Sep 08 2009

2009 Summer Movie Second Half Report

Published by at 9:00 am under Movies,Reviews

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Labor Day has passed, meaning that as far as movies go, the summer is gone.  Back in the beginning July, I wrote about the state of the the first half of 2009′s summer movies.  Overall, it was pretty disappointing.  Aside from Drag Me to Hell, Up, and Star Trek, there really wasn’t really much to get excited about.  Terminator: Salvation was terrible, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was equally bad (or maybe worse), and Transformers 2 was…well, if you read this site regularly, you should know how I feel about that one.  The second half of summer looked promising, though, especially considering Tarantino had a movie coming out, and there was a lot of buzz about District 9.  Would the second half of summer be as bad as the first, or would the highly-anticipated movies actually live up to the hype?  Keep reading to find out.

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We’ll get the negativity out of the way first and start with the movies that sucked.  Fortunately, and unlike the first half of the summer, there wasn’t anything too horrendous.  In fact, I can hardly think of any movie I saw from July through Labor Day that was terrible; from May through June, I could think of several.  There is one, though, that stands out.  And trust me, I realize that I’m in the minuscule minority on this one…

The Hurt Locker

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Renner’s performance was indeed great, and it seems like every film critic loved this movie, which makes it all the more baffling to me why I thought it was so terrible.   To me, it played like a cliche, tough-guy 80s action flick that happened to be set in the backdrop of the Iraq war.  This is THE Iraq War movie?  Sorry, but one-dimensional characters, dozens of military inaccuracies, and canned dialogue served no purpose other than to leave me groaning in my seat.  Simply stated, The Hurt Locker was a big old hunk of cheese with zero substance.  Shred me if you like, but I stand by my assessment of this movie.  If you liked it, hey, congrats…I guess I’m the one missing out.  I have a strong suspicion that we’ll see this movie mentioned come Oscar time, and it’s going to drive me nuts.

And really, that was the only movie I saw the second half of the summer that I didn’t find some value in.  And that’s saying a lot.  I thought that Thirst was bizarre and incredibly overrated, but then again, I may not have “gotten” the Korean style.

Angels and Demons

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I didn’t dislike this movie, but really, could it have been more forgettable?  It was generic, predictable (and no, I didn’t read the book), and thanks to Ron Howard – who’s a very competent director -slightly enjoyable for a couple hours.  I didn’t feel like my intelligence was being insulted, and unfortunately, that’s become somewhat rare with big blockbusters like this.  To summarize this movie in one word: Meh.

G.I. Joe

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Come on.  Did anyone actually expect this to be good?  If you like to turn your brain off, fine, but that’s just not for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books, but that in no way should disqualify me from commenting on the merits of this movie.  After all, these films are made for the masses, not just people who have read the books.  The acting of the cast as a whole has improved tremendously over the years, and you know that a Harry Potter movie is going to be well-made.  Maybe if I had read the book I would have enjoyed the sixth installment of the series more, but I felt it was a total bore.  No Voldemort?  No epic fight scenes?  There wasn’t even a great reveal.  Quite simply, this movie was a romantic comedy set in the world of Harry Potter, and it took a lot for me to stay focused during the film.  Paul loved it, but I walked away feeling somewhat unfulfilled.  Still, I’ve really enjoyed the previous installments (especially Prisoner of Azkaban – Cuaron is the man), and I’m confident that the next couple of movies will be great.

With the negativity and disappointment out of the way, let’s move on to the movies that were solid.  Not stellar, but good.  Starting with…

Public Enemies

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Take Johnny Depp, throw in Christian Bale, and let Michael Mann direct them in a crime drama, and it’s got to be awesome, right?  Eh, not really.  But it was damn good.  I’m yet to find someone who would claim this was Oscar-bait, but then again, this isn’t that type of movie.  I tend to like Michael Mann a lot more than most people do (shit, I really like Miami Vice); there’s something about his not-quite-shaky cam that gives the audience a more intimate look at his characters.  It’s easy to overlook a movie’s flaws when Johnny Depp brings his A-game, and in Public Enemies, he did.

Funny People

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There’s seems to be a lot of Apatow hate out there, and I don’t get it.  God forbid someone make a comedy that actually has a soul.  Many complained that Sandler’s character was a jerk and unlikeable; I’d argue that his character was human and realistic.  Would you have preferred if he ran off with his ex-lover, settling down in a typical Hollywood ending?  Not me.   Like a real, living man, George Simmons realized how rash he was being and that he didn’t really want the life that he wasn’t living.  Maybe it dragged on a bit, but I’d rather watch a long movie than a short one.  And in any event – and this is perhaps most important – Funny People was FUNNY.  From Sandler’s crank call in the beginning of the movie to Raaaandy to Jonah Hill telling his friend that his friend’s grandfather had gone to hell, Funny People delivered the laughs.  Oh yeah, speaking of funny…

Bruno

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Alright, look – you either like crude, shock humor, or you don’t.  I do.  When a focus group has to watch a big, swinging penis on a screen, I think it’s funny.  And spare me the argument that Bruno offered no social commentary like Borat did.  I agree, it offered none.  I just think that sometimes, it’s funny to watch someone act like a huge jerk.  Dolce and Gabbana, Helloooooo!

And now for the two movies that lived up to and, in one case, far exceeded expectations.  It’s because of these two movies that the second half of summer 2009 was not only better than the first, it was light years superior.

Inglorious Basterds

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Tarantino came roaring back this summer with his highly-anticipated World War II film, Inglorious Basterds.  Christopher Walz (Hans Landa) is a lock to be nominated for an Academy Award, and I could go on and on about the strength and nuances of his performance.  The opening scene of Basterds was perhaps the best Tarantino has ever directed.  It was tense as hell and featured a classic Tarantino monlogue reminiscent of Bill’s Superman Speech, this time about hawks and rats.  Another scene that stands out is the nail-biting showdown between the Basterds (disguised as German soldiers), the actress Bridget van Hammersmark, and a real German soldier, each of them careful to maintain their cover while doing their best to learn what they can about the other.  There was vintage Tarantino violence and an ending I’ll be thinking about for weeks to come.

I didn’t particularly care for Brad Pitt, however, and felt that his performance was a bit too cartoony and over-the-top.  Which is fine, in some contexts, but when Pitt shared the screen with Walz, it was like I was watching a real, living, breathing German officer and…Brad Pitt hamming it up like something out of Ocean’s 14.

Inglorious Basterds isn’t Tarantino’s best since Pulp Fiction, as many have claimed (both Kill Bills were better), but it was great and definitely lived up to the hype.  The best movie of the summer, however – and it isn’t even close – was…

District 9

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Moon was terrific, but with District 9, my faith in science fiction films has been restored.  District 9 was just about perfect:  the acting was top notch, the effects were sick, the action was incredible (gravity gun!), and best of all, it was a smart, well-written movie that avoided the cliche traps that so many movies tend to fall into.  Humans are portrayed accurately as the judgmental, self-centered beings we are.  The main character was multi-dimensional, and at first, we’re not quite sure how to feel about him.  He goes through a definite arc throughout the film, and the audience experiences these changes with him.  The movie was as original a sci-fi movie as I’ve seen, and I can’t wait for the studios to start throwing money at Blomkamp.  Actually, I can’t wait to see this movie again.

And to those who argue things like “why didn’t the aliens do this?” or “why didn’t the aliens use that?” use your friggin’ heads.  Do you really think that a few members of about 1 million prawns would use weapons against humans, knowing that they are outnumbered by about 5.9 billion?

What did you guys think of the second half of this summer’s movies?  Did you find it as redeeming as I did?





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16 responses so far

  • Josh

    Just a few things (Sorry it is a bit long):

    -Personally, I absolutely loved The Hurt Locker. I thought it was well directed and written and the performance by Renner was the best this year besides Rockwell and Walz. Renner and Rockwell, I surely hope, will be the two most talked about for Best Actor and Walz should be a lock for Best Supporting Actor.

    -Angels & Demons might be one of my favorite films of the year, to be honest. I hated the Da Vinci Code. The story was good but it felt like Howard realized halfway through filming that he needed some character development in there and scrambled to add it in. Angels & Demons was just great and the performance by Ewan McGregor was spectacular. He’s quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented actors around

    -I agree with you on every stance about Basterds. I love Pitt. I think he’s amazing and, along with Di Caprio, is one of the very few true “Pretty Boys” Hollywood has given us who can truly act. But his performance in this movie was just dry. Yes, he had a damned sweet accent. Second best of his career (behind Snatch). But his actual acting seemed limited. Although the scene where he’s talking about who speaks the most I-talian was classic. That said, if Walz doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor something is seriously wrong with the Academy. He was absolutely brilliant.

    -Public Enemies was a good movie. The style of it all and the performances turned in from Bale and Depp were top notch but the way they shot it (as if it were done using a home camcorder) was so distracting I could not enjoy the movie

    -District 9 was amazing, I agree. But I do have to say that Moon was far better. It’d be nice if the guy who played Wikus can get some recognition at the awards (At least get a Saturn award) because he was pretty good for a first-timer. Rockwell, however, will be up for Best Actor and should also be up for Best Supporting Actor. Never before can I remember an actor giving such a strong performance in two different roles in the same film.

  • Madison

    @ Josh

    Nothing wrong with long comments.

    I know I’m in the minority on The Hurt Locker, but really, I felt the script was totally amateur. There was almost zero cohension…you know, I’ve said this all too many times. My review says it all.

    I will say that Angels & Demons was better than The DaVinci Code. McGregor is always good.

    I agree that Rockwell was superb in Moon – and that’s the type of movie where if your lead fails, the entire movie falls apart. And I loved Moon…I was just totally blown away by District 9. It was nice to see 2 smart sci fi films this summer, though.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Josh

    I agree that I was blown away by District 9 as well. The originality of the film (even if it is based on a previous short film, it’s still entirely of Blomkamp’s creation) and the special effects that Peter Jackson and WETA provided Blomkamp were some of the best of the year (Bested, perhaps, only by Star Trek). I also think the fact that Blomkamp managed to make us feel remorse for the Prawns, mainly Christopher, was one of a kind. I cannot honestly remember a movie where that happened.

    The thing is that the performance turned in by Rockwell for Moon trumped anything that District 9 gave us, at least in my opinion. And I might just be nostalgic but the use of miniatures instead of CGI for the shots when they are out in the moon really added to the film for me.

    To put it simply, District 9 is the best Sci-Fi film we’ve been given since Sunshine at the very least, perhaps even longer than that. I know some have said that it is the best Sci-Fi film since Bladerunner itself and in the top 10 of all time (Obviously behind Bladerunner, some of Kubrick’s work, Empire and A New Hope for sure). Moon, however, was easily the better film overall for me. In terms of sci-fi, it really wasn’t that big of a sci-fi film because we’ve already put a man on the moon and will be doing so again in 7 years at the latest. The only thing sci-fi about it, really, was the cloning that was done and Gerty.

  • Josh

    And I know your views on Hurt Locker. I read your review and was shocked back then. Pretty sure I commented on it as well. To each their own, I suppose, right?

  • Madison

    @ Josh

    The special effects in Moon (the miniatures) were refreshing to say the least. I think what I liked about it most – in addition to Rockwell, of course – was that it was a throwback of sorts, the type of cerebral sci-fi that poses many questions and lets you, the audience answer them, as opposed to spoon-feeding you the answers. In that way, it’s a lot like 2001, a definite top-10 sci fi movie of all time. The Gerty/HAL comparisons are inevitable, of course.

    Before Moon and District 9, what was the best sci-fi movie? Man, you’d probably have to go all the way back to the original Matrix for that. The Matrix has become somewhat of a pop culture phenomenon, and I think that’s due mostly to the sequels and the unintentional comedy of Keanu Reeves, but really, it’s a brilliant science fiction film that works on both the cerebral and popcorn levels.

    As for feeling sympathy for the prawns in Disctict 9, that was a great feat. I’d compare it – if I had to – to Enemy Mine, a pretty overlooked movie.

    And for The Hurt Locker, yeah – to each his own!

  • Korinthian

    The genre-hopping in District 9 confused me a bit, but it is no doubt a memorable (and good) movie.

    Two stars out of two!

  • Laura

    Good summary of the movies.

    I really like Public Enemies. I still can’t get over how young Jonny Depp still looks. Michael Mann is a great director, and I thought the movie was splendid. It did seem to drag at some times, but that’s just how movies go. My friend lives in Chicago and saw the premiere at the theater where Dillinger was shot which is pretty awesome.

    I personally loved Harry Potter. However, I have read the books, so there was more disappointing things that weren’t in the movie versus the book, which I’m sure hard core fans would argue, but I realize that it’s a movie and the book will always be longer than what can be depicted on screen. And I’m cool with that. Unfortunately, the sixth book wasn’t really that exciting in action terms, and basically just sets you up for the last book, in which there is a crap load of action. And I found myself laughing a lot in this last movie.

    Everyone hated on Funny People, but I agree that it was funny. That opening prank call literally had me in tears, and it was nice to go to a movie with a large audience who appreciated the movie.

    And I forgot that Angels and Demons even came out this summer. I’ve been wanting to see District 9 (I totally fell for their awesome marketing posters), especially with all the praise it’s been getting and the fact that I like science genre movies (Star Trek…I’ve been waiting impatiently for it to come out on DVD)

  • Madison

    @ Korinthian

    Pretty high praise! Nice.

    @ Laura

    Depp looks like he could be in his 30s; it’s so surreal. Seeing Public Enemies in that Chicago theater must have been amazing.

    I’m sure if I read the Potter books I would have appreciated the movie more, although, I have enjoyed the prior 5 movies (particulalry the 3rd, 4th, and 5th) a great deal, so I was still disappointed.

    You need to see District 9.

  • Josh

    hee hee no Final Destination? I didn’t get to see District 9 or Inglorious Basterds ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

    I agree on Angels & Demons and Public Enemies, at least they weren’t Transformers 2

  • Taker

    I saw District 9 when it first came out and i would have to say you have to be somewhat shallow minded to not be blown away, yesterday i saw Gamer for kicks and i would have to say it should of and could of been so much better MCH was the only thing saving it from total oblivion.
    Plan on picking up Moon, on DVD when it comes out, is it full of cliches like the trailer somewhat implicated?

    Anyone going to see 9? Only movie im looking forward (That i can remember) thats coming out this year is Sherlock Holmes and thats only for Robert Downey Jr.

  • Madison

    @ Josh

    Sorry, I missed The Final Destination. Should I be happy I did?

    @ Taker

    Gamer looks like an interesting concept, I haven’t yet made up my mind if I’m going to see it or not. Maybe if I’m very, very bored…

    I will likely see 9. Even if it stinks, the animation looks spectacular. Aren’t you looking forward to Avatar???

  • Josh

    @Madison: Like I said, District 9 was the best Sci-Fi film since Sunshine without a doubt. It may be better than Sunshine, I am unsure of what my take on it is. I wouldn’t rate it above The Matrix so at best, it’s the best of the last decade. But, again, a lot of people are saying it is the best since Blade Runner.

    And my brother saw The Final Destination. He said it was one of the worst films he had ever seen which is saying something since he reeeeally enjoyed Date Movie, a movie I actually walked out of and demanded my money back.

  • Lagrange

    Well, District 9 was well made, but watching it two weeks after its release because of the internet my expectations were way too high. I very liked how unusual it was, but I expected a misterous movie, like something with a storytwist or tricky conclusion. It was too much fighting action, too much people beeing blown up by laser guns.

  • Madison

    @ Lagrange

    Sorry, I can’t agree. There was hardly any action in that movie until after at least an hour into it. And the action we got was awesome.

    I also thought the conclusion, for lack of a better term, WAS a bit tricky – the cliche of having to choose between escaping and saving Wikus was avoided, and CJ simply leaves us with the hope, however faint it may be, that he’ll be back in 3 years.

  • joe

    OK so now im totally hooked to the site and your reviews. Great job. i also love basterds and thought Pitt was trying way to hard on his southern accent, but Walz more then made up for Pitts inadequecies. Walz was the best hans since Hans gruber. I would disagree on your GI joe hatred. I was waiting for this movie for a very long time and i loved it. I wasnt expecting Shawshank but i thought it was entertaining fun. I also belive we have the same humor so its no surprise that i also loved Bruno. Its only humor and if more people would lighten up and take it for waht its worth we would be a lot better off. Keep up the good work and i ll keep reading and writing.

  • Madison

    @ joe

    So glad you like the site. Keep coming back.

    Glad you liked Bruno and Basterds. Of course you liked Bruno.

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