Friday, September 25, 2009

Summer Blockbuster Roundup Part 2

Well, Summer Blockbuster 2009 season is officially over. All I have to say is it's about time. So how did things stack up? Not so well. Thanks to the 2008 writer's strike, there were very few bright spots in the movie landscape this past summer.

Well, these reviews ain't gonna read themselves, so you'd better get started!

Year One

A shockingly unfunny comedy, starring Jack Black and Michael Cera.

Jack Black is uncharacteristically subdued throughout the entire affair. In a movie with precious few opportunities for laughs, he should have been trying to wring every possible drop of humor from the script.

Michael Cera plays the same awkward teen character that he's played in every movie he's ever been in. That's fine; many actors have made handsome livings playing the same role over and over. But someday he's going to have to branch out; he can't keep playing a befuddled 17 year old forever. I suppose he can always move on to playing awkward twenty-somethings.

Ringo Starr did this better 30 years ago with Caveman, and even then it wasn't exactly great cinema. Avoid at all costs. I give it a D.

Public Enemies

Johnny Depp is fine as John Dillinger, but the movie as a whole was a disappointment, IMO. For a movie about bank robbers, there's precious little bank robbing in it. It also had an odd video look to it, that didn't really mesh with a period piece.

The real John Dillinger allegedly had some creative ways to go about bank robbing. Reportedly he would sometimes pretend to be an alarm salesman in order to gain access to the vault, and even posed as a movie producer scouting locations for a film about bank robbers! Sadly, the movie ignores such interesting situations in favor of far more mundane robberies.

Uncomfortably similar to "Bonnie & Clyde," which given the subject matter, was probably hard to avoid. Worth a look on video. I give it a C.


There's no way to talk about Bruno without comparing it to Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen is a talented chameleon-like performer, but unfortunately Bruno is a weak follow-up. It just doesn't have as many laughs, IMO.

Maybe it's the character? Borat was a likable and somewhat innocent rube, while Bruno is more sophisticated and shallow. There didn't seem to be as much depth or humor to the Bruno character.

But don't take my word for it, just look at the box office. I'm not the only one who was underwhelmed. Borat was a surprise hit and grossed over $128 million. Bruno barely managed $60 million.

It could also be that the whole "Candid Camera" premise is wearing a bit thin. Whatever the reason, it's just not as fun to watch as the previous film. Skip it and watch Borat again. I give it a C.

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince

Believe it or not, this is the sixth outing for Harry and crew. Seems like the first movie just came out a year or two ago!

It's fun to see how the cast has grown into their roles and inhabits them so easily. The script is both satisfying and yet frustrating. It manages to successfully condense the overlong book, but the parts it decides to leave out are puzzling to say the least. About five full seconds of screen time are devoted to revealing the identity of the title character (the Prince, not Harry), and then the matter is immediately dropped, offering no further explanation whatsoever.

It also changes the staging and dynamics of the climactic battle and criminally leaves out any and all material pertaining to the funeral of another major character (I'm trying to be spoiler sensitive here).

Still and all, one of the better films I've seen this summer. Worth a trip to the theater. I give it a B.

The Collector

This movie has a pretty cool premise: A burglar breaks into a house and discovers someone far worse is already inside, torturing the unfortunate family that lives there. He then finds he's trapped in the house as well and decides to save himself and the family from a sadistic serial killer.

Somewhere between the concept and the execution though, something went terribly wrong. It seems like a made for TV SyFy Channel movie that was somehow delivered to the theater by mistake.

The killer, called "The Collector," even though it's not quite evident what exactly it is that he collects, rigs the house with traps that rival Wile E. Coyote. Some of the traps are believable, like stringing razor wire in front of windows or hammering nails into steps. But other traps involve objects that when picked up somehow yank the victim all through the house, up and down staircases and finally into spiked walls, just like in a cartoon. How such traps are powered, as well as how the Collector could have possibly rigged them in a couple of hours, rather than the months it should have taken, is left to our imaginations.

As I was watching it struck me that many of the traps seemed familiar, and I finally realized they were very reminiscent of the ones rigged up by young Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone movies. It made me wonder if the movie is set in the same universe, and the Collector is actually Kevin grown to adulthood and serial killer-dom.

Supposedly this movie started out as a prequel to the Saw franchise, but was eventually retooled into this standalone film. As I've not seen any of the Saw films, I couldn't say whether that's true or not. I do know that it felt as if the filmmakers were desperately trying to start up a new horror franchise; they tried so hard to create a new horror icon like Freddy or Jason that they practically sprained themselves.

It deserves an F, but I'll be generous and bump it up a grade for the interesting (but botched) concept. I give it a D.

A Perfect Getaway

An effective thriller that pulls off a very difficult plot twist. I can't really say any more about it without giving anything away.

It got killed by the other blockbusters out there, but it's worth a watch when it comes out on video. I give it a B.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

It's big, loud and silly, but I liked it about a hundred times better than the execrable Transformers 2.

Maybe it's to do with the fact that I was always more partial to the Joe cartoon series. I never liked the Transformers series as much; it was always a bit impenetrable to me.

Dennis Quaid is fine as Colonel Hawk, and Sienna Miller shines as the Baroness. Christopher Eccleston seems confused by the whole thing and while he may have been OK as Doctor Who, he's no Destro. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hoot as Cobra Commander and seems to be having fun playing an over the top villain. And any movie that can feature Marlan Wayans without making me want to gouge my eyes out is OK in my book.

Channing Tatum, however, can still be out-acted by a sack of potatoes, but I suppose his role as Duke doesn't require a lot of depth.

It was fun seeing Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow brought to life on the screen, but strangely the flashback battle between the young versions of them was far better than the adult fight. The two kid actors in the flashback fight scene put in one of the best martial art battles I've ever seen!

Short on plot, long on overblown effects, but it's still a fun ride. Worth a look. I give it a B.

District 9

Wow, an original movie that's not a remake or based on a TV show. What a novel idea.

An impressive achievement, especially when you find out the budget was a mere $30 million. Heck, even romantic comedies cost more than that these days. Of course it was filmed in South Africa, where a dollar probably goes a lot farther than in Hollywood. One of these days Hollywood is going to price themselves right out of business.

The allegory got a bit thick at times (Space aliens who are treated as second class citizens and discriminated against? And they landed in South Africa? What could the filmakers be trying to say?) but fortunately the movie doesn't dwell too long on the political aspect.

The Prawns (human's slang term for the aliens) looked totally real to me, and after a while I forgot that they were a special effect. I just accepted them as real.

Supposedly the Nigerian government took offense at the portrayal of Nigerian gangsters in the movie and is demanding Sony pull it from theaters and publicly apologize. That's fine, Nigeria, just as soon as you apologize for all those "Send your bank account number to the Nigerian prince" emails.

Amazingly, this appears to be star Sharlto Copley's first acting job. He puts in quite a performance, from Michael Scott-like office manager to... well, you'll have to go see it. He deserves an Oscar nomination for sure. Highly recommended. I give it an A.

Inglourious Basterds

A movie that takes its sweet time and demands your patience, but it's never dull, and you won't be able to take your eyes off the screen.

The original "Inglorious BastArds" was a straightforward action war epic, right out of the "Dirty Dozen" mold. Moviegoers expecting something similar here should look elsewhere. The most surprising thing about IB is that it barely features the Basterds at all. Despite what the early trailer implies, the movie is not about the recruitment and exploits of the Basterds, but more about various ancillary characters and their stories.

Brad Pitt is a hoot as Lt. Aldo Raine and seems to be having fun growling out lines in a Southern drawl. Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna is also a joy to watch.

The real star of the film though is Christoph Waltz. He's absolutely mesmerizing as Col. Hans Landa, the friendliest, most polite and yet most coldly evil villain ever to grace the screen. He's fascinating to watch. He's been in a ton of movies in Europe, but is virtually unknown in America. That will probably change soon.

Only Quentin Tarantino could make a WWII movie with narration by Samuel L. Jackson, and include David Bowie singing the theme song from Cat People.

Some may squawk about the revisionist history at the end, but it didn't bother me and frankly after what had gone before, it felt right. Highly recommended. I give it an A.

Well, that's it for Summer Blockbuster Season 2009. You can read about Part 1 here.


  1. I have been waiting for you to do some more reviews! Excellent run-through on the blockbusters. I haven't seen any of these movies yet, but I am looking forward to IB and D9. Great reviews bob,

  2. Thanks Brad! Glad you liked them. I watch them so you don't have to! ;^)


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