Seth MacFarlane is currently the King of Comedy with successful shows like “Family Guy” and the spin-off “The Cleveland Show”. I don’t really understand it, but he’s become the new Mike Judge; and as such, has grown into the world of movies with his directorial debut “Ted”, which he also co-wrote and serves as the voice of the co-star, a talking teddy bear.
The other star is Mark Wahlberg, who does a fine duty as an actor by playing John, a guy who for 75% of the film, is basically talking to himself (until the magic of post production added the ‘Ted’ effects). I always give actors a lot more credit when they share the screen with special effects: Bob Hoskins in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and anyone talking to Smeagol in the “Lord of the Rings” films to name a few examples. Wahlberg is very good here, and very believable, as a character who just can’t grow up because he’s lived his entire life since 7 years old clinging to his teddy bear as his best friend.
But there’s a snag in his relationship because he’s in love with a woman whom he’s been with for 4 years, Lori (played by Mila Kunis), and she’s tired of Teddy’s antics and wants John to grow up and move on. Now, I’d like to pause here to stress that these two have been together for 4 years, and live together with this talking teddy bear. How any woman would want to stay with a guy that long, and live with him in this situation, is beyond me. And I really couldn’t buy their relationship because it was too distracting to keep thinking that on a daily basis, John is with this teddy bear, talking to it, playing with it, and smoking weed with it. Now, if this movie wasn’t based in reality and had more of a John Waters feel to it, I could buy it. I always have room for surreality. And I was trying my hardest to believe this story. But because MacFarlane chose to make Teddy real, and a small celebrity for a few years, we are to believe that this is the real world (specifically, Boston), and Teddy’s as real as any living character. It’s also uncomfortably cutesy at times, and strangely unromantic.
The only relationship that does work is Teddy and John, and as I said, I heavily credit Wahlberg for this. He has this unassuming genuine demeanor that instantly works when he does characters like this. Much like his enthusiastic weirdo in “I Heart Huckabees” or his infectious charismatic Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights”, he’s right at home with this character of John, the manchild who just can’t grow up. Teddy also works because MacFarlane commands the voice, and rings true. When Teddy talks, most of the time, we laugh. Not because we can’t believe he’s a talking teddy bear–but he does have a lot of funny things to say. Probably the best scene is the “name” scene between the two of them, when John rattles off white trash women names, and finally realizes that there may be a “Lynne” attached.
Another relationship that I was actually very intrigued by, but disappointed with, was a promising character named Donny (Giovanni Ribisi, who devours this role with utmost psychotic joy). Donny has had an unhealthy obsession with Teddy since learning about him when he was younger, and Teddy was a national phenomenon, appearing on shows like Johnny Carson. Donny now also has a son, and wants to steal Teddy to give to his son, because he wants his son to experience the friendship he never had with Teddy. Going back briefly to John Waters, this probably would have been the central narrative if it were directed by him.
But it is directed by MacFarlane, who insists on cramming his stories with as many 80’s references as he possibly can, to prove I guess that he really knows his 80’s, and while some of it’s cute (the “Airplane!” reference made me smile), it does get a little tiresome after a while. The one that worked the best, that also fit with the story’s plot, was “Flash Gordon”. That probably brought the biggest laughs of the whole movie. But then there were jokes that were far too explained, jokes that were obvious references that fell flat, and then jokes that just didn’t work at all. In a comedy that overall works, you can always forgive that. The brothers Zucker and brothers Farrelly are great examples of guys who made enough big laughs that you could forgive the groan-induced jokes. But i don’t think MacFarlane has mastered comedy the way that those guys did. I think he’s still searching for his true voice. He hides behind a lot of jokey material, and sometimes almost seems unsure of how to approach a joke, so he just throws a reference out to make people appreciate his knowledge. I wish he’d just go for it, rather than play down to his crowd and fans, and truly push the envelope.
As it stands, this film really doesn’t push new boundaries. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it is acceptably predictable. But something is really missing here, and I think it’s just that MacFarlane tries to play it both ways: a stoner comedy and a surrealistic comedy, and heartwarming buddy picture. Only half of it works, and the other half just falls flat.
I also didn’t really care for the narration by Patrick Stewart. Although I thought the choice was excellent, and some of the early narration is funny, he narrates with so much smirk in his voice, that it immediately kills the irony. If he’d played it straight, and given his usual strong but charmingly British execution, it would’ve been hilarious. But that would be too subtle for MacFarlane, I suppose.
I would say overall if you’re looking to get out of the heat for 2 hours and have a few laughs, this will not disappoint. But for me, I just found too many inconsistencies and not enough texture underneath that promising coat of fur.
I’m all about the past ten years all of the sudden. I’m also all about lists. I love top 10’s, can you tell? Anyway, here’s a list of 10 movies that I thought haven’t gotten enough love and I want to point them out and maybe generate some renewed interest. They may not be the greatest films ever but I enjoyed them for what they were and thought they undeservedly went through the box office with nothing more than a whisper.
Note: I understand some of these films made it to Critics’ top 10 lists for their respective year. But who listens to critics anymore, amirite?
My Top 10 “Under the Radar” Films of the Past 10 Years
#10: Brick (2005)
Written & directed by: Rian Johnson
The immediate allure of “Brick” is the dialog. It is a modern film but the dialog is purposely archaic; a throw back to the 20’s and 30’s, with that “hard boiled” detective film noir flavor to it. The reason the idea is fun for this film is that it revolves around teenagers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, whose ex-girlfriend has been murdered and he wants to basically solve the case himself. The way the film unfolds is definitely reminiscent of old detective novels, where Johnson said he got his inspiration. The interesting thing is that when you strip away the novelty of the dialog and noir aspects, you still get a pretty well made and intriguing film. Credit the acting of Gordon-Levitt especially because he brings such sincerity to his role that it’s instantly credible. And that’s this film needed badly: the actors had to pull off the dialog. Otherwise it just looks silly. Well, they definitely do and I recommend finding this film and giving it a look.
#9: Ghost World (2001)
Written by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes / Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World” is a graphic novel about a pathetic youth named Edin who, along with her friend Rebecca, derides pretty much everyone and everything, until they grow too close to each other, and then fall apart eventually. The film adaptation is pretty close to the intentions of the graphic novel thanks to the fine directing of Terry Zwigoff (“Crumb”, “After School Confidential”) and the screenplay by Zwigoff and the author of the graphic novel, Clowes. Enid is played by Thora Birch and Rebecca by a very young Scarlett Johansson. Both are very good in their roles as they make fun of the world around them; and then Enid begins to develop a genuine interest in someone she had previously pranked, a loner named Seymour (Steve Buscemi). The film is a great character study of a total hypocrite, much in the same vein of “Catcher in the Rye”. It’s a quiet film, and the eerie ending is left to your interpretation (although I think it’s pretty obvious what it ultimately means). This was pretty critically acclaimed at the time, but you rarely hear about it anymore. Still worth checking out if you happen to run across it.
#8: “O” (2001)
Written by: Brad Kaaya / Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson
I’m cheating just a tad with this one since it was technically made in 1999, and the release was held up due to the Columbine massacre in April. It was released in 2001, which still allows me to use it in this list, I think. This film is an updated adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Othello”, and in my mind, it’s one of the best modern adaptations of his work. It stars Mekhi Phifer as Odin, a high school basketball star who has everything going for him. Josh Hartnett, in one of his best performances, as Hugo (the Iago character in the play), is jealous of Odin’s talents, and is one of his teammates. He wishes he had Odin’s ability but knows he’ll never be as good as him. So instead of trying to better himself, he intends to ruin Odin’s life. Odin’s love interest is Desi (Julia Stiles) and Hugo creates a plan to make her an ultimate victim, while making Odin responsible for everything. The film’s tone is chillingly quiet and that lends more to its power. Hartnett is so convincing as the self-loathing Hugo, and with its violent climax and ending it’s no wonder why it was shelved after Columbine. But I’m very grateful it was eventually released, because it does such a good job of bringing new life into a play that’s hundreds of years old. While it’s great to see “Othello”, especially when done well; but to be able to relate to it in a modern atmosphere makes it all the more relevant and worthwhile. Credit director Tim Blake Nelson (also an actor, who played Delmar in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”) and screenwriter Brad Kaaya for setting this in a contemporary America where things like this can, and do, still happen. And watching it all unfold is just as shocking as it probably was when it was first performed centuries ago.
#7: The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Written & directed by: Roger Avary
After the success of “American Psycho”, I guess it was fitting to go after another Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’s satiric library of macabre 80’s novels. This time it’s “The Rules of Attraction”, whose main character (I use that term very loosely) is Sean Bateman (played effectively by James van der Beek). It takes place at a fictional college where very real college things happen. The film’s disjointed narrative parrots the novel in an adaptation that even Ellis said was the “best” that he’s seen. While I still think “American Psycho” is a superior film, just based primarily on the fact that it does have one direct narrative, this film is also entertaining for all its bleakness and ice cold attack on disenchanted and disinterested youth. Unlike “Psycho”, this doesn’t necessarily take place in the 80’s. Instead, the time period is relatively ambiguous but it’s pretty much assumed to take place in the now. I never felt this film got that much praise and it’s a shame because on the whole, it’s quite an experience. It has some very intense scenes (the suicide scene comes immediately to mind, especially with the use of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”) and it has some very funny scenes (Kip Pardue’s amazingly hysterical and very cynical “European trip” sequence as Victor). I also want to point out my favorite performance and character in the film: Richard “Dick” Jared played by Russell Sams. He only has a brief appearance but it is absolutely hilarious. The film isn’t as easily accessible as “American Psycho” and it lacks the disarming faux-charm of Patrick Bateman; but it does have a lot of scenes that tie a nice chaotic and extremely dark experience together. It may leave you feeling a bit empty; but what else can you expect from Bret Easton Ellis?
#6: Sunshine (2007)
Written by: Alex Garland / Directed by: Danny Boyle
I was an Alex Garland fan after finishing his debut novel, “The Beach” which was adapted by Danny Boyle (I wasn’t a fan of the film at all). His writing ability as a novelist was obviously keen; but I was more impressed once he delved into screenwriting, with his first effort being “28 Days Later” (also directed by Danny Boyle). I don’t know the history of why Boyle and Garland work together, but every time they have, it’s been a great result. Maybe after what Garland saw Boyle do to “The Beach” (the screenplay was written by John Hodge), he decided he would set Boyle straight and show that his talents deserve better treatment. Whatever the reason, it’s paid off, and “Sunshine” is another fine example of this tandem’s efforts. It stars Cillian Murphy as an astronaut whose mission, along with his team, is to ignite the sun which has dwindled, and give it new life for earth. If they fail, it could mean the end of civilization. The premise is an interesting one, albeit it highly unlikely and not instantly credible. I mean, with the “payload” they have, I still don’t think it would do much to help the sun reach its potential to save mankind. But in any event, the execution of the premise is nicely done. The characters aren’t all interesting; but once things start to go wrong with the mission, it gets very interesting. Drawing obviously from movies like “Alien” and “2001”, “Sunshine” touches on a great question of “Can man play God?” They run into an unfortunate villain who seems to answer “No” to that question and there the film somewhat devolves into a slasher flick. But before all of that, I really like how the film works and there’s one scene involving an astronaut that finds out what happens when you “freeze” in space. It’s quite startling but fascinating. It’s certainly not as potent and timeless as “28 Days Later”, but “Sunshine” is definitely a fine film, I think it’s better than some of Danny Boyle’s other films. Definitely more interesting.
#5: I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Written & directed by: David O. Russell
David O. Russell is probably one of the most inventive and interesting filmmakers out there. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the meanest, and hardest to work with. Almost every film he does seems to have some kind of story attached about cast members being mistreated (most famously, George Clooney on the set of “Three Kings”; look it up). He’s definitely wears the “delicate genius” badge of honor proudly. But when you see the result, I don’t know how you can complain as simply as audience member. Don’t worry; I’m thinking it’s pretty safe that you’ll never have to work with him. This film is actually probably my favorite of his films, but I’ve enjoyed all of them. I like it mainly because it’s not only a philosophical film–it’s also a satire of philosophy. It’s all about existentialism. When I first saw it, I thought it was just pretentious and purposely over the top. Then I watched it again, and got the joke. It’s making fun of existentialism, as much as it is corporate culture and everything always getting caught up in consumerism. Tommy Corn is easily my favorite character. He’s played joyfully by Mark Wahlberg, which I always point to as a reference whenever someone criticizes him as a “bland actor”. This and Dirk Diggler, to me, prove Wahlberg’s ability. He’s very entertaining and energetic as the main character, Albert’s (played by Jason Schwartzman) Other as it’s called. Here’s a quick synopsis: an Other, in continental philosophy, is the opposite of the Same, which is your identity. I think it’s actually self-explanatory, right? So let’s move on. Anyway, the film’s got a lot of philosophical humor that if you’re into philosophy, you will laugh extensively. But I think the vernacular would even tickle the funnybone of someone who is aloof to philosophy or even downright dislikes it. It’s a bit hard to follow at first, and sometimes it does try to go over your head–but it’s a romp at its root, and it works very well. It’s not something you just pop in and enjoy; but I’d recommend a viewing, especially if you want to learn a little about philosophy. But especially if you don’t. Try and figure that out!
#4: Igby Goes Down (2002)
Written & directed by: Burr Steers
Kieran Culkin may never go down in history as the most successful or even most recognizable Culkin–and I’m not sure that it matters all that much. But he wins my heart with his brilliant performance as Igby Slocum, the modern incarnate of Holden Caulfield. While “Ghost World” can serve as maybe the female “Catcher in the Rye”, this is almost its doppelganger. But it does have its uniqueness. Igby is a rich brat whose mother Mimi (played very well by Susan Sarandon) is dying. He hates his mother for an assortment of reasons–but it seems the biggest is because of how she treated his father, Jason (Bill Pullman), who was committed to a mental institution after a nervous breakdown that Igby witnesses as a child. After seeing this harrowing experience, Igby thinks he has some kind of connection to his father. Like he understands what he went through, and that he wants to break from the family because his overbearing mother is the downfall of not only his father, but he himself. He hates his brother, Ollie (Ryan Phillippe, in his usual snobby role), who is a perfect example of what Mimi wants in a son. Igby is the opposite. But he’s always bailed out by her, or D.H., his godfather. Igby is rebellious, but he’s a hypocrite because he is only rebellious in spirit. In action, he takes every bail out he’s handed. He preaches about how empty and hollow the lifestyle of rich people is, but he himself is just as hollow and his escapes never go beyond the reach of his rich mother. The other thing that Igby can’t seem to face is the reality of his heritage. That’s only revealed in the end, but it explains everything. Igby tries to be a tortured soul; but he has no reason to torture himself. He has no real connection with his father. He also doesn’t understand that his whole life, it’s been his mother’s lifestyle that he’s reveled in. So in the end, he’s his own worst enemy; not the whole world. And the worst part is, even if he escapes the world of his mother, he’ll never escape who he is, no matter how far he tries to go. But don’t think this is an overbearing, pretentious re-work of “Catcher”. It has a lot of laughs, and isn’t as dark as it possibly could have been.
#3: Observe and Report (2009)
Written & directed by: Jody Hill
I have a review of this film on this site. I liked it when it came out, and I always felt it got jobbed by being released on the same weekend as “Paul Blart” with Kevin James. This is not a mall cop comedy movie. This is an extremely dark and cynical comedy about the lives of the depraved and self-indulgent. It follows the character of Ronnie Barnhardt (played by Seth Rogen, in his best film role to date), who is indeed a mall cop. But he thinks he’s more than that. He’s ultimately arrogant and has no self awareness at all. He runs a tight ship at the local mall–but there’s a problem. A flasher has been popping up perverting the parking lot, and Ronnie wants to solve the case himself. Of course, actual law enforcement gets involved, including a detective named Harrison (Ray Liotta), who hates Ronnie. Ronnie wants to catch the pervert not only for his own personal glory, but he also seems to be obsessed with impressing Brandi (Anna Faris), the cosmetics girl at a department store that is just as vacant as you could expect a cosmetics girl at a department store to be. He wants to “protect” her and the mall; but his tactics are laughed off by Harrison and Ronnie tries to become a real police officer to prove that he is more than just mall security. He fails the test, not physically, but he is bi-polar and is “off his medication” only because he’s “generally being a badass” and living a good life. Ronnie is not a necessarily likable person; but Rogen’s performance is pitch perfect and he hits the right notes at all the right times. Sometimes moody, sometimes out of line, sometimes inappropriate and vulgar, and even criminal himself…and then at some points, even sweet. The performance that stood out to me, as I indicated in my review, was by Collette Wolfe who plays Nell, a register jockey at a donut/coffee joint in the mall food court. She has a scene that just throws a monkey wrench in the film’s otherwise droll tone. This film is very dark, and not as accessible as a typical Seth Rogen vehicle. It also has some clunkiness, and some of the characters don’t really work for me (like Ronnie’s alcoholic mother); but overall, I think it’s great for that dark heart inside you. You know you want to laugh. And you will. Maybe you’ll feel bad. Good. That’s what it’s all about sometimes.
#2: Moon (2009)
Written by: Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker / Directed by: Duncan Jones
It’s very hard to pull of a feature length film that revolves one character. It doesn’t happen often, but examples to me are “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks and “I Am Legend” with Will Smith (although that film is pretty weak otherwise). But sometimes actors can just carry a film, literally. Well, let me introduce you to Sam Rockwell, because a lot of people don’t seem to know who he is; but he’s definitely recognizable. Guy Fleegman in “Galaxy Quest”; Zaphod Beeblebrox in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; and most notably, Chuck Barris, in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”. He absolutely commands in this film, which is about a lone astronaut on a mysterious mission on the moon in which he oversees an automated “harvesting” of helium-3 from regolith on the moon’s surface. Something happens to him while he’s exploring one of the harvesters. What happens soon after basically changes the course of the film’s narrative, which I won’t give away–let’s just say, Rockwell has quite a range. And because of his amazing performance (unfairly overlooked by the Academy that year), this film works better than it actually probably should. It’s really a rather simple story. Almost more fitting for a Twilight Zone episode. But his sincerity brings so much more to the story. The film itself is a good one, I should say, even if it is simple. It is very touching, very sad in some ways, but incredibly gripping, especially when you figure out what’s going on. It’s a movie that I don’t even think the filmmakers remember coming out…I don’t remember anyone talking about it. But it’s a certainly a hidden gem.
So now you must be thinking…well Zack, what could be better than “Moon”, right? Well, this one was a hard choice because the ranking of this list makes it seem like some of the films are lesser than the others. Really, I just had to figure out a way to present them and…this is what I came up with.
So here’s number one…and I must say, this isn’t a highly rewatchable film by any means. But it’s worth seeing for sure.
#1: Zodiac (2007)
Written by: James Vanderbilt / Directed by: David Fincher
The Zodiac Killer is possibly one of the most intriguing serial killers of all time. I don’t know how much of a ringing endorsement that is for someone that is only famous for murdering people…but the reason why he’s so interesting is that because of his elusiveness, he’s never actually been captured. Don’t worry, if he were still alive, he’d be in his 70’s at least. How dangerous could he be now? But in the late 60’s/early 70’s, the Zodiac Killer captured the imaginations of millions of Americans, especially on the West Coast where he prowled. David Fincher’s film, which wasn’t a huge box office success, is, in my mind, the best film that’s about catching a killer. Now, no, of course, they don’t catch him. That’s not the point. The journey here is in the absolutely exhausting police work. Fincher dabbled in this with “Se7en”; but with that, we had a conclusion. Here, detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), have to team up with other detectives and spend countless hours pursuing dead leads and red herrings because the Zodiac loves taunting the police, and is so hard to figure out, he remains enigmatic. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, who wrote the exemplary book “Zodiac” in 1986 (also was the basis of the screenplay), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, where the Zodiac letters are addressed to. Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a writer for the paper, as a crime reporter. Avery and the rest of the staff at the Chronicle don’t pay much mind to Graysmith; but Graysmith is obsessed with the encrypted nature of the letters, and is able to eventually crack the code of one of them. This gives him credibility to Avery, who somewhat befriends him. Throughout the film, every character is more engulfed into the story, and catching the killer almost becomes more of the story than the killer’s serial murders. And that’s actually what interested me most about the film, which itself is exhausting, clocking in at 157 minutes (162 director’s cut). There are some very creepy moments in the film. One of my favorite ones involves a scene with a suspect named Bob Vaughn, played well by Charles Fleischer. What struck me was not only the odd casting of someone like Fleischer (known mostly as a voice actor, predominately as Roger Rabbit), but also how uncomfortable he is. He’s so awkward and strange, you start to really wonder if he is the killer. Graysmith’s obsession with the case also has its cost on his life–he loses his job and his wife leaves him. But when you see what everyone goes through to find this killer, you realize just how intense police work can be–and when it’s all for naught, what can be extracted from that? Was it all a waste of time? What was actually accomplished? These questions are explored and not necessarily answered by Fincher. But that’s what’s appealing about the film. It’s not about the answers. In some ways it’s just as mind bending as the killer himself. And that’s what makes it such a great film.
Out of all of David O. Russell’s films, which include “Three Kings”, “I Heart Huckabees”, and “Flirting With Disaster”, this may be one of the most accessible to a regular audience. And strangely, it’s one of his most character-influenced. This is a film about people; and more specifically, family. It’s got a boxing background story, but it’s not really about boxing. Maybe that’s why it was called “The Fighter” instead; then again, we already have a film called “The Boxer”. In any event, Russell’s mark isn’t exactly all over this picture–but it’s still very well made, and it’s extremely well acted.
It tells the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who was what they call a “Stepping Stone” fighter–basically any fighter that contenders use to beef up their stats or make themselves a contender by beating them. Ward’s problem is that he has no real direction, and a huge part of that is because of his has-been crack-addicted brother, Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) who still brags about “knocking down” Sugar Ray Leonard years ago. His brother is also his trainer but he’s far from reliable. He also doesn’t get good match-ups because they’re set up through his mother (Melissa Leo in a role that would be criminal not to nominate an Oscar for). In one instance, he’s supposed to fight someone to get him back on track. He’s fighting a “stepping stone” himself; but the boxer comes down with the flu and instead of backing out and re-scheduling, he fights the back-up fighter who is 20 pounds heavier than Micky and pummels him.
Micky is caught between two worlds. After he is dismantled in his last fight, he is approached by someone to train in Las Vegas, and work for him. His mother, and family including 9 sisters, are appalled. But Micky new girlfriend, played very well by Amy Adams, believes it’s his ticket to freedom and to be a real contender. But Micky doesn’t want to leave his mom or his brother. He believes family is the most important thing to him.
And family is the most important thing to this film. It deals with family dysfunction; and yet, I think as you look at your own family, you can see some connections and actually relate to some of the situations that Micky goes through. You can also begin to understand why he needs his family; but also, why he needs to break away. Micky is literally in a fight between his “new” family (the boxing family), and his own real family. And that is the essence of this film.
There are surprising laughs in this film, too. The sisters are priceless, and some of the things that Dicky does are quite amusing, albeit ridiculous and dangerous. The sick sense of humor this film has at times may be the only indication that it’s David O. Russell’s work. But much like “The Wrestler”, the director takes a back seat to the narrative and lets the story tell itself through its characters. I still have to remind myself that film is directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Overall, this is a solid film. Most of that credit is due to the actors, however, and not as much to the filmmakers or writers. While they are fine, the acting is top notch. Wahlberg is Wahlberg; there really isn’t much to his character to begin with. But Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are just absolute showstoppers. When they are on screen, your eyes are completely glued. They bring this typical “underdog” story to life. But I like the angle that here’s a boxer who is totally dominated by other people; and ultimately, it’s his own choice how he actually makes his breakthrough. But he can’t do it alone. Some may say that omitting the Gatti fights was unfair because that’s what really made Ward a champion. I would maintain again that again, this is not a boxing story. It’s a story about family. And with that, it works just fine the way it is.
With the forthcoming weather getting decidedly cooler, and the box office draws becoming decidedly weaker, it’s time to realize that we are entering autumn, one of my favorite times of the year–and, one of my least favorite times of the year. Well, as a filmgoer, at least. I’m sure I’ve chimed in more than once about how much I hate September for movies, and October doesn’t get much better. In fact, things really don’t start getting good until November and December when you get the Oscar nods out and the quality is much better. And the pretention is off the charts!
So, I decided why not take a look back at what was the summer of 2008, the highs and lows, and the meh’s.
I’m going to cheat a little bit, and start in the spring. The only reason why I’m doing this is because I wanted to write some glowing words about a seemingly forgotten comedy that I thought was wonderfully entertaining.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
This was released in late April, but had the feel of a summer comedy, mainly because it took place in Hawaii most of the time. The film starred Jason Segel, who also wrote the screenplay, about a guy who works in Hollywood as a musical composer for a hot Network TV show that’s a hilarious parody of “CSI”, called “Crime Scene”. Segel’s character, named Peter, is also going out with the show’s main star, Sarah Marshall. But she ultimately breaks up with him, and just by a strange coincidence, they both find themselves on the same resort in Hawaii. Peter goes because his friend, played by Bill Hader (Michael Ian Black, I miss you dearly), tells him he needs to get away. Sarah goes because she is with her new man, a hippie rockstar played by Russell Brand. Brand’s character is actually sympathetic toward Peter, and while Peter makes his situation more miserable by dwelling on Sarah, the friendly and beautiful receptionist Rachel (played by Mila Kunis), tries to help him…forget her. The film is very funny and honest about love and relationships, and I pretty much bought it the entire way. The only nagging problem, which I’ve alluded to before with Apatow movies, is that the scenes did go on too long at times, and while the Dracula puppet show was a good pay off, the scene in which it is first presented is a bit awkward, even for awkward’s sake. But a great pick up on DVD, a great date movie, and if you’ve just been broken up with…maybe you can pretend you’ll find your Rachel too, and keep on kidding yourself. My rating:
Moving right along into May…we start to inch closer to summer, but not before…
One of the biggest surprises for me of this year. I wasn’t really expecting it to be much of a film, even though I am a big time Robert Downey, Jr. apologist (can you really be a fan of this guy?). I still wasn’t really into the whole thing, and while I do read comic books, Iron Man never really interested me that much. But my God was I impressed. This movie was a lot of fun. Now, it’s important to realize that this is a comic book movie. There are certain rules in comic book movies: 1) Don’t follow the science of things. It is really just made up, and made to look really cool. Anybody pounding away on a keyboard, or doing some diagnostic work on something chemical or robotic–it’s not going to be accurate, and it’s not going to be logical sometimes. But it still looks cool! Okay? Now I’ll be honest and say that the plot isn’t exactly going to blow you away. It’s fairly predictable. But it is well done, and it’s well executed. It’s not boring. And of course, the best part–Robert Downey, Jr. The guy is just a lot of fun to watch. He really makes you forget you’re watching a comic book movie. The film does devolve a bit into typical comic book movie “Final Boss Fight” mode toward the end, but it’s still a great spectacle, and anyone who didn’t find the movie entertaining should probably lighten up. This was a great start to the summer season. My rating:
Now after that, a monkeywrench is thrown into the whole thing. What was the Summer of 2008 without…Indiana Jones? Well, I’ll tell you what it was with Indiana Jones–lamer.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
This was without a doubt the most anticipated movie of the summer until a certain actor died right after playing a certain role in a…all right, you get it. 19 years after the last Indiana Jones movie, which I was 10 when I saw it, and I could not wait for this movie. Now, I didn’t have the highest expectations. Let’s be real: Spielberg hasn’t made a really good film in years, and Lucas hasn’t written anything coherent in decades. And then you add David Koepp to the mix? I think Monty Burns’ monkeys could have concocted a better script than this drivel. But, it’s not the script we look for in an Indiana Jones movie. It’s the action, right? And that was done fairly well. But, a little heavy use of the CGI and not enough Indy kickin some A, the movie sort of fell flat…in just about every aspect. Cate Blanchett wasn’t even good in this movie. Overall, I didn’t hate it. But I thought it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. And the ending? I think I went into diabetic shock with how sugary it was. It will most likely be the last Indiana Jones film, and that’s fine with me, if this is where it was headed anyway. My rating:
Then you have a movie come out of nowhere at the end of May that I thought was actually quite good. A well done horror film that is a bit of an old school throwback to the chilling slasher flicks like “Halloween”.
This is the debut of Bryan Bertino, and you can tell, especially with the unnecessary way it ends. But, he definitely shows some promise as he takes us on a journey with a couple that is sort of on the brink of break-up, after the main character proposes to his girlfriend, and she tells him, “No.” To make it worse, he had done up his parents’ old summer house all romantic like, thinking she would say “Yes” and the two would have a great night to remember. Well, it turns out to be a night to remember, in far worse ways. A trio of masked individuals taunt and scare the couple, and ultimately trap them in their own house. There is never a reason for their behavior, and that makes it all the more unnerving. The film has a very claustrophobic feel, and the scenes in which the masked people are just staring at the couple in different areas is absolutely haunting. The film loses its touch in the final moments, but the wheels don’t completely come off. I think this movie fell into oblivion during the summer, but should make a comeback around October, when it’s Scary Movie Time. Overall, a very solid horror flick. My rating:
And with that, summer arrives. It’s June. “Kung Fu Panda” is released, another Adam Sandler movie is released that nobody’ll watch except Adam Sandler and his friends, and…whoa, what’s this? “The Happening”? So M. Knight Shyamalan be a summer hero?
Probably the most pitiful excuse for a horror or a science fiction thriller produced in recent memory, “The Happening” is trite, boring, incomprehensible, and a total waste of good acting talents. The movie’s “plot” revolves around people killing themselves because…get this…it’s the revenge of the plants. They’re revolting against us! Shyamalan has to be on thin ice right now, and if this is his best effort to try and save himself from his latest blunders “The Village”, and “Lady in the Water”, his next appearance in the movie theatres may involve him ripping your ticket. My rating:
June actually got stronger with a decent second effort on the Hulk franchise, and I really enjoyed Ed Norton’s more somber approach than Eric Bana’s angry-at-everything-for-some-reason approach. “The Incredible Hulk”, unlike the hollow “Hulk”, had some depth and some charisma. It didn’t have the overall feel of a comic movie, there were some moments in which the Hulk felt like a character, but it still, again, devolves into comic book fanboydom with the final battle. “Get Smart” proved to be a winning comedy, and then you had “Wanted”, which surprised a lot of people because it was actually more entertaining than most expected. I think you could put that one in the “sleeper” category. Oh, and then there was “Wall-E”. Did uh, anybody see that?
So we move into July, and we’re in the meat and potatoes of the summer. With the exception of the over-the-top disappointing “Hancock”, there were some nice surprises like “Stepbrothers”, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, and in my opinion, the best movie of the summer, “The Dark Knight”. July had to go and end on somewhat of a sour note with “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”, but we won’t get into that. Seriously, Chris Carter…seriously? Man…
August never really brings that much excitement, but I was stoked to see “Pineapple Express”, and was bummed out by how long it was, and how it wasn’t as funny as it should have been nor as endearing as it could have been. I didn’t bother with “The Rocker”, because…well, I love Rainn Wilson but I’m not a teenager, so I didn’t think this one would really be that appealing. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”? Next? Of course, “Tropic Thunder” rounded out things nicely, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe it could have hit a little harder. “Tropic Thunder” might not have the staying power that, say, “Zoolander” does, but it was still an enjoyable movie.
Definitely “The Dark Knight”. I felt it delivered on every level. I know people say Nolan’s “Batman” series is more pretentious and artsy-darksy, but I for one like the change from the goofy Batman, and I think this is far more embracing than Burton’s cold but spiffy Batman.
Has to be “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. Many a Youtube Vloggers will agree…it “gargled balls”. It was an insult to the franchise, and they should be ashamed of themselves for making it! Well, okay I know I said it wasn’t that bad…it is a lot of fun to make fun of though. And besides, they’d make fun of YOU the first chance they get!
Sleeper of the Summer
While I’d like to give it to “Stepbrothers” because that turned out to be a very fun film, I’d still say “Tropic Thunder” pwned the box office longer than I thought it would, however, there may have been enough hype to knock “Tropic Thunder” out of sleeper status. “Wanted” is definitely in the conversation, but I think a lot of movies that were supposed to do well did well, and the ones that didn’t, didn’t. I may be wrong about that, but it sounded good when I said it. And, really, do you care what I think? Do I? Hm…
Heath Ledger. What a surprise, huh? But I’m sorry, the guy was just downright superb. He made the Joker into a much more sinister, devilish character. Nicholson’s was a bit more jovial, while Ledger’s was far more deranged. Runner up: Downey, Jr. Not just for “Iron Man”. He was fantastic in “Tropic Thunder” as well.
Gillian Anderson. Even though “The X-Files” was a waste of time, her performance was anything but. It was a shame, because she’s grown so much as an actress, and was so convincing again as Dana Scully, it’s a shame that she had to waste it on such a poor script.
Mark Wahlberg. I don’t know if there was anyone who could convincingly say any of the awful dialog that M. Knight wrote in “The Happening”, but Wahlberg looked completely out of sorts in this movie. It was really strange, and embarrassing watching. Just about everybody was terrible in this flick. It was almost like they didn’t even want to be a part of it, and just did it to…be nice.
Cate Blanchett. I mentioned before how bad she was in “Indiana Jones”. I mean, her accent was so over the top, and I realize that that might have been on purpose. But it was even more irritating and distracting than Malkovich’s french accent in “Johnny English”. It was very half assed. I was disappointed, because I’m usually a very big fan of hers.
I didn’t really know how I wanted to tackle this whole “blog” because I’m not really much of a blogger. I wanted to at least give out some reviews of movies I saw before the web site started, and then gloss over the ones I’ve already written reviews for, obviously. I think overall, this summer was a good one for movies. There have been a lot of summers recently that haven’t really delivered, and I think this one had at least a few movies that lived up to the hype. You’re always going to have over hyped films, and you’re always going to have surprise movies that will go quietly.
I’m looking forward to our upcoming Oscar Season, with movies like “Milk”, “Frost/Nixon”, and “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Pri–” oh…nevermind. Yeah…still not quite over that one yet.
There will be a slight hiatus from me viewing new films until the end of this month, but I still intend on renting some and keeping up the reviews as best as I can. And one of these days I do plan on buying some new music. Worry not!
Hope you had a great summer, and we’ll do it again next year. BFF.