Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Movies Roundtable Spectacular

Part IV: In the Poor House

I didn’t see many movies this year and unfortunately the ones I did see were mainly mediocre. This was partly due to not going to see movies but also to what was available to me as I spent three months of year in Ethiopia. (Ethiopia doesn’t get too much arthouse fare.) But a couple of flicks stood out as really rotten.

The worst movie of the year was The Happening, which I reviewed while in Ethiopia. I’ll preface my bashing of the next two terrible movies by mentioning that I watched them during a long plane ride. So watching crappy movies during a long (sometimes crappy) plane trip isn’t the best way to gauge quality. Alternatively, I think that a halfway decent movie would actually seem better during a long trip just as a crappy one seems ever the more crappy.

Cloverfield ranks in the poor category because I don’t remember it at all. I remember the stupid trailer that everyone was a-gaga over. The film itself? No. I don’t even remember the monster. And I am very keen on movie monsters. Couldn’t tell you how tall, what color, how sharp teeth, if he had cool plates or sails on his back, or what sound he might have made. After first seeing it I wasn’t impressed but the quickness in which I forgot everything about this movie astounds me and makes me regard it as a horrible piece of pop culture. It doesn’t even achieve what the worst pop culture does and stay ingrained in the consciousness for any period of time. Speaking of forgettable, don’t get me started on the bland actors and actresses. They should immediately return to whatever WB family drama (that most likely stars Treat Williams) they emerged from and never grace the big screen again. This signifies the problem for a movie like this. If you are going to have stupid characters doing stupid things and placing their stupid friends in stupid situations then at least make them interesting. A prevailing theory in Hollywood today seems to be that we should care about these people only because they are pretty enough to star in a movie. Boo! So don’t waste your time on this one. Rent the original Godzilla to see how city trashing monster movies are supposed to be.

This uninteresting characters yet pretty actors in a bad movie brings me to The Strangers. I watched this one on a laptop from a pirated Ethiopian DVD rather than at 30,000 feet above in a metal hull flying across the sky. At least there is an attempt to go inside the characters a bit but it doesn’t work. Then the usual starts happening. False suspense and loads of scenes where people in creepy masks appear behind the character we don’t care about and then disappears again undetected. Just like movie monsters I am also keen on slasher films. But this new wave of horror/slasher flicks that have cropped up in the past few years have me either bored or disgusted. By disgusted I mean that in a “I can’t believe I am watching this crap” type of disgusted. The type of disgusted the people who make slasher films do not want you to feel. A couple spends the night at a remote family cabin. Some people come to kill them. Stuff, mostly uninteresting stuff, happens before they die. Ho hum. You’ve seen it before and better done.

For bland, pretty, uninteresting stuff happening look no further than 10,000 B.C. Another plane movie but for some reason I remember all the laughably bad scenes of this movie. I think when I was five years old and making up stories with action figures I came up with a more plausible and historically correct plot than this movie. Did any screenwriters even do the most basic of research to see what the prevailing theories are for how life was at that time period? After watching this movie the overwhelming answer is of course not. In the span of less than 90 interminable minutes the story goes from an arctic setting to the desert where, inexplicably, the wooly mammoths hang out to assist in pyramid construction, and then back to the arctic. The sabre-tooth cats live in the swamp that separates these two geographical areas and then there’s some slave revolt and a journey to find a kidnapped love thrown in for good measure. I make it sound much more interesting and involved than it really is.

Those were the worst of the worst. And I got to rant a bit, too. Nice.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 Movies Roundtable Spectacular

Part III: Jason Stratham Discussion

Based upon an actual conversation:

Nimero: Did you see Transporter II?

Colbinski: Yes

N: Um...did you like it?

C: The car flipped upside down and the crane took the bomb off the bottom of it...(laughs)...(laughs more)...

N: I know...

C: ...That was great!

N: I guess that was great...

C: That was great.

N: It's amazing how such a preposterous scene can really make a movie.

C: It made the movie.

N: Did you like the fight in the oil slick?

C: That was in the first Transporter, I think.

N: Oh.

2008 Movies Roundtable Spectacular

Part II: Fine Performances in Limited Viewing

Click here for Part I of this discussion

As Nimero noted, 2008 proved to be an off year for movie-going and for movie-blogging for myself. I managed to sneak to the cinema to the latest Indiana Jones, the latest Batman, a Genghis Khan movie, and a wrasslin' flick, while only finding the time to do a write-up for Mongol. The other 2008 releases I caught on cable or DVD. Many fulfilling activities, I'm sure kept me busy this year but, suffice to say, my film-going schedule took a back seat. So, without further interruption, here's Colbinski's official (short and none-to-exciting) 2008 Year in Film Recap:

Highly Recommended
The Dark Knight

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Wrestler

The Visitor
The Bank Job
Boarding Gate
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Now, about this "rating system." It's been clearly stated that Nimero need not abide by these categories. Since I haven't even seen 10 movies released this year, making atop ten list is out and so these broad-range markers will have to do. Though, like Nimero, the wiggle room within the "Good" category is vast. Mongol teeters on the Recommended/Good scale and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull teeters on the Good/Disappointing scale. I enjoyed enough after seeing it, but I think it was more the anticipation of another Indy movie that carried that feeling. It lacked real thrills and brought out many of Spielberg's worst instincts as a director. But, as Nimero stated, it was another Indy movie and, well, that is enough. Side note: strange how I'm more forgiving of bad Indy movies than of Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars. I think it was the re-visiting of a great character that made the difference versus the introduction of paper-thin characters in the second Star Wards trilogy.

Of the movies I saw, the performances truly carried the way. Of these, Chiwetel Ejiofor in Redbelt was the best. Of course, I'm a sucker for characters that calm, stoic idealists trying to get by, made difficult by external forces, stays true to himself and doesn't waver in the face of increasing adversity. Unlike Nimero, I found the ending cathartic (if not somewhat preposterous in the best possible way). Like many David Mamet movies, the con within the movie doesn't make much sense with one viewing - how deep did it go, when did it really start and why did they even bother to rope in a small-time judo instructor in the first place? - is the only reason why it didn't make the recommended list.

Other notable performances include Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, and Tadanobu Asano in Mongol. Like Ejiofor, all have a quiet center and more is done with what is not said. Outside of Rourke, none of these performances have any buzz, but I think I can safely say that it would be difficult for any other performances to top these 4. And I haven't even mentioned Heath Ledger's tour-de-force as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

Speaking of which, it's funny to think that Tim Burton's Batman was once considered the gritty dark antidote to the 60's cornball Batman TV show. That version seems so cartoony 20 years later. Christopher Nolan, however, understands where the darkness in the Batman mythos comes from and in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, he deftly coils the tension between Batman's sense of justice and Bruce Wayne's keen sense of loss. He also understands that Batman represents order. So, in stark contrast to Tim Burton's Joker, who, unforgivably, was responsible for the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, Nolan tosses in a wild card, a Joker, into Gotham City, with no origin and no real purpose. Bruce Wayne became Batman due to a random act of street violence. The Joker exists, it seems, to balance the scales of Batman's purpose. I've just oversimplified these heady themes that have been playing out in Batman stories for decades, but Nolan manages to pack The Dark Knight with ideas that are quite subversive to the mainstream superhero movie. And he does it without sacrificing some amazing set pieces and action sequences. The Dark Knight is a thrilling, smart two-fisted tale.

I'll leave it here for now while I work out further thoughts about The Joker and Two-Face, as well as my enduring fascination with Jason Statham.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

2008 Movies Roundtable Spectacular

Part I: Not much to say but dagnabbit we are going to say it anyway

Welcome once again to the Colbinski Chronicles end of the year Movie Roundtable Spectacular!

I am leaving spectacular in the title for dramatic effect although this past calendar year Colbinski has seen less than a dozen movies and I have seen less than two dozen. Apparently, Colbinski now lives a life chock to the brim with fulfillment and happiness and does not need celluloid escapism as much as I do. But it appears that end of the year movie rhapsodizing and trips to Ethiopia are the only times this blog sees any action so we’ll do what we can.

The movies we did see will be placed into categories:

Highly Recommended

These categories are Colbinski’s preference although I don’t see any difference with this and the normally used four-star system with zero stars substituting for our Poor category. Colbinski claims to like the leeway the Good category provides but there is also an advantage to offering half stars. Regardless we will use these categories*. So here’s a breakdown of movies I have watched this past year in those categories.**

The Best
Let The Right One In

Highly Recommended
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 days
The Dark Knight
Man on Wire

Iron Man
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Wrestler
Sayuki Western Django
The Visitor
Gran Torino
Wendy & Lucy
Milk (Good/Recommended)
Tell No One (Good/Recommended)

Be Kind Rewind
The Incredible Hulk
Get Smart
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Red Belt
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

10,000 B.C.
The Happening
The Strangers

*I see certain limitations already with these categories. Red Belt was a better movie than some on my Good list but I was severely disappointed with it, especially the ending, which I found to be incongruously out of place. By contrast, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crsytal Skull was disappointing but it was still an Indiana Jones movie for chrissakes. That makes it good just because. Also, Get Smart and Be Kind Rewind are fine for what they are and while not exceptional in any way and almost forgettable (more in the case of Get Smart), are mundanely good.

**I plan on seeing more 2008 movies over the next couple weeks so this list will be added to as necessary.