Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The First Ten Films From 2009 I Saw In 2009

All these films (described in descending order of enthusiasm) deserve individual reviews as much as The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three, by far the least worthwhile of the bunch, but I'm playing catch-up.

If Drag Me To Hell winds up my favorite film of 2009, I'll only be disappointed because I'm going to make a point to see celebrated art films this year - might as well take advantage of living in NYC and see some Spout bait - and it would be nice if at least one could engage me more than a masterpiece of craft. Sam Raimi has just as much gruesome fun here as he did with the Evil Deads, his decade of Spider-manning adding polish with no expense to his wit or imagination. That this movie can be so nasty while PG-13 (anything can fly in and out of people's mouths as long as it's not related to sex, apparently) is arguably more impressive than a making a great gore flick on a shoestring budget. A third viewing in central PA following two in NYC was a little heartbreaking, as the smaller theater played the film at a very low volume, drastically reducing its impact. If you're waiting for DVD, make sure you play it loud.

Observe And Report stands out from other goofball-hero comedies just by acknowledging how disturbed the lead is. Imagine an Adam Sandler film where pills are popped, therapists are consulted and we're never asked to find him cute. Remove the Apatowian atmosphere (not that I'd want to lose an improvised stand-off between Seth Rogen and Aziz Ansari) and you're basically left with Taxi Driver. Refreshingly, writer/director Jody Hill seems totally aware. I Love You, Man's gender twist on rom-com cliche is a smaller breakthrough, but equally welcome. Now that we've nakedly addressed the value of (and humor in) platonic male friendship - something I have more than enough experience with to appreciate - maybe the Apatow mafia can make a comedy about something else.

Proof I'm as great a catch as Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man - maybe even the wry-yet-sensitive Justin Long in Drag Me To Hell - is that I've taken my fiancee to see not only Up (my first Pixar since Toy Story) but Every Little Step, a frikkin documentary about A Frikkin Chorus Frikkin Line. Both were a little confused and a lot sweet.

When a film is as redundant as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the value is in the details. Yes, the token black character dies early and says "damn," but the token black character is a teleporting Will.I.Am in a cowboy hat and the "damn" comes with Hugh Jackman battling a man in a fat suit that would make Mike Myers weep with envy. Jackman and Liev Schrieber do wonders as fierce, emotionally conflicted forest creatures and two characters - including Ryan Reynolds in fine jerk form - practice gunkata. To complain would be churlish.

Obsessed is similarly heroic trash, with the supporting cast and crew never seeming bored, embarrassed or even cheeky as they go through the stalker-drama motions. With this bed of professionalism to bounce upon, Beyonce is free to sass and kick ass without ever removing her heels. My Bloody Valentine is slightly less expert in its audience pleasing obviousness - I blame the lack of Jerry O'Connell - but a solid good time even without the novelty of 3D (I need to pay more attention to signs posted in the lobby).

Know1ng is anything but obvious, and if you're as crazy as Roger Ebert, I can't blame you for preferring it to everything else here. The first two thirds are a fairly successful homage to M. Night Shyamalan, with Nic Cage comforting a sensitive child while dealing with enigmatic, supernatural forces seemingly linked to the defining traumas of his life. Then sci-fi and religiosity are forced to fuck by gunpoint, providing us with an apocalyptic climax not dreamt of even in Shyamalan's philosophy. Say what you will about the quality of his films, but Cage has shown a commendable devotion to getting the weirdest shit imaginable up there on the screen, to the point that I'm shocked he had nothing to do with making The Butterfly Effect. Even something as seemingly banal as National Treasure actually concerns the glory of Freemasonry. Respect - and a permanent place on freakier Netflix queues - is due.

Watchmen is also mandatory viewing for movie pervs, and not only if you're familiar with the book. By making few alterations other than to streamline/underline the plot and up the sex and violence - courageously refusing to tamper with the cartoonish dialogue and multiple blue penises that probably aren't why this made Time's Top 100 Books Of All Time - Zack Snyder has created a tone-deaf epic about the midlife crises and global ramifications of magical men in tights. That this happened in 2009 feels incredibly appropriate, and if it keeps just one previously curious adult from ever investigating the world of superhero comics, it was worth the millions, the legal wranglings and the decades of pre-production that went into its creation.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three had every flaw I read it did and then some. Tony Scott fills the film with blurry second-unit footage, time-displaying text (familiar from the five grating minutes I caught of his Spy Game) and wanton, sudden zoom-ins. Badass isn't derived from the New York setting, it's smeared on the screen in post. John Travolta's performance is more petulant than menacing ("lick my bunghole?" really?) and the plot is nonsensical. (If you were going to manufacture and exploit a stock market plummet by hijacking a subway car - questionable enough - would you hold the gun yourself? Wouldn't you watch from some faraway island and let professionals take care of the dirty work?) Worthlessly busier than the workmanlike original or the '98 TV remake with Edward James Olmos I can't believe I've actually seen, Pelham is very much the audience-insulting piece of shit critics have advertised.

But I didn't hate it. Scott's usual grotesquerie is reined in by the PG-13 rating (edit: turns out it's rated R, and after Drag Me To Hell I'm genuinely surprised - unless shooting deaths are flat-out verboten it must be over Travolta's language), and simple caper movies can take a lot of abuse. The cast helps, too; though Denzel Washington, James Gandolfini and John Turturro fail to make fully-formed characters out of their roles, the script gives them just enough room to show some of their natural charm and avoid the shrill cartoons or CSI-style sleepwalking this kind of story invites. Travolta even gets dangerously close to his old charisma with a colorful anecdote about watching a dog crap in Iceland (seriously, that's his highlight). I can't recommend the movie to anyone, but I can't rail against it. Shit usually smells worse and I walked away clean.


Side note: has Travolta had it together for a movie since Battlefield Earth? I remember him being somewhat likable (for what it was worth) in Domestic Disturbance, but I haven't seen anything else he's done this decade. His career has gone in waves, but he may be beyond the pale.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Blurbing My Life Away

Hypothetically, someone reading my tumblr could be disappointed that it's short on opinions of new media and long on videos of reprehensible men like Spencer Pratt and Jay Leno. If this person exists (aw), they should check out The Singles Jukebox - if they don't already - as I'll now be contributing blurbs. Remember when this blog was full of blurbs? I still bathe in two-star DVDs, I just haven't been telling you about them.

There are a shit-ton of 2009 movies I definitely plan to write about on this blog, as well as pretentiously titled essays like "On Spoilers" I should eventually bring to life. I'll be linking to them on the tumblr, so feel free to check that alone if the silence here frustrates you. Otherwise, look to the skies.