Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back from Vacation! Movie Reviews! No Accompanying Photos!

Hey y'all. Sorry for the totally weak blog action of late. I feel like I just put that "Road" post up and it's actually been about a month. I should just put dead blog on this thing and save my dignity, but I'll keep on keepin' on.

From May 30th to June 7th I was in Florida with my family for a big ole vacation. No email or cell phone or Facebook or internet at all for a week. Just sitting in a camp chair under an umbrella that sometimes launch out of the sand and fly, reading new Jack Reacher, looking up periodically to confirm the Gulf was still there, and taking ladylike sips from canned Corona Lights (because they won't let you take bottles to the beach, understandably). I've never really been on a proper, take-time-off-work vacation before, and it was pleasant and relaxing and all of that, but I had to concentrate to keep from turning it into a sad countdown to a return to the workaday. But I think I did all right on that score.

I've seen a shitload of movies since last I posted. Here's a rundown:

1.) Star Trek. I think JJ Abrams is trying very hard to be the next Steven Spielberg. I wouldn't say he's got the chops to do it, I don't see that yet, but he's sure got Stevie's ambition. This movie was almost disturbingly tailored for the broadest possible audience. Fuzzy sidekicks, slapstick humor at every turn, even Tyler Perry was thrown into this thing to give it the best possible chance to succeed at the box office. And even with all of that calculated mainstream profit-driven thought pushing its way into this movie, it works. They made a fun movie that, to my mind, is as fun and mindless as Star Trek IV was, and Star Trek IV was pretty good. I'm not sure I'm into the whole alternate Trek universe thing Abrams started here, but the actors are all appealing and I'm interested to see sequels, so I guess everyone's happy. Except the haters.

2.) Terminator 4: Salvation. For the first 2/3rd of this movie, Terminator 4 rocks it as hard as T2 ever did. It even brought JD Salinger out of seclusion! The shots! Camera locked on John Connor from ground, to helicopter, to airborne helicopter, to downed helicopter, no cuts. The sequence! You know the one I mean. The one that begins with the giant terminator attack on the gas station hideout and ends with Marcus scudding across the surface of the canyon river. That was good enough to make me forgive McG a.) his name, and b.) Charlie's Angels 2. Unfortunately, after John Connor and his black friend successfully field test the signal on the big hunter-killer, the screenwriters apparently suffered massive head-trauma but kept writing through the pain. McG, clearly not knowing his writers had been close to blacking out with life-threatening concussions when they wrote the 3rd act, just shot what had been written. He's a director, not a writer! How was he supposed to know the ending was so bad? And so, in the dumb 3rd act, John Connor walks into SkyNet city without a.) a single problem, or b.) a moment's suspicion about how he's walking into SkyNet city without a single problem. Worse than all of that, it just gets boring and lets the audience out of the story too much. But even with the weak ending, T4 is still a worthy addition to what I thought was a dead saga, and makes me interested to see more.

3.) Up. What a downer! An uplifting animated film about an old man coming to grips with the death of his wife? And his own impending death? What? Kudos to Pixar for keeping it different, and not letting any received wisdom about what an animated movie can or should be dictate which films they make, but this movie was sad, y'all! But besides that, Up is more of the same Pixar genius. Brilliant animation, brilliant shot selection, brilliantly drawn characters. There were some moments where whimsy crossed the line into sheer ludicrousness (dogs flying biplanes?), but I'm just not especially enthusiastic about lump-in-the-throat movies made by people who've set out to get people to cry, and I kind of think they did with this movie, more than any other Pixar movie to date. But even with all that said, I'm not sure I'd want them to have changed any of that stuff. It was all very well done, but just not what I'm down for these days. Or should I say... up for?

4.) Drag Me to Hell. Stephen King used to run-down a spiral of diminishing returns when writing horror novels. First, if you can get it, go for terror. If you can't get that, try for horror. If not that, go for a cheap shock. And if you can't get any of that, "go for the gross out." I think Sam Raimi knew right off the bat he wasn't going to get any of the first three, probably had no intention of attempting to get them, and focused his energy on the gross out. He doesn't do too badly on that score, but it's kind of a low bar he set for himself. Drag me to Hell was more of a diverting exercise -- a chance for Raimi to show himself and his fans that 3 Spider Man movies hadn't killed the Evil Dead in him -- than a real honest-to-God horror film. Things I liked: 1.) Allison Lohman. Easy on the eyes. 2.) The cinematography. The colors were really popping and it managed to capture some of that LA-sunlight quality that seems to elude other filmmakers. 3.) the last 10 seconds. Not in a gut-level way -- it's not emotionally satisfying -- but intellectually it makes sense. I wish the set up for the ending hadn't been so obvious though.

5.) The Hangover. Funny stuff. I never felt I was travelling on the same current of humor as this movie was, but it had a good number of laughs. I liked the Rain Man shot a lot, I liked the shot in the taser class where the kid gets up to tase Zach and it goes into slow-mo, and I liked the easy comraderie. The tone was good too, which is an easy thing to discount but always hard to get right. And the photo montage at the end is, of course, genius. But I'm not thinking right now that this is an amazing comedy, just a really competent one.

I'd add some photos to pretty this beast up, but it's late, and the Man demands I return to work tomorrow.


Moorhead said...

I'm a big fan of 'Drag Me To Hell'. I was refreshed to see a horror movie come out that didn't take itself so seriously. Very simple, tons of imagination. The ending set-up was obvious, yeah, but the actual ending itself was 100% perfect.

Peggy said...

Brian - you didn't address the 3D aspect of UP. Which worked for once. But it was sad, they owe me a box of tissue for sure!!

I loved HANGOVER - it was the funniest movie I've seen in awhile. I am worried about a second viewing though, since I think most of my laughs were shock value laughs and may not occur again on another viewing. We'll see.

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Harwell said...

Wow, that's so ironic because I was just going to chime in and say that was personally the best website I've seen so far this year. But that's just me...

Good to see your post Crane, but sad to realize I've only seen one of these movies (The Hangover). I gotta get my white butt to the Cineplex. Anyway, I think The Hangover will actually fair pretty well on a 2nd viewing Peggy - there are a lot of good lines that will probably seem funnier the more you hear them. Like Zach G. asking the lady if that was the real Caesar's Palace. Killed me. I suspect the appreciation of his entire performance will only grow with each subsequent viewing...

How about that SHUTTER ISLAND trailer, eh?

JudgeHolden said...

A Shutter Island trailer? What? Must find now.

JudgeHolden said...

Craig: Yeah definite props to Drag Me to Hell for inventiveness. Who would have thought there was a new way to do a seance, but I sure haven't seen one done like that. And it was legitimately and intentionally funny in some key scenes. Especially the stuff with the toadie would-be asst branch manager, and the meeting the parents scene. When she started screaming at the door I was laughing pretty hard.

You are right. The 3D in "Up" is great. Low-key, a narrative enhancer, not an in-your-face shock tool. And the glasses were so light and wide you forgot you had them on. Now IMAX and 3D? I'd have to start camping at the movies.

Florida Beach Rentals: I've seen your website, and it's true. Outstanding rentals are to be had there.

Shawn: Shutter Island trailer did not play in front of Hangover for us, but I just saw it and it looks awesome. Looks like he's trying to channel Hitchcock with this one. Maybe he was inspired after doing that elaborate champagne commercial he did in the style of Hitchcock.

blankfist said...

Up. Genius comedy. I laughed when the man got cancer.

Drag Me to Hell. Much fun. I laughed when she died. Oops. Spoiler alert.

I haven't seen Hangover. Terminator was pretty much a let down. And so was Angels and Demons.

Star Trek is the best movie of the summer so far.

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