2008: The Year in Movies

So far, it hasn't been a big year for movies for me. I've seen many fewer than in years past, and I'm not sure if it's because I've been more busy, I've had fewer discretionary funds, or if there just weren't that many movies that I had to get out to see in the theater. Probably a combination.

Some of the movies that I did see, I really, really liked. One of them, I would consider one of the greatest comic book movies ever (and it's not the one the critics are concentrating on.) I've also seen some disappointments, and one that kind of pissed me off. So, in the interest of fairness (and padding my column) I present capsules reviews of every movie I've seen in a theater so far this year. These are in alphabetic order:

21 - This is the one about the MIT students who, under the tutelage of Kevin Spacey, go to Vegas to count cards and make a lot of money. I've read the book, which was based on real events, and the film does accurately capture the books tone, which is making the reader/viewer immediately want to book a flight to Vegas and start gambling. But one thing about this movie made me so angry that I couldn't really enjoy it. In real life (and the book) most of the students were Asian. In the movie, only one was, and he didn't even do the flashy card counting.

The Bank Job - I love caper films, I dig Jason Statham, so I was looking forward to this. It was… okay. Maybe because it, too, was based on a real event, and real crimes usually end badly, it wasn't as light-hearted as I usually like my capers. In fact, it got pretty heavy. But I have to admit, it looked great, and nicely recreated gritty 70s cinema.

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - I really liked the first entry in this series, and the follow-up was not bad. It didn't top the first movie, but the source material wasn't as strong, either. The producers of these films really have it tough, I think. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is not only the first book, it's also the best, and stands easily on its own. From now on the stories get darker and heavier on the Christian allegory, so they're going to lose a lot of the audience that just wants to see plucky English children have amazing adventures. That being said, I liked this well enough to hope they DO continue.

The Clone Wars - The computer-animated entry in the Star Wars saga, slated to become a Cartoon Network series this Fall. I kept falling asleep. That should tell you all you need to know.

Cloverfield - J.J. Abrams takes on the giant-monster-destroys-a-major-city genre pioneered by the good people at Toho Films (that's Godzilla, for all you non-monster fans.) The hook here is that the whole film is from the point of view of an uptown hipster with a video camera. Interesting concept, and the film was short enough (80 minutes) that it didn't get too pretentious. Still, they needed to get to the monster attack sooner, and there were a few plot points that made me call shenanigans, but overall an entertaining time.

Dark Knight - The follow-up to Batman Begins, with Christian Bale as Batman and the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. This is a solid entry in the Batman mythos, although Bale's acting choices in separating Batman from Bruce Wayne (i.e.- growling his lines and standing very stiffly) leave a lot to be desired. Ledger was truly sinister as the Joker, taking his cues from some of the later Joker interpretations, and it made me realize how sorry I am there won't be any more Heath Ledger movies. The real revelation, though, is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. I can't wait to see more from him.

Hancock - This got pasted by the critics, and I have no idea why. Well, I kind of do. It's a tough sell, with a light subject (superheroes) handled in a very serious way. Now, comic fans (hello, there!) are used to this approach. In fact, most comics (once you grow out of Archie) do take their subjects very seriously, but most comic movies don't, so I think critics went in expecting Sky High and instead got Leaving Las Vegas. Which is not in any way a criticism, but just a way of saying this film is maybe not for everybody. But I loved it and think it will find its audience on video.

The Happening - Has there ever been a film career filled with such promise only to crash and burn like M. Night Shyamalan? And I liked The Village. This movie was just clumsily made and without the least bit of suspense. I should have learned from Lady in the Water.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Here is the number one criticism I heard from my friends and other geek bloggers of this movie: It was just like Pan's Labyrinth. To which I say: Did you see Pan's Labyrinth? Really? Did you? Look me in the eye and tell me you saw Pan's Labyrinth. Because other than a few of the minor, minor character designs it was NOTHING like Pan's Labyrinth. What you mean is, the 15-second TV commercial for Hellboy II looked a lot like the 15-second TV commercial for Pan's Labyrinth. You can go now. Incidentally, I really liked this movie. Not quite as much as the first one, but enough that I want a Hellboy III. And Ron Perlman is as awesome as ever.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - This was an okay action film. Unfortunately, it should have been an amazing action film. I hate to say it, but Harrison Ford is too old, and Shia LeBoeuf isn't quite charismatic enough (give him a few years, though.) I so wanted to love this, and since I didn't, I'm disappointed. I realize that's unfair, but there you go. (For more about Indiana Jones, read The West Coast Review.)

Iron Man - I'm not a big fan of the Iron Man comics. I mean, I was familiar with the character, mostly through osmosis from being in the comics scene, but my initial feelings on this film was that they'd gone to the Marvel well a few times too often. Boy, am I glad to admit I was totally wrong. This film was AMAZING! Robert Downey, Jr. totally embodied Tony Stark, and made him as nuanced and contradictory as any comic character put on screen. Hell, it's a more subtle performance than most of the "real" movies I've seen this year (mainly on video, folks. If I'm paying $10+ for a movie ticket, I want a high explosion to meaningful talk ratio, but I digress.) This is one of two movies this year that as soon as it ended, I immediately wanted to see it again, and I went and bought the video the first day it was available, and every bit of that can be attributed to Downey. He took a character that, on paper, has little that makes him appealing and imbued him with an insane amount of charisma. It was a stellar performance that every critic in the world will ignore come award season because he did it wearing a super-suit. But man, I loved this movie.

Jumper - Okay, there's this kid who is born with a really cool power: He can teleport anywhere on earth. And he does what any teenager with super-powers would do: he robs banks, sets himself up in some swank digs, and romances the girl he's had a crush on his whole life. Unfortunately, he never progresses past this point. He doesn't save people, he doesn't improve the world, he basically just tries to stay one step ahead of the vaguely-motivated "bad guys" who want to kill him. Meh. I didn't care, and that's movie death.

Wall-E - This is the other film that as soon as it ended, I immediately wanted to see it again, and did five days later. (Unfortunately, it doesn't hit video until November.) This is one of those movies that I've discussed in the past that was so popular that every half-assed political blogger tried to examine it for secret social criticism. Pixar ran into the same problem a few years ago with The Incredibles. But at its heart (and what a heart it is) it's the story of perhaps the loneliest creature in the universe, a little robot who's the last being left to clean up a devastated Earth. And then… he meets someone, and falls in love. Without words, these little robots convey such delicate emotion, and visually the film is simply stunning. In fact, for the first half-hour, if someone had told me that this was really an RC robot on a set, I'd have believed it. Pixar, already the greatest animated filmmakers out there, have raised the bar again.

That's it for now, as we move onto Fall, and the "boring season." Enjoy your Halloween, everyone!

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