Friday, 19 June 2009

In The Summer, In The Cinema

My most recent poll was put up probably too late to draw much attention, but for once that screw-up was only partially my fault. As I mentioned before, this is a particularly weak summer line-up, and we can perhaps attribute that to the after-effects of the writers' strike, as well as the stellar quality of 2008's summer season, which set the bar so high. How could this year compare to a line-up that featured such entertaining films as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Kung Fu Panda? Still, I should have at least made more of an effort, even if only for old time's sake. Here are the results:

  • JJ Abrams Risks Death by Unwashed Nerd Rage-On - 8 (47%)
  • Quentin Tarantino and the Broken Spellcheck - 3 (17%)
  • Transmogrifiers 2: Return of the Awesome - 1 (5%)
  • I’d Rather Be Dragged To Hell Than Watch Spider-Man 3 Again - 1 (5%)
  • Pixar’s Whassup, Bitches? - 1 (5%)
  • The Time-Travelling Bana - 1 (5%)
  • Harry Potter and the Thing in the Place with the Whatsit - 1 (5%)
  • District 9 (AKA Neill Blomkamp Rocks Your Face Off) - 1 (5%)
  • Terminator Franchise: Salvage Operation - 0 (0%)
  • The Curious Case of Wolverine Wutton - 0 (0%)
  • Angels, Demons, and Probably Ewan McGregor’s Schlong - 0 (0%)
  • Another Worthless Woody Allen Movie - 0 (0%)
  • Hott Sam Rockwell’s Lunar Oscar Bid - 0 (0%)
  • Depp and Bale in: Untouchablesque - 0 (0%)
  • Sacha Baron Cohen and the Inevitable Lawsuits - 0 (0%)
  • (500) Days of Self-Conscious Indie Movie Quirk - 0 (0%)
  • Demetri Martin + Ang Lee + Hippies = WTF? - 0 (0%)
  • G.I. Joe: The Struggle to Give a Shit - 0 (0%)
  • The Unnecessary Remaking of Pelham 123 - 0 (0%)
  • Final Destination: Rube Goldberg’s Revenge - 0 (0%)
  • Judd Apatow’s Self-Loathing People (feat. The RZA!) - 0 (0%)

What's weirdest about Star Trek's overwhelming success is that people were still voting for it weeks after it had come out. From what I can tell people were seeing it more than once, so perhaps this was a retroactive vote of happiness after people had already seen it. Whatever the reason, it's great to see so much support for something that was treated as a hubris-tainted disaster before even a frame of it had been shown. I had expected something approximating greatness for a while, hoping that J.J. Abrams would go for broke after playing safe with the frustrating Mission Impossible 3, but sadly my anticipation worked against me.

When I finally saw it I was a little disappointed, even though I liked it a lot. The hectic pace was necessary to get all of the characters into place while setting up the Trek universe for N00Bs and telling a story, but it might have been a touch too crazed even for me. It didn't help that seeing it in IMAX made all of those whip-pans and lens flares far more exhausting than they would be on a regular screen, as well as making Zachary Quinto's eyebrows and the... how can I put this tactfully... heavily-detailed face of Chris Pine hella-distracting. I have been trying and failing to see it again on a normal sized screen to give it another shot at blowing my mind. Even without that reassessment, so far it's the movie to beat this summer. Why? Because Abrams destroyed Vulcan. That takes balls of brass. Or dilithium.

After that, the only movie generating more than baseline excitement is Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. All the more surprising after the critical drubbing it received at Cannes. Not that that matters. Tarantino is one of those rare artists that have created a work of pop culture art of such great impact that they get a free pass for life. Just as I'll follow Eno or Dylan or Scorsese through thick or thin, Tarantino movies will always feel like an event, even when the result is a disappointment (I'm thinking Kill Bill Part Two). It worries me that a die-hard Tarantino fan like Bradshaw gave it a memorable slating, but he seems uncomfortable around schlocky b-movie stuff.

Yes, he gave Star Trek a big five-star review, but then claimed throughout the review that Nero and his grumpy cohorts were Klingon. It suggests he never really pays attention to the "baser" end of the cultural spectrum. Which is fine, of course. Thank God for him giving props to Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Andrei Zvyagintsev despite the whining of readers offended that he would dare like something "arty". Nevertheless, if the movie is going to feature more than one explosion or decapitation, or is actually colossally dreadful, stupid, and predictable on almost every level, best to take his review with a pinch of salt/gunpowder.

Speaking of things that explode, Disguisatrons Two: There Will Be Oil got my vote. Yes the first one had as many flaws as it had great moments. Yes it could be confusing. Yes it blah blah ah fuck it. I loved the first one just because it set out to be a robot mayhem movie with broad jokes and explosions and unearned drama, and it did that with zero apology. I wasn't a huge Transformers fan so I didn't weep because Mammothtron was the wrong shade of teal. I think Michael Bay's decision to make every action scene hectic and every conversation a series of unconnected smart-ass jokes is a terrible kind of genius because you can tune out every few seconds and never lose track of what's going on, because there's nothing coherent to lose track of, and nothing has any dramatic weight. It's spectacle for the sake of spectacle. Criticising Bay for not being Ingmar Bergman is as futile as criticising cheese for not being gaseous. (ETA: I wrote that sentence yesterday, and what do you know, Bradshaw hated it, using a customarily brilliant metaphor about sex to illustrate the point. However, when criticising the awful Megan Fox, he invoked the memory of Liv Ullmann! Spooky.)

Bear in mind, he's probably the only action filmmaker I'm willing to give this latitude to (see Stephen Sommers comments below), simply because he does this stuff bigger and better than anyone else. Without the outrageous spectacle, that dramatic emptiness is really apparent. As I feel obliged to say every time I get excited about a Bay movie, I'm not crazy. I'm fully aware it could suck, but I won't have to wait long to find out. I'll be seeing it on Saturday on IMAX, Crom willing, and if that format made Star Trek hard to watch, it will almost certainly render hardcore Bay nigh-unwatchable. But, you know, who cares? BOOM!

I'd be very very surprised if it gave us anywhere near the pleasure Drag Me To Hell did. Sam Raimi's gloriously silly granny-spitfest entertained parts of my brain I'd forgotten I had, i.e. all of the neurons that were born during my first viewing of Evil Dead II. Much as I have grown to dislike seeing movies with large audiences, I would have liked to have seen this with more people, even if only to drown out the noise of this one old guy who chattered away when we went to see it (my intense glare of disgust did not phase him, oddly). The few dozen people who were in there hooted and shrieked and laughed throughout, and it was great.

I can't remember the last time I saw a film work so well simply because it is so proudly base and silly, but then that's probably because Sam Raimi has not been making those films for a while. Seeing his return to his roots has been one of the highlights of the year, and not enough people have experienced it. For shame, humanity! If you've not yet seen it, you have to go see it right now, even if only for the fight scene in the car about twenty minutes in. I can't remember a more brazen attempt to get a response from a crowd, nor can I remember a scene that has been as successful in generating one.

Canyon's vote went to Pixar's Up, the long-awaited follow-up to Monsters Inc. from Pete Docter. This is a particularly hard movie to write about as the majority of Americans we know have already seen it, and we remain Ed-Asner-less. It's not out in England until October, meaning we're going to have the same silliness we had with Ratatouille, where we saw the movie on the big screen three weeks before the release of the region 1 DVD. Wall*E came out quickly, but we were not crazy about that. Up's trailers have been so wonderful, and unexpected, and glowing, that we're more excited about this than any other Pixar movie to date. Now I know how the Japanese feel (movies get released months late over there, for reasons I do not understand).

Then there's some weirdness. A vote for The Time-Traveller's Wife? Was this a Journeyman fan? An Eric Bana fan? Just for having Ron Livingston in the cast, I'll be giving that sucker a miss. Same goes for Harry Potter and the Wig of Translucence or whatever it's called. I'm afraid I'm not a fan, though that's partially because I stopped reading the books before they, apparently, got a lot more complex. While Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy captured my imagination, J.K. Rowling's books almost completely passed me by. I enjoyed Prisoner of Azkaban (the book), but never got any further.

As for the films, Chris Columbus' dreadful work on the first one put me off for good, even though Alfonso Cuaron eventually turned up to save the day. Of course, that fifteen-hour narcolepsy-inducing disaster is the one Potter movie that's in constant rotation on Sky Movies, so there's no getting away from it. I will watch them all eventually, even though the second one is full of icky spiders BAD BAD MOVIE!!! I like that they're becoming darker as they progress (just like the books), but from the impressive trailers for the latest film, if the next two are darker, they'll have to be directed by Michael Haneke. (Idea!)

One final vote, for Neill Blomkamp's District 9. Alien Nation without a rubber-headed Mandy Patinkin drinking sour milk? I can't wait either.

After that, the majority of the films on the list got no votes. Fair enough. I struggled to come up with a list, and most of these films wouldn't interest me either. I had high hopes for Terminator Salvation, though most fans had written it off just because McG was involved. For a good stretch of the film he did a good job, with two stand-out setpieces in the first hour, and the good sense to hire Bryce Dallas Howard, Christian Bale, relative newcomer and scene-stealer Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright rocked), and last but certainly not least, internet search engine sensation Moon Bloodgood, as Tough But Beautiful Post-Apocalypse Lady In Sexy Tight Trews.

Sadly, it all fell apart in the final twenty minutes, with action scenes dragging on for too long, before a horribly compromised final reel fell flat. Then there was the distracting and relentless tide of references to the first two movies. I had had enough by the time Christian Bale pulled out the CD player and cranked out You Could Be Mine, an act that suggested he had occupied himself during the nuclear winter by scavenging in burned-out record stores when not shouting into his walkie-talkie. Sadly, there was more to come, with numerous shots lifted wholesale from James Cameron's originals. By the time "Arnie" showed up, I half expected Rick Rossovich to rush in from stage left to hit him in the head with a lamp.

Still, at least I had enjoyed it for a while, and it exceeded my expectations by some distance. The opposite could be said for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which could well be the worst Marvel adaptation to date. It's definitely in the bottom three. There are no words to express how awful the goddamn thing is, and even my fanboyish pleasure in watching Hugh Jackman do his thing was dented, probably because I know he got more involved in the making of it, which means the stink of failure is upon him. Sadly, that stink oozes off the screen like some kind of miasmic deathcloud, and settles on us as well. And when I say stink, I'm talking a mouthful of skunk-ass-juice stink right in the mouth. That stinky. That FAIL-y.

Even weeks later, after numerous failed attempts to remove the stink with lemon juice, Viakal, and Febreeze, I was still flashing back to some of the dreadfulness. The hilarious sped-up shot of Wolvie hacking away at a fire escape; Ryan Reynolds wasted as Deadpool; that horrible final fight in front of a green screen; the pointless last act retcon of one major death just to have that death happen all over again; Cyclops' eyes setting fire to things when any fule kno that his eyebeams are pure force, not heat; Wolverine meeting Ma and Pa Kent and getting them killed within a few minutes of showing up; "Why is the moon so lonely?", which has to be the funniest line of dialogue of 2009; the galactic-level stupidity of the whole sorry enterprise. Right now, not even an Uwe Boll movie written by Paul Haggis and starring Cameron Diaz and Paul Walker could topple it from the Worst Movie of 2009 position.

I mean, Angels and Demons was not as bad as Wolverine. How is this possible? Middle-aged man runs around Rome shouting factoids about Catholicism vs. adamantium berserker rage. It should have been a slamdunk. And yet the former was more entertaining, even though the identity of the bad guy was obvious as soon as they opened their mouth. I spent the whole film being very obnoxious to Canyon, acting like a cross between Rex Reed and Sherlock Holmes, and I was even more annoying when my suspicion was vindicated. Still, my mom liked it, so it all worked out well.

What else is there? I have high hopes for Moon, as my mancrush Hott Sam Rockwell is pretty much the only person in it, which is how I feel about a lot of movies he's been in. God knows when it comes out here. Public Enemies will thrill me no matter what: my love of Michael Mann is so strong that I liked Miami Vice despite its many many flaws, so the only thing this could do to disappoint me is to be less entertaining than John Milius' muscular feature debut, Dillinger. Bruno could be fun. Who doesn't love jokes involving dildos and rednecks?

Other than Woody Allen, who seems to have hired Larry David to replicate his own shtick but without the bite. No votes for Whatever Works, which tells me that this blog is not read by Larry King. He recently tweeted 'Just saw Woody Allen's new movie Whatver [sic] Works" It's his greatest movie, even better than "Annie Hall" I can't say good enough about it!' Considering the endearingly random quality of his tweets, which are not that far removed from the comments in this prescient Onion article, I'm not sure this is an opinion to be trusted. After the hysterical car-crash that was Cassandra's Dream, I just don't see how Allen can even recapture the dizzy heights of Alice and Another Woman, let alone Husbands and Wives or Manhattan.

I'm also uninterested in (500) Days of Summer and Taking Woodstock, partially because they seem super-quirky, but mostly because I can't help but think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Demetri Martin accidentally switched movies. Surely JGL should be working with Ang Lee by now? If we do see (500) Days, it'll be in the hope that a) Zooey sings, and b) we find out if that fucking irksome (500) is justified by the plot.

For a change, I'm even less interested in seeing the last two action movies on the list, which is odd considering my love of pyrotechnics. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is by Stephen Sommers and will therefore have the same tedious talkFIGHTtalkFIGHT structure, but without the exuberance of Bay, or his gift for composition. (I will ignore all flaming on this point, so don't bother.) Plus, it will not be anywhere near as good as the Warren Ellis-scripted cartoon on Adult Swim.

Speaking of futile attempts to improve on greatness, The Taking of Pelham 123 shouldn't even exist. Last week we rewatched the original Joseph Sargent thriller, and it's enormous fun. Plus, it's already been remade as a TV movie, and indirectly by Spike Lee with Inside Man (obviously it's not the same plot, but it has the same feel, and has great fun dramatising New York's infamous air of exasperated cynicism and multicultural tension).

Though I'm not surprised no one wants to see The Final Destination (now in eye-shattering 3D!), why does no one want to see Funny People? Okay, so it sounds like incredibly mawkish navel-gazing sub-James-L.-Brooksian tripe, but The RZA is in it! Bobby Digital, people! Have you seen Derailed? He plays a postroom guy who hangs out with executive Clive Owen, and it's the most out-of-place performance I've ever seen. Each time they interacted, my brain tried to leap out of my head. There's that bloke from Chancer, walking through the office, and OMG HE'S CHATTING WITH THE RZA! Everything's better with a bit of RZA in it.

So, anyway. Go see lots of movies, and in a couple of months, if I remember, I'll put up my usual end-of-summer polls to determine which movies sank, which swam, and which soared like celluloid eagles.


BlueJayWay said...

A vote for "Time-Travelling Bana" could also be a vote for Star Trek, right?

Admiral Neck said...

That mental jiggery-pokery makes me very happy. Much more reassuring than the possibility that there is an audience for this movie that couldn't even be deterred by the memory of The Lake House.

Bowler said...

Inglourious Basterds would make for a great video game plot

Masticator said...

The vote for Harry Potter was me, in the knowledge that it's the only film my lazy, cinema-free-small-town-dwelling arse may be exercised to go to this summer. I'm not especially psyched by the ads – particularly that one that makes it look like a shitty romcom – but it's the one I'm most likely to see.