Summer of 2009 in Review

Like all things it seems motion picture quality seems to be cyclical, the films of summer 2009 seemed to be the dip from 2008’s creative heights. Not that it isn’t expected. Historically, whenever there’s a new presidential term of promise, societal art almost always takes a hit (everything has its price, it would seem).

And considering how much bank people shelled out, in Hollywood’s eyes the price was worth it. Without further ado about nothing, it’s time to look back on the midsummer movie dreams, along with beginning and end of summer, of course.

Do keep in mind this list only comprises of films I saw (alas no District 9).  I have my own neurotic reasons for not seeing it, but I promise, gentle reader, that I will rent it on DVD.
But this isn’t about me…

Best Film of Summer

Name: Up
Release Date: 29 May 2009
Studio: Disney/Pixar
Director: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

This first choice is very bittersweet for me because about ten or fifteen years ago I would have picked the second choice. Yet for me I think Up just touched something more primal than anything any of my prior summer goodies through the years had.

You got to hand it to Pixar. They created the first animated Father’s Day tradition with Finding Nemo and they’ve created the ultimate in animated films to watch for anniversaries. As funny and wonderful and charming as Dug and Alpha and the Chipdogs, what amazed me in watching it in theaters was hearing the sniffles and swallows and finding myself sniffling and swallowing and just…I mean even when I left the theater I had to force myself not to think about it too much because my thoughts didn’t go back to the funny, exciting parts. They went to the beautiful, haunting montage that explains Carl so well. Why he takes the journey he does and how the house takes on an even more poignant place in Carl, the hardest part of death. The letting go.

Yeah, real cheery.

Up for me really is my favorite part of fanciful, adventuresome storytelling, again something I have discovered more as I’ve gotten older. I love it when it’s grounded in real emotion and real humanity. That kind of stuff is the stuff that lasts and endures. So I take away from Up not so much Russell the goofy kid, but the fact that both Carl and Russell are two lonely people in need of someone to give a damn about them. I get that in a very unexpected way, Carl finds a piece of his beloved wife’s spirit in this surrogate grandson. But mostly I get that the best way we can honor the memory of our loved ones and show we really love them is to live. Thanks for the adventure. Now go begin a new one.

 Best Surprise of the Summer

Name: Star Trek
Release Date: 8 May 2009
Studio: Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot
Director: JJ Abrams
I’ll be honest, I was so skeptical of this film. Yet, as soon as I heard the distinctive view screen beeps I knew we were in great, great hands. Star Trek was exactly what the franchise needed. Even if JJ Abrams wasn’t a true Trekophile, he ingratiated himself with enough of the lore to keep the hardcore fans, while adding a hipper attitude to gain new ones. This also shows what happens when you have actors rise to the occasion and a director who knows how to get the best out of them while shaping the script into the kind of film he wants. Abrams not only added to his much heralded reputation, but he achieved the crossover to the mainstream consciousness that Joss Whedon–genius that he is–has not. This bodes well for other genre-heavy auteurs making the leap to motion pictures. And while this makes me excited for the sequel without a planet Vulcan to be written by his old Lost chums Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, this is turning me into a rabid, foaming fool for Abrams’s promised adaptation for the first installment of Stephen King’s Dark Tower epic once that show about the deserted island is complete. Ohhhhh, baby!

Most Unpleasant Surprise of the Summer

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Name: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Release Date: 24 June 2009
Studio: Dreamworks SKG/Paramount Pictures
Director: Michael Bay

 Talk about a lesson in directors adapting your screenplay. Star Trek was also written by the same cats who wrote the first Transformers and created Fringe. I’m not sure how much of Transformers 2 is really their fault, but let’s hope Daddy Spielberg banishes Michael Bay from the sandbox.

For an explanation as to why this was so disheartening, I need to go back to when the original came out. Yeah, it was filled with explosion and robot porn. Yeah, it was cheesy. But when I heard the roll call and saw a live-action Prime and Megatron duke it out I saw potential. I saw potential for a grand trilogy of films that get richer and deeper as it goes along. And I saw more opportunities to study in lascivious ecstasy the unreal geometric physiological perfection of Megan Fox. So much so that I bought Transformers on DVD based on this potential and to rewind to Michaela’s midriff showage. So forward thinking, foolish me I saw the trailers and had mini-geekgasms and goosebumps, and exclamations of the vulgar kind proclaiming not only that I will see it, but that (dude) I will fucking see that kick-ass motherfucker.

Well, I saw it and my fan boy grin of delight collapsed into a grimace of disappointed realization. Michael Bay doesn’t do story or sense or judgment. He could care less about the Transformers mythos and what these characters have meant for so many childhood memories of singing along to the theme music. It’s catchy. Hell, my dad did it once. Sarcastically, but he did it.

The point is that Michael Bay is wadding up the Transformers and mashing it into his own hyperactive, hyperreal world of things blowing up real good and Hollywood actresses so powerful they can convert the loyalties of a Decepticon at the twitch of a rear end and the arch of a back. And he dares you to enjoy it. You’re gonna eat this shit up because this is what audiences want. No story. No emotion. Just explosions and a giggling 12-year-old boy’s idea of sexuality.

So I shaln’t be getting the DVD and probably shaln’t be getting the third one either, unless Spielberg grows a pair of Devastator testicles and gets a director who understands what Transformers is and why it has such a fervent fan base, why Optimus Prime is more than a big rig who calls Decepticons “Punkass,” and understands what Transformers is capable of being if you put it in the right hands.

The “I should stop comparing every sex comedy to Animal House” Award



Name: The Hangover
Release Date: 5 June 2009
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
Director: Todd Phillips

 To be fair, this has more to do with my own misgivings than…oh I don’t know…a sane, normal person but as much as I loved Hangover I felt it didn’t go far enough. Which is why I hold a special place in my heart for Animal House. Because it went that far yet in such a hilarious and charismatic way you had to take a step back and realize just how shamelessly amoral these characters were. You had a movie where the least of its vices was smoking pot and it wasn’t even Delta House that did it. But they damn near did everything else. They engaged in seducing and casting aside the dean’s wife, voyeurism, and, very subtly, underage sex. In full and complete consciousness of this fact. Pinto fucks a 13-year-old.

So I think in looking back at Hangover I saw at least three of these characters–or at the very least their archetypes. So Bradley Cooper was like an older Otter and the dentist, henpecked husband I imagined as Hoover.

Then there was Zach Galafanakis.

Ah, Zach.

Now I was under the impression when I first glimpsed Jack Black’s comic chops, that he would be the next John Belushi, But actually I think that might go to Galafanakis because of something perceptive that Mr. Ebert said about Bluto Blutarsky. Bluto was id personified in that he was completely guileless and childlike. He was a naughty boy, but he was like that unruly kid that really didn’t know any better. Yes, I say this even after he threatened to kill Niedermeyer but, let’s get real here, who wouldn’t?

And the thing about Galafankis’s character is just how childlike and insecure he is. This is one socially maladjusted dude. I thought it was pretty gutsy to have the within one-hundred yards of school gag, but it’s there one second and gone the next. He’s like this weird combination of Flounder and Bluto. Kind of a schmutz but a bit more shameless.

Although this can be excused because he has little to no sense of social propriety.

Yet in saying all this, the film is never as fearless as it pretends to be. It pulls up just short. “Otter” never really does engage in debauched extramarital sex, for example. He returns to his wife and son with them none the wiser. It was my whole thing with Old School. Yes, you had Luke Wilson fuck a hot coed. That’s fine. But what if she still wants it even if he is older? How does he respond? But no, it’s like tee-hee you’re old enough to be my uncle, I’m so embarrassed. Fucking missed opportunity for some T and A.

But, like I said at the top, a lot of this is just my own personal neurotic shit coming out. So to get back to the land of the sane, there will never be another Animal House and to remake it would be the most God-awful mistake since they tried to remake Psycho. It was of its time and any update would be watered-down and PG-13 starring the evil Zac with his first name misspelled. It just wouldn’t be the same.

But maybe if Trey Parker and Matt Stone were to do…okay, okay I’ll stop.

The “It’s just like reading the damn book!” Award


Name: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Release Date: 15 July 2009
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
Director: David Yates

When talking about Harry Potter this may seem like huge praise. It’s not.

I’ve always had a love/hate thing with Half Blood Prince when I read it. Yeah, it was fascinating looking at Voldemort’s past and I was right there with the Ron/Hermione fans wanting these two to finally get together. But, dammit, I wanted the war and I didn’t get the war.

But then that ending came and I couldn’t wait for Deathly Hollows.

I found Half Blood the movie to be refreshingly sexy. There was more emphasis on hormones and snogging that just seemed appropriate and the Voldemort flashbacks were effective. I thought Broadbent fucking owned as Slughorn and it makes me marvel how unquestionably flawed J.K. Rowling made the adults. I don’t think quite enough was done with Draco, which is a shame because I consider this the turning point for the character.

But then once we got to Dumbledore and Snape coming out and those dreaded two words, my heart ached just as it had when I read the passage in the book. And I can’t fucking wait to see how they pull off the grand finale.

The Great Almost Award

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Name: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Release Date: 7 August 2009
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Stephen Sommers

Here’s a shocking statement. I liked what they did with G.I. Joe. I really did. If I was 12 years old I would have loved it. It would have been my gateway film. You had play-violence, cool machinery and vehicles, an evil criminal mastermind and his crazed science-driven partner and two hotties at opposite ends of the spectrum looking amazing in leather. Although I’ve had mad hard-on for Rachel Nichols since the aborted Tim Minear series The Inside, so I guess that’s kind of cheating. And they weren’t gratuitous either. It wasn’t like with Megan Fox where you can practically hear Michael Bay whisper “Undress her. You know you want to. Grow a pair.” This is more harmless. Like Leia in the bikini. Great eye candy but not overly so.

But what I really appreciated was something the cartoon never really pulled off. They married a mythology to this soon-to be franchise. Before it was just enemies more by reputation and goals. Protecting the globe from domination versus world domination. But now we have a personal stake here. Not to give away spoilers but everything seems to line up in such a focused throughline that you’re kind of curious where they go from here. Even the eventual Destro origin had shades of Vader’s and Palpatine’s parasitic relationship. And the film ends on a very to-be-continued kind of note which made me look forward to the next one.

So as flimsy and as amateur as it is, it succeeds in being entertainment. The actors acquit themselves to the absurdities of the whole situation, I bought Duke as a young snot-nosed hothead and Dennis Quaid owned as General Hawk. Sienna Miller has made a film that actually made bank to allow her to do her obscure indie stuff (just saw Interview with Steve Buscemi and she was excellent in that.) And, finally, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that in the sequel we won’t see a Cobra agent with a change of heart suddenly dry-hump Scarlet’s supple leg.

The “Because he’s Tarantino, that‘s why” Award


Name: Inglourious Basterds
Release Date: 21 August 2009
Studio: Universal Pictures/A Band Apart
Director: Quentin Tarantino

There’s the world as we know it and Quentin’s world and we can’t hope to understand it, only observe in awe from afar. And perhaps thank our lucky stars that we don’t live there…at least not after two plus hours.

Great, great analysis about Inglourious Basterds and its filmic influences here by Jim Emerson, Roger Ebert‘s bloggist extraordinaire:

 Basterds isn’t the best Tarnatino movie. I would rank it a bit below Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Tied with Kill Bill. But it is the one with the most chutzpah. Because say what you want about how it’s not even a WWII movie. It’s a movie that takes every single WWII movie cliché and sets it on puree. Underneath it all is one truism. Yes, the end of the Third Reich did not come from a blaze of Jewish vengence in a movie theater of all places. But deep down inside, like way deep, didn’t some part of you feel like you wished that’s how it happened? And that’s the key. This is wish-fulfillment of the highest order. The persecuted and slaughtered become the persecutors and slaughterers. One comment compared it to kosher revenge porn. I spit on your kraut graves.
 I guess it all depends in what context you view it. I saw it at Alamo Drafthouse and to get the audience in the mood they showed a bunch of exploitative Nazi B-Movie trailers. Ilsa, the SS She-Wolf and Hell Camp, for example. They didn‘t get it all right. Somehow Schindler‘s List‘s trailer made it in there and just sobered up the theater in a jiff. But for the most part the mood was set. The Nazis were about to have the biggest middle finger come down and crush them all. Enjoy.
 As with all his other films Tarantino, infuses his pulpy premise with real humanity. To counterpoint the Basterds’ over-the-top revenge fantas,  like Beatrix Kiddo before her, Soshanna Dreyfuss’s revenge is more heartbreakingly personal. Tellingly, the revenge that obliterates the Nazis destroys the theater that she inherited, the only love she has ever known, and maybe her sanity. It’s the polar opposite of the Bride whose thirst for vengenace became a quest to liberate her daughter–a fight to free a life and to finally have a life. Soshanna just wants to end life and even she knows the cost as she accepts that she must become what she hates to achieve her vengeance. And you have to give props to Tarantino for keeping the subtitles in for the majority of the time, even if it isn’t the most commercially beneficial idea (of course what do I know? One hundred million gross and climbing). But it does keep it firmly within a Tarantino style and it’s arguably the most nerve-wracking film as far as pure suspense he’s ever done.

In the end, life is preserved amidst the bloodshed, but even then Tarantino’s righteous middle-finger makes its mark. Like the best of Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds, it’s not quite as clean-cut in its Nazi-scalping fantasy as you would expect. But there is scalping and carving and Nazis getting glouriously barbecued.

That’s the difference between our world and Tarantino’s. And the cinema is all the better for it.

Most Anticipated Film of Summer 2010

Name: Iron Man 2
Release Date: 7 May 2010
Studio: Marvel Entertainment
Director: Jon Favreau

It might be because of Mickey Rourke as the villain. It probably is because of the appaearance of War Machine. It most definitely has a lot to do with Scarlett Johannson. In skintight leather. Hugging her voluptuous form. And her red, red hair. But it really comes down to two things for me: Robert Downey, Jr. and Iron Man 2. And that’s more than enough.


















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