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.
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
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
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.
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
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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?