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Friday, December 18, 2009

2009: A brief review of every new release I saw this year


"Inglourious Basterds": it was released in 2009!

Holy shit, do people love reading lists at the end of each year. Top 10s are everywhere: top 10 movies, top 10 albums, top 10 Tiger Woods mistresses (zing! topical!). Lists not only help people waste time at work reminiscing on the past 12 months (an ultimately arbitrary measurement of time), but more importantly, they are fucking easy to write.

In the order they were released (not necessarily the order I saw them in), please enjoy a list of every new film of 2009 I saw.


Watchmen

RUNDOWN: The beautifully intricate and groundbreaking graphic novel is finally adapted for the silver screen 20 some years after various producers and directors began trying to make it a go. The film looks great, but overall lousy acting, directing, and slow pacing made the 2:40 run time drag. The change they made to the ending events was a good, logical touch. Jackie Earle Haley shines as Rorschach, Billy Crudup's digital blue penis simply shines.

VERDICT: Don't let the trailers fool you. Unless you really loved the graphic novel, this is a pass.


I Love You, Man

RUNDOWN: A favorite comedy lead of mine, Paul Rudd, stars as a non-guy's-guy who is in need of a buddy to be his best man, and gets wrapped up in a budding bromance with Jason Segel, a charming but puzzling man-child. A great cast led by Rudd and Segel, as well as Rashida Jones as Rudd's fiance, and Jon Favreau, Tom Lennon, Andy Samburg, Tom Lennon, and Rob Huebel among the many talented actors in supporting roles, can't keep a dull script afloat.

VERDICT: The cast and premise look awesome on paper. Sadly, it's pretty lackluster in execution.


Adventureland

RUNDOWN: If you saw the trailer like I did, you'd think this was a "Superbad"-esqe teen-sex comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen "She Plays 'Bella'!" Stewart with lots of silly side shenanigans led by SNL players Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. You would be wrong. "Adventureland" is a "Graduate"-esqe teen-sex dramedy where Hader and Wiig's shenanigans are few and far between. Eisenberg has to take up a job at a local amusement park when his funding for a post-collegiate European trip come up short. Sexy times with KStew almost happen over and over again, and there's some Velvet Underground. Martin Starr, Bill from "Freaks and Geeks", has a great supporting role that is essentially a college-age Bill, and Ryan Reynolds shows some serious acting chops as a philandering ride mechanic that all the naive teen girls think is a real Shaun Cassidy.

VERDICT: Although I felt it was seriously mis-marketed, it's a pretty good, albeit occasionally depressing, little picture.


"Observe and Report"

RUNDOWN: Seth Rogen plays a mall cop who's obsessed with his job and wants to be a cop, but is too imbalanced and stupid to be on the force. He tries to woo an always-funny Anna Faris and one-up cop nemesis Ray Liotta. The result is what you'd get if "Taxi Driver" were a comedy. A dark comedy.

VERDICT: It's grim and disturbing at times, but Jody Hill's dark comedy is pretty funny throughout. Anna Faris shines, and it's nice to see Seth Rogen branch out a bit from his usual shtick. I didn't feel the oft-publicized "date-rape" scene was nearly as bad as the press made it out to be, and is as brief as it is open to interpretation.


"X-Men Origins: Wolverine"

RUNDOWN: Did you not learn enough of Wolverine's back-story in the first two (superior) X-Men films? How about two hours of various mutants jumping around and indiscriminately breaking shit in a manner that makes "X-Men 3" look like "Citizen Kane" in comparison? The two minutes of Ryan Reynolds are the only enjoyable ones in the film because Reynolds seems to be in on the joke of how terrible the movie is. Liev Shreiber goes mutton chop to mutton chop with Hugh Jackman, who you can tell is just dying to bust out in a pirouette and belt a few chords from "GiGi".

VERDICT: Watch the first two movies again, curse the day Bryan Singer dropped the series to direct "Superman", and wonder who in the hell suggested Will i Am get into acting.


"Star Trek"

RUNDOWN: JJ Abrams reboots the original "Star Trek" saga with a cast of relative unknowns. Chris Pine takes over as Kirk and "Heroes" cast member Zachary Quinto fills the shoes of Spock, despite the fact he can't do the Vulcan hand salutation without the help of model airplane glue. The movie suggests an alternate universe to the original televised saga before the construction of the Enterprise and birth of most of her original crew, and effectively opens up the series for at least two sequels that Abrams is attached to. Eric Bana, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon "Shaun of the Dead" Pegg and John "Harold" Cho help fill out the cast.

VERDICT: I was never a huge Star Trek guy, but this was hands-down the first really enjoyable popcorn movie of the year - great action, some good laughs, exciting battles - basically, everything that true Trek fans hate. Definitely worth a rental.


"Terminator Salvation"

RUNDOWN: Judgement Day happens, it's the future, and the war we spent three movies and an unfortunately short-lived television series trying to prevent is totally on. Christian Bale takes over the reigns of John Connor from the physically unimpressive Nick Stahl. Sam Worthington plays a death-row inmate who signs on to a Cyberdyne experiment before his last meal, and wakes up in a hellish future. A hellish future where McG is a decent action movie director, and a sequel to an iconic franchise went to the screen about three rewrites too early. Do you think Skynet will get John Connor this time around?

VERDICT: It wasn't quite as terrible as all the reviews made it out to be, but it could have been so much better, which is the real disappointment. I'll bet the Rottentomatoes score would have improved 10% if the Helena Bonham Carter subplot was taken out and we didn't learn about Worthington's past until he did. The best thing to come out of this movie was Bale's breakdown.


"Up"

RUNDOWN: Pixar has yet to swing and miss when it comes to making them moving talking pictures. "Up" is the story of an old man who looks to escape from a nursing home by making his home into an improvised zeppelin; in the process he fulfills childhood dreams of his and his departed wife, and makes a valuable friendship with a boy in need of a father figure.

VERDICT: It's one of the most moving pictures I've seen in a while - the wordless montage in the beginning of the movie chronicling the couples' aging gets me choked up every time. Ed Asner helps make the funny moments funnier with his cantankerous old-man speak that isn't much of an acting leap for him. Definitely worth the rental.


"Drag Me To Hell"

RUNDOWN: Alison Lohman messes with the wrong gypsy, gets herself cursed. Justin Long can't help. Commence horror spiced with silly comedy.

VERDICT: As I said in the IHYFM review, if you like movies in the vein of "Evil Dead", this is a must-see. Also, if a creepy gypsy asks you if she can have an extension on her mortgage, you say "yes, creepy gypsy lady".


"The Hangover"

RUNDOWN: A Vegas bachelor party where the least funny or recognizable guy goes missing (Justin Bartha), and buddies Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, and Zach Galifianakis try to track him down before he's supposed to walk the aisle. Hilarity and one of Heather Graham's breasts ensues.

VERDICT: It's a decently funny comedy, but I was shocked at how overwhelmingly popular it was. IHYFM review here.


"Year One"

RUNDOWN: I saw this movie for free. One of my friends scored movie passes after complaining about some delightfully shitty service at a local theater, and we had to use the tickets within two weeks. This was the only thing we felt was remotely worth seeing, which is saying something. Jack Black and Michael Cera do their usual thing, except it's in biblical times. David Cross as Cain kills Paul Rudd as Abel with a rock. Hank Azaria makes a dick joke. McLovin does the McLovin.

VERDICT: Watch director Harold Ramis' bit when this is inevitably played on a loop on TBS as a lead-in to George Lopez, otherwise, pass.


"The Hurt Locker"

RUNDOWN: Jeremy Renner (the soldier from "28 Weeks Later") plays a daredevil demolitions expert in 2004 Baghdad. Director Kathryn Bigelow takes a script from Mark Boal, who was an embedded reporter with a bomb squad in Iraq, and crafts a harrowing war drama unlike most I've seen. Even though there are some leaps of logic (would a bomb squad have extensive sniper training?), this feels like the truest war movie in years. Nothing is predictable, the danger is constant, and for Renner, war is a drug.

VERDICT: If the Academy judged films solely on merit and not on Hollywood politics, this would be the hands-down front runner for Best Picture next February. A must-see.


"Public Enemies"

RUNDOWN: Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger and Christian Bale plays Melvin Purvis, the agent sent to Chicago to take him down. If the Michael Mann that directed "Heat" or "Collateral" had shown up to direct this true-life crime drama, we would have had a kickass thriller. Unfortunately, the Michael Mann that directed "Miami Vice" punched the time clock.

VERDICT: As awesome as it is to see Chicago renovated to look like it did back in the day, especially Lincoln north of Fullerton where Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph, this crime drama is about as exciting as going through Dillinger's sock drawer.


"Bruno"

RUNDOWN: It's "Borat" with a gay dude.

VERDICT: If you enjoyed the trailer or "The Ali G Show", you'll like the movie. More laughs per minute than "Borat". Not for the faint of heart. By which I mean there's a scene where Bruno's penis talks to you.



"In The Loop"

RUNDOWN: England and America are two countries separated by a common language, and gear up for World War III because they are both run by idiots.

VERDICT: The comedy that nobody in this country saw is a must-see. IHYFM review here.


"Funny People"

RUNDOWN: Seth Rogen is a struggling stand-up comic, Adam Sandler is a dying stand-up comic. Hilarity does not ensue when Sandler tries to woo a married former flame.

VERDICT: Remember how combining two movies made "The Dark Knight" awesome? The reverse happened with "Funny People". IHYFM review here.


"Thirst"

RUNDOWN: Yes, Virginia, there was a vampire movie that came out in 2009 that wasn't a flaming cinematic turd. "The Host" star Kang-ho Song plays a priest that survives a deadly virus that has odd side effects. He thirsts (get it?) for blood and sex with a dangerously free-spirited young woman.

VERDICT: This South Korean thriller is the most interesting in its third act, although it does take a while to get there. Not amazing, but if you're looking for something off the beaten horror path this isn't a bad way to go. "Oldboy" director Chan-wook Park will give you some good psychological creeps.


"District 9"

RUNDOWN: Apartheid, with aliens! Peter Jackson helped unknown director Neill Blomkamp get a feature film made after the "Halo" movie imploded. An evil corporation starts to muscle alien squatters out of their huts, and one of their employees becomes suddenly ill and embroiled in the alien struggle. Heads blow up.

VERDICT: Visually impressive, ultimately boring. IHYFM review here.


"Inglourious Basterds"

RUNDOWN: Brad Pitt leads a squad of soldiers whose mission is to terrorize Nazi forces in France. Most of the film, however, follows Christoph Waltz as a SS Colonel hunting hiding Jews, and Melanie Laurent as one of the Jews that escaped Waltz's grasp.

VERDICT: Tarantino's anti-war-movie war movie was among the year's best, and one of Tarantino's best. Although it took me several weeks to fully digest it after the first viewing, I've really come to appreciate how Tarantino uses "Basterds" to criticize the notion that war movies are only good if they are true to life and feature long, extensive, gory battles. He proves that the human element is what makes any film truly interesting. That, and Brad Pitt talks in a silly southern drawl. That's fun. IHYFM review here.


"World's Greatest Dad"

RUNDOWN: Robin Williams is a teacher and aspiring writer who is constantly overwhelmed by being a single dad to the biggest douchebag imaginable. In the wake of some peculiar circumstances, though, it seems like Williams will be able to get everything he wants out of life.

VERDICT: This is a shockingly dark and grim comedy. Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait does find some tenderness where you don't think it's possible, and the reviews are right on: it's Williams' best role in years. This is not for the faint of heart, so I wouldn't recommend it unless you really enjoyed the trailer.


"Extract"

RUNDOWN: Mike Judge follows up his hugely popular "Office Space" and cult hit "Idiocracy" with a tale of a small business owner (Jason Bateman) trying to juggle a lawsuit, cheating wife, and con-artist employee. Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, and Ben Affleck are all fun to watch in supporting roles.

VERDICT: Like Judge's other works, it's unconventional, but has quality laughs throughout. It's definitely worth checking out when it's released on DVD next week.


"Zombieland"

RUNDOWN: The zombie apocalypse has happened. Only loners like Jesse Eisenberg and sociopaths like Woody Harrelson survive, as well as con artists like Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. Undead hilarity abounds.

VERDICT: Great comedy that doesn't overstay its welcome. Worth a look if you're into the broad genre of "zombie comedy". IHYFM review here.


"The Invention of Lying"

RUNDOWN: Ricky Gervais lives in a world where people can only say the brutal truth and nobody has ever uttered a lie. When Gervais learns he has the ability to say things that aren't true, he quickly turns his life around, but the movie takes an unexpected turn when he invents religion.

VERDICT: An all-star cast is fun to watch, but the movie drags a bit, especially during several over-long montages. As far as Gervais material goes, you're probably better off with "The Office" or "Extras".


"A Serious Man"

RUNDOWN: A physics professor is getting a divorce, probably not getting tenured, and his neighbor won't stop mowing part of his lawn. It's the story of Job in yesteryear Minnesota, and it's a pretty damned funny.

VERDICT: The Coen Brothers have been on a hot streak for the last few years, this is no exception. If you're a fan of their work, definitely check it out. IHYFM review here.



"2012"

RUNDOWN: Shit gets fucked on a global scale. John Cusack (spoiler!) survives.

VERDICT: Fuck watching shit get fucked. IHYFM review here.


"The Road"

RUNDOWN: The end of the world has come, and a Man and his son, the Boy, are trying to make their way down the eastern coast for a warmer winter. What they encounter is even more horrific than the cast of "Jersey Shore".

VERDICT: Only see it if you loved the book by Cormac McCarthy or were really juiced to see people scrounge canned goods and avoid cannibals for two hours. IHYFM review here.


"Bad Lieutenant"

RUNDOWN: Nic Cage pulls a "House" and gets addicted to pain pills and worse in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He loses his mind during a homicide investigation, and sees iguanas and break-dancing souls.

VERDICT: In his retelling of Abel Ferrara's film, Werner Herzog rips himself off, according to my buddy that really knows Werner Herzog. The parts he ripped himself off were my three favorite minutes of the movie, which will be on Youtube in about two months anyway. Pass.

2009 MOVIES STILL ON MY RADAR:

"CRANK 2": Jason Statham reprises his role as an ass-kicking assassin with a short shelf life. The original, although silly, was a lot of fun to watch, and the reviews indicate the sequel delivers more of the same.

"TYSON": A well-reviewed documentary about boxing's oddest personality is said to be fascinatingly insightful.

"AWAY WE GO": A young couple tries to figure out where to plant their roots when they're expecting. The consensus on the Vendela Vida-Dave Eggers story is that although it's a bit slow, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are fun to watch playing with a cast of comedy all-stars.

"COLD SOULS": Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti in a Charlie Kaufman-esqe comedy about a company that extracts and freezes souls.

"IT MIGHT GET LOUD": A documentary about guitars stars U2's The Edge, Jimmy Page, and The White Stripe's Jack White.

"THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX": A German film about the infamous terrorist organization of the 1970's is supposed to deliver the goods. The guy from "Run Lola Run" stars.

"BIG FAN": Comedian Patton Oswalt is said to shine in Robert Siegel's dark comedy about a sports fan that loves the home team so much he won't prosecute when he's assaulted by one of the star players. This was such a limited release it was in Chicago for one night.

"THE INFORMANT!": Matt Damon stars in the Steven Soderbergh vehicle about the true story of one of the biggest corporate whistleblowers in history - a hilarious yarn about price-fixing corn.

"CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY": I was too busy with school to catch Michael Moore's latest populist critique that zeroes in on those responsible for the financial meltdown. Like his other works, I've heard despite its "Michael Moore" faults, it is still an infuriating look at things that are seriously wrong in this country.

"THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX": Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's story reminds us that animation doesn't have to be computerized.

"UP IN THE AIR": Jason Reitman struck gold with his first two films, "Thank You For Smoking" and "Juno", so this tale of George Clooney taking a hard look at his constantly-on-the-road lifestyle shouldn't be any different.

"SHERLOCK HOLMES": Normally, I'd scoff at a movie that completely warps iconic source material, but the combination of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law and trailers that suggest Guy Ritchie has made a non-shitty movie for the first time in almost a decade have me excited for what looks to be a good popcorn romp.

"AVATAR": I will likely force myself to see it so you don't have to. Happy Holidays, my dear readers.

2 comments:

  1. Damn. I only saw like 5 of these flicks this year. I need to get back on my movie shit. If you get a chance Joe "Tyson" was mindblowing.

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  2. I Hate Your Favorite Top 10 List of 2009:

    http://entertainment.msn.com/beacon/originalsgalleryvote.aspx?ptid=f16391ef-20fe-456e-a02a-bac46cd1a7ad

    ReplyDelete