Friday, September 18, 2009

Jimmy's Summer Movie Roundup

I know some people are lamenting the impending passage from summer to fall (technically, we've still got a few days before it's officially autumn, but the weather tells another story), mostly because the days of going to the beach and/or Splish-Splash are at an end.

I, of course, see summer in a very different way than most folks.

See, while some people see the lazy, hazy days of summer as days on the beach and in the sun, I see them as a means to spend as much time as possible in dark, windowless, air conditioned rooms, filling my face and covering my front with greasy and fattening food-like products.

In other words, for me, summer is all about the summer movies.

Not that I'm only about shitty mindless blockbusters (although I am about those as well, even though I regrettably* missed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). I'm about going to the movies in the summertime, cramming artificially buttered popcorn in my face, and about going to as many of these fucking things as possible.

So, in the spirit of Mr. Freeman's movie roundups, I bring you, in chronological order, are the movies I saw in theatres this summer and my brief assessment of them.

Bear in mind these aren't really reviews. Since I had a pretty long list of movies I wanted to see, I made a point to go see movies that had more than a fighting chance of me enjoying them, so yes, the majority of these are of the "thumb's up" variety, albeit for different reasons.

Star Trek. Kind of the ultimate summer blockbuster that actually delivers on what it promises to offer, wasn't it? I saw this one twice, with it still holding up as super fun the second time round. The simultaneous reboot/prequel to the venerable (and until now, stillborn) franchise rocked, plain and simple.

Terminator: Salvation. The crew that I went to go see this with enjoyed it while it was on. I mean, giant robots chased humans and blew things up in the process, so it delivered on that end. But a couple hours later, after Abe Goldfarb and I wandered around Manhattan and landed on a park bench in Tompkins Square Park, it dawned on us that we had forgotten we had seen it. That's right. That shit evaporated from our minds about 120-130 minutes after viewing it, if not sooner. So if you invite me over and suggest we watch T4, I'll most likely go, "Great! Sure!" A warning, though: if you do this, and you feel the same way about the movie as me, we could end up finishing the movie, then wind up talking, then see the case on the coffee table, then suggest we pop it in, having forgotten we had seen it. We could be trapped in your apartment for weeks on end, watching T4 on an endless loop like with James Incandenza's addictive experimental film. (Updated postscript: I had originally listed the subtitle as Rise of the Machines, but my friend Matt Wexler pointed out that that was the title of the third Terminator film. I'm Seriously Not Kidding when I say that shit evaporates from your brain.)

The Girlfriend Experience. As I recall, this is a movie I admired more than I actively enjoyed. It has an interesting premise (following a call girl, played by real life porn star Sasha Grey, who specializes in offering her clients girlfriendy privileges, such as makout sessions on the couch, going to the movies and talking about the movie over dinner afterwards, and sleeping over), but director Steven Soderbergh's fracturing of the story's timeline didn't work for me the way it did for his movie, The Limey.

Up. God damn, I love me some Pixar movies. And that opening prologue? Masterful filmmaking. Who woulda thunk that a children's movie could convey so much story and pathos in such a short period of time (and without and dialogue) when so many so-called serious adult films can't come even close? People who've been watching these Pixar movies, that's who thunk it.

Drag Me To Hell. Sam Raimi makes us almost forgive and forget about Spider-Man 3 with his ostensible Evil Dead 4. Exactly what I look for in deliberately trashy schlock filmmaking.

The Hangover. Yeah, it was funny. I laughed. Didn't find it nearly as funny as my sister or Nosedive vet Marc Landers, who had apparently wet themselves (I'm hoping figuratively, though we're dealing with Nosedive, so you never know) when they saw it the week before me. I guess I liked Old School, also directed by Todd Phillips, more.

Moon. Okay, here we get into less blockbuster fare (The Girlfriend Experience is considered a typical big budget blockbuster, right?) and more into 2001-style introspective thought-provoking science fiction. More or less a one-man show with Sam Rockwell acting opposite Sam Rockwell (with a HAL-like computer voiced by Kevin Spacey, who only registers "emotion" through comical emoticons), I didn't find this to be a Great Movie (in Title Case), but a really, really good movie that delivered on what I was expecting.

Bruno. It made me laugh. It's pretty damn shocking. Does it succeed as satire? Not really. Although I think Borat is a better movie, I still wonder if this had been released first I would prefer Bruno to Borat (I also wonder this because I saw Borat not really knowing what was staged and what was "real" until weeks later; with Bruno, I watched every scene wondering how staged it was). On one hand, you've got that naked fight scene. On the other, a dancing penis with a screaming urethra. Hmmm...may be too close to call.

Tokyo Gore Police. My first foreign horror film entry, although not exactly horror, neither is my second one. But one features zombies and the other features vampires so the description will just have to do for now. I had seen this before on DVD, but a bunch of us went to a late night screening of this at the IFC Center as part of the Asian Film Fest. I was worried I wasn't going to be able to make it through to the end, since I was ready to crash out, but once the heroine's enemy attacks her with a bunch of severed hands with their middle fingers extended, I found my second wind. Not so much a movie-going experience as a surreal and zany sleep-deprived night of silliness (since the event featured several short films as well as seeing the film's director show up in front of the crowd and get darts thrown at his ass. I'm not kidding).

Funny People. The third film directed by Judd Apatow (and by my count, the five thousandth one he's either produced and/or written). An overlong mess, but featuring flashes of utter brilliance. It's clearly his most personal film, and there is some wonderful insight to the isolating mechanisms inherent to fame and fortune. I'd be curious to see a 90 minute version of this.

In A Lonely Place. My Film Forum revival entry. I actually ran into the delightful Crystal Skillman and her husband at a showing of this less-discussed Humphrey Bogart film (helmed by Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray). It was hyped as film noir and, by technical definition, it is: yes, there is a murder, although it's tangential to the story, but it's a "noir" in that it's about ordinary people displaying acts of extraordinary evil. But really, it's about a doomed relationship that you want to work despite all odds and logic. It was fun watching this on the big screen, and weird to be stuffing my face with sugar-covered popcorn (instead of artificial butter grease).

Thirst. My second foreign horror film entry. A vampire film by Chan-wook Park, director of Oldboy. Like I was going to miss this! There's some stunning imagery in this (such as the scene when a couple embraces while hallucinating their recent murder victim sandwiched between them), and although it's a bit slow going and not particularly scary, it is a haunting and meditative take on the vampire mythology.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Okay. I've read all the books, and until seeing this latest movie in the franchise, had only seen one other film from the series (the third one). Kinda whatever on this one, but it filled my completely non-film-related criteria: while in Chicago, I spent a day wandering all over downtown. After about four hours of walking in the hot sun, I was ready to be cool and sitting. My hotel was several miles away. I just wanted an air conditioned room with a comfortable chair where I could relax and recharge for a couple of hours. I finally found a movie theatre. Harry Potter was the one movie that was about to play when I got there. It filled the criteria. The movie itself? Feh. Did it satisfy what I was looking for in a movie at that time (AC, comfy chair)? Absolutely.

Inglorious Basterds. I've already written about this twice now. You know what I think about this. It's the only other movie I saw twice in the theatre this summer. I loved it. I'm a QT fan. This is not news.

District 9. Lives up to the hype. Oddly enough, even though I haven't seen Transformers 2 (although I've seen the first one am familiar with Michael Bay's smooth, clean directorial style; you know, with long, stationary shots where the audience is clear to the chracters' spatial relation to one another?), I wondered why Transformers 2 got so much box office love when the climactic scene from District 9 is a.) in a similar vein, and b.) clearly 1,000 times better? Can we expect to see Christopher the "prawn" return to earth for District 10 in three years' time? I think so. I'll be there.

The Hurt Locker. This too, was really, really good. I just saw this one. I'm hoping to write about Kathryn Bigelow's propaganda-free war film/suspense film about a team of bomb diffusers in the Iraq War in greater detail at a later date, but for now I'll just say oh yeah. Really well made. Really tense. Great characters and characterizations. And also (at the risk of sounding redundant) great acting.

So there you have it. Yes, I missed a ton of summer movies besides Transformers (many people warned me to stay away from Wolverine and I had no interest in seeing G.I. Joe). But hey. 16 movies (really 18, since I saw Star Trek and Inglourious Basterds twice) in the theatre over a period of about 14 weeks. This also isn't including the 26 or so plays and the who the living fuck knows how many DVDs I saw during this period. I'd call that a well-wasted summer!

Spending most of his free time in darkened rooms,

James "Bottom Feeder" Comtois

*Not really. Having seen the suckfest that was the first Transformers on opening day, I'm pretty damn glad I missed this one.

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