unlike the first Hellboy.

Hancock : This one surprised me, too. I went to see Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, and Will Smith in a comedy about an alcoholic superhero. And I got that. But then it turned dramatic-- and although I would have been happy to have nothing but the laughs, I found myself really sucked in by the drama. It's very ambitious, and I think it mostly works. This one I also think might merit four stars, and if I can find it for seven or eight bucks, I will probably pick it up.

Get Smart : Funnier than I thought, but not as funny as it could have been. I love Steve Carrell, I have a soft spot for The Rock-- and they did provide me with many laughs. There were two things that I didn't love about this movie, though. One is that they made Maxwell Smart surprisingly competent, instead of a bumbling goof like he was on TV. But he still bumbles, and it doesn't always mix well with the competence. Either a smarter spy or a dumber spy would have been more entertaining, I think. The second thing that put me off is that in the climactic scenes in the last twenty minutes of the movie, there were lots of shots that looked cheap and unfinished, like they were footage from a DVD featurette called "The Making of Get Smart," instead the actual movie. It's still worth watching, but I wouldn't buy it. Three stars.

The Incredible Hulk : Not as ambitious as Ang Lee's Hulk, but more fun. Edward Norton is pretty good in this, but the monster himself is just a cartoon. So the big confrontation at the end just didn't interest me. It was just two cartoon monsters, fighting. Meh. If you see it, make sure to watch through the credits for Robert Downey Jr. in a cameo. Tony Stark and the hot Brazilian girls in the first half hour of the movie push this up to three stars. I might watch it again if someone else rented it, but I'm not going to buy it.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian : Lots better than the first Narnia movie, but they still have a bad case of Peter Jackson envy. It's a kids' book! You don't have to have gigantic epic battles everywhere. And the monsters are scary enough that I wouldn't take a child under 10 years old to see this. It's not a bad movie, and I might give it three stars. If you haven't seen it yet, it's probably worth renting.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull : Also known as My Gray-haired Father and Some Stupid Aliens Or Something. My brother told me that if you try hard not to think of this as an Indiana Jones movie, it's not bad. I think he's right. It's much more fun if you see it as an imitator, like National Treasure. Except that National Treasure was better. This was more like National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, which was pretty dumb. I mean, what kind of Indiana Jones movie has cartoon gophers? Seriously! I give this movie two stars out of charity. If someone else has rented it, it might be worth watching to make fun of. It's clearly worse than Temple of Doom. The only question is which sidekick you'd rather see in his own movie-- Short Round or Mutt. (I know how I vote.)

The X-Files: I Want to Believe : I'm genuinely sorry I saw this movie. I can't believe I'm about to type this, but, I wish I had seen Mama Mia instead. If you want to see Scully and Mulder, catch them in the reruns. This one's not worth your time. One star, for David Duchovny's impressive crazy-man beard.


Cloverfield : Awesome! This is going to change the way that monster movies are made. Plus, it was short enough that I was wishing for more instead of checking my watch. Good scary fun. Three stars. Worth renting, but you don't need to have it on your shelf.

The Spiderwick Chronicles : Not bad. The best part is the kid who plays twins. But it's hard to sympathize with the protagonists, because they do too good a job playing an unhappy family. Two stars.

So, imaginary readers-- what did I miss? What did you love that I didn't see? What should I put in my Netflix queue? Give me a tip in the comments. Thanks!


(UPDATE 9.10.2008 - I also saw Kung Fu Panda before leaving Happy Valley. Not bad! Three stars, which is a lot more than I expected to give a talking-animal cartoon with celebrity voices.)