Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year at the Movies - Part 2

Continuing where we left off yesterday, here's June's films. As with before, all films in red are ones I saw on DVD, and ratings are out of four stars.


The Hangover (***) - The trailers didn't inspire a great deal of faith in this being much more than a low budget one-joke comedy, so I skipped out on seeing it the first weekend, and then never had an opportunity to catch it after the word of mouth spread that this was actually pretty good. Just for bringing back the low-budget, R-rated ensemble raunchy comedy as a viable genre, it deserves high marks. There's a point in the second act where the pace starts to lag a bit, but the film weathers that. The premise of three guys trying to piece together what happened at the bachelor party the night before even as they search for the missing groom proves fertile ground for comedy. Verdict: Should have seen it in theatres.

Year One (*) - Wow. I like Jack Black and Michael Cera, so I assumed that the vastly negative reviews couldn't have been all right. When I finally watched it, I couldn't believe it misfired. If I was brought into save this turkey with a rewrite I would have no idea where to begin. Verdict: Glad I waited for DVD

The Proposal (***) - I have come to detest both green card hijinks and the trope of people racing to the airport at the end of the movie in my romantic comedies, so this should have landed right in my crosshairs. However, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds elevate this formula romantic comedy with their fun performances and Betty White steals the movie. It's a decent date film, but I don't feel like I missed out by waiting a few extra months. Verdict: Glad I waited.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (no stars) - Worst Movie of the Year. Period. Two and a half hours of Bay-hem. I'm not sure where to begin with this. There's the ludicrous notion of Sam dying and saving Optimus Prime via a pep talk in robot heaven, the completely dropped storyline that is the inexplicable hottie-who-is-really a Decepticon, the fact that one scene perfectly illustrates Bay's Madonna/whore complex to such a degree that I actually feel sorry for Megan Fox, and the overriding issue that never before has two-and-a-half hours of action felt so boring and directionless. It's amazing to me that co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (with an assist from Ehren Kruger) scripted both this and the summer's best movie in Star Trek. Saddest of all, I expected most of this and went because I figured, "If I'm gonna see it, it might as well be on the big screen." From now on, I think I'll be satisfied with my 42-inch plasma. At least I only had to pay half-price for this one. Verdict: Wish I'd waited for DVD.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (***) - It's been about five months since I saw it and little of the film has stuck with me save for the death of a beloved character. I recall walking out satisfied, though. Verdict: Money well spent.

Funny People (**1/2) - I really wanted to like this one. It features what is probably Adam Sandler's best performance in a long time as a comedian facing his own mortality. It even gives Seth Rogan a chance to stretch himself. Unfortunately, this film is really two movies stitched together and the second film isn't nearly as compelling as the first. The problem with Judd Apatow being so successful is that no one has the clout to save him from his own worst instincts. For more on my thoughts about this, check out this entry. Verdict: Should have waited for DVD.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (no stars) - Scholars will spend years debating which of Summer '09's offerings was truly the worst: this, Transformers, or Wolverine. Like those films, this script was clearly a victim of the Writer's Strike. It's so terrible that it almost crosses into "watchably bad" territory, something that Wolverine and Transformers could only dream of. In the end, I pretty much expected this is what I'd get but I went for two reasons: 1) it was family night at the movies and I wasn't paying, and 2) the presence of Rachel Nichols. (Side note: Nichols is also featured in this summer's best movie, Star Trek, as a green cadet whom Kirk romances. Like the TF scribes, she double-dipped in the best and worst.) For more of my venom about this, go here. Verdict: I didn't even pay and I want my money back. Wish I'd waited for DVD.

District 9 (***) - I'm looking forward to viewing this again to see if it holds up. Despite my nitpicking, I did enjoy this film, which starts as a mockumentary about a man sent to relocate aliens to a new ghetto and turns into something much more. Verdict: Money well spent.

September - I saw nothing in theatres and DVD has yet to catch up to the film's I elected to wait on.


Zombieland (***1/2) - It's not without its flaws, as I said here, but Zombieland is a fun ride with enough wit and originality to keep you entertained. If you missed it in theatres, catch it on DVD and don't let anyone ruin the cameo for you. Verdict: Money well spent.

Paranormal Activity (***) - I enjoyed PA, but I don't have much to say about it afterwards. It's greatest strength is probably its atmosphere and the natural performances of the actors. This is the sort of film that needs to be seen opening weekend in a crowded theatre, where the suspense feeds off of the tension of an entire crowd holding its breath. I've got issues with the very final seconds of the film, but damn if it wasn't tense in the moments leading up to that. Verdict: Money well spent.


The Blind Side (***) - As I've said before, I've got a hunch I'll find this film forgettable in a few years, but it entertained me while I was there. Verdict: Money well spent.


Avatar (***) - I'm left with some mixed feelings over this one. There's no denying Cameron's technical achievements. After a few minutes, one completely accepts his CG aliens as three-dimensional characters. Unfortunately one can't always say the same for his human players as it would be generous to say that Giovanni Ribisi's corporate sleaze and Stephen Lang's Col. Shoot-em-up approach two dimensions. One also wishes that that the story was as innovative as the visuals. The first act is burdened with some clunky exposition and the second act is very reminiscent of Dances with Wolves. The third act is the Ewok climax of Return of the Jedi done right. Unlike in Star Wars, here the concept of an indigenous people defending their homeland from a technologically superior force actually gets pulled off in a plausible manner. The story kept moving despite the long length and I was entertained, but I can't help but feel that the film will seem less remarkable as the technology becomes more commonplace, as opposed to earlier Cameron masterworks like Terminator 2 and Aliens. Verdict: Worth the $12 plus the extra fee for 3-D.

Sherlock Holmes (***) - Robert Downey Jr. is the reason to see this reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, as his performance elevates a script that's (understandably, to a degree) overburdened with exposition. The trap one can fall into when writing Holmes is that his long monologues of deductive reasoning very quickly can turn into on-the-nose exposition. In the hands of a lesser actor, two hours of this would have been hard to take. Another weakness is that since obviously the filmmakers aren't going to mix a Holmes movie with a vampire concept, it's clear from the start that the supernatural elements are a feint to be eventually debunked. Had the film taken the approach that Holmes didn't believe a word of this rubbish either, then it might have worked to show the story through his eyes with both him and the audience aware that the real mystery is what the supernatural elements are meant to hide. For me, it wasn't fully successful and also suffers from a rather unwritten role for Rachel McAdams that turns out to be little more than a feature-length tease for the next picture. Still, Downey's on a hot streak and is enough to redeem this film's faults. I wouldn't recommend anyone take any lessons in scripting from this film, but I wouldn't tell you to stay away either. Verdict: Worth the $12

So the tally comes to:

Worth the $12 - 14
Money well saved/Glad I waited for DVD - 9
Wish I waited for DVD - 6
Should have seen in theatres - 2

So I saw 20 films in the theatre and only wanted my money back for just over a quarter of them. On top of that, of the 11 movies I saw on DVD, only 2 of them were good enough that I wished I hadn't waited. That means nearly 80% of the time my instincts were right about what was so bad that it couldn't wait 4 months and save $12. On top of that, most of those movies I saw in the theatre and wanted my money back for were ones I was sure would be bad when I went in.

The long and the short of it is, I think I'm going to be seeing a lot more of 2010's films on DVD than on the big screen, at least so long as the quality of the offerings remains the same. In the meantime, I still have several 2009 movies I'm waiting to grab on DVD. A look at my Netflix queue reveals the following films should be reaching my Blu-Ray player in the next few months:

Inglorious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
The Final Destination
Terminator Salvation
This is It
Jennifer's Body
Sorority Row
The Stepfather
Couples Retreat
The Invention of Lying
The Informant!
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Where the Wild Things Are
500 Days of Summer
The Time Traveler's Wife

I will be stunned if more than two of those earn the "Wish I'd seen it in Theatres" ranking.


  1. Bitter Script Reader, do see "(500) Days of Summer." I JUST saw it last night, and I LOVED it. Not your typical rom-com fare. More of a romantic tragedy, but one VERY WELL PLAYED by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who looks very much like Heath Ledger.

    Though I can understand most people gripes with "Transformers II" I kinda liked all the comedy they spliced into their childish plot. Everytime I think about the "all spark" I just start to giggle.

    LOVED "Avatar." Best movie in 2009. "Aliens" and "Jurasic Park" meets "Dances with Wolves." Hit me again!

    Also, go see "Nine." I LOVED that show too. 2nd best in 2009.

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  2. I haven't seen all the acclaimed films that 2009 has to offer; I have to still get around to FANTASTIC MR. FOX and SUMMER HOURS and A SINGLE MAN and THE SUN and SERAPHINE. But from what I did see, and I saw quite a lot, only five or so films really stuck with me:


    A SERIOUS MAN is the best of the bunch. Make sure to see it when it hits DVD in February.

  3. the Hangover was awesome, you really should have seen it.

    I agree Avatar was well worth the $10 I spent on, as well as Sherlock Holmes and Jennifer's Body.

    Transformers 2 was awful. I only saw it becuase I was visiting my friend in washington DC and we were in Chinatown, nothing else was playing at the cinema except crappy children's movies and Transformers 2. Sigh.

    I want my money back.

  4. I thought the Hangover was seriously overrated. The 2nd act drags on and the jokes seem to wear off with the montage in the credits being the best part of the film. The Mike Tyson cameo was a total waste of time and they totally bastardized a Phil Collins song that could've been used in an actual funny scene. Jennifer's Body was just terrible; wasn't funny enough or scary enough. Megan Fox has the line delivery of a retard who just had a stroke.

  5. Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker & Where The Wild Things Are - you'll wish you saw them in theatres. Rest will be good on a TV.

    Sorority Row and Couple's Retreat were terrible.
    Jennifer's Body and The Invention of Lying were immensely disappointing.

  6. Jerry - Yeah, I'll admit there were parts of the second act of THE HANGOVER that felt long and I'm not a fan of the Tyson cameo either. Celebs playing themselves is one of those gimmicks that's hit or miss for me. The Neil Patrick Harris bit in Harold & Kumar, and the surprise guest in ZOMBIELAND were funny, but the key is to have a celebrity who can act and bring something to the role. Mike Tyson is not that guy.

    Netflix just informed me that JENNIFER'S BODY is on its way. It's pretty bad when it's been weeks and I still can't get TERMINATOR SALVATION or INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but JB gets sent out right away.

    Truthfully, I'm not expecting much from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. A lot of friends I trust report they were immensely bored by it.