Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Fine Summer Of Movies

Well, that's it, dear readers. I've completed my last shift at the movie theatre!

It was a good job. It didn't pay very well, but I had a good time and made lots of friends.
It didn't hate theatre customers as much as I hated the customers at McDonald's. I think part of that was because they were going to movies, something that I loved doing, and so I could relate to them more than a couple of truckers who want the onions on their Big Macs sliced extra thin.
There were a few idiots, of course. Later on, I will make a post about my pet peeves about theatre customers, but for now, this is a special review post. With every paycheque from the theatre, handed out every two weeks, was an employee pass for a free movie with a friend. That, along with the passes I won from the Butter Contest, allowed me to see more movies this summer than three summers combined. Allow me to list and briefly review them for your reading pleasure: (in no particular order)

1. Batman Begins
Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy.
Review: This is my pick for Best Action/Drama film of the summer. I actually got to see it twice - once with a friend of mine from the Anime club, and the other time with my sister and her friend-who-is-a-boy-but-might-as-well-be-her-boyfriend-for-all-the-time-they-spend-together. It was brilliantly done - it was intelligent, and layered, and intricate, with some excellent special effects as well, and it all made a very convincing story about how the Batman came to be. It is now on my list as one of My Favourite Superhero Movies of all Time, next to Spider-Man 1 and 2, and Unbreakable. It even had a little humour - the scene where Bruce Wayne buys an entire hotel on a whim, so that his girlfriends can swim in the pool, is very entertaining. Christian Bale was excellent, I loved his Batman voice, and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow was, as the internet fangirls like to say, TEH HAWTNESS (very good looking).

2. Stealth
Starring: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx.
Review: I saw this with my dad, who loves military and army movies, particularly ones about army equipment, like tanks and boats and subs, and airplanes. In this one, it's about a trio of stealth fighter pilots assigned to kick terrorist ass who have to put up with a robot-controlled airplane who becomes dangerously self-aware after being struck by lightning. You can tell the robot becomes self-aware, because he starts playing rock music really loud in his cockpit, and by showing attitude towards authority figures. I was a Teenage Robot Stealth Pilot might have been a better title. It was entertaining enough, but highly unrealistic. Jessica Biel's character's shot from her plane after a mission in Russia and just happens to land in North Korea? And the pilots swerve all around the world and only have to refuel once? Please. At least they kept the sex scenes out of it.

3. War of the Worlds
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto.
Review: This was an extremely entertaining movie to watch on the big screen with surround sound. The explosions, the approach of the aliens, the overturning cars and vaporizing humans - it was breathtaking, and made me feel very involved. Considering the sort of deus ex machina way the aliens are defeated - in the film, and apparently the novel as well - to my thinking, it was very appropriate to have the main characters be normal, middle-class people with no ties whatsoever to any authority figures who might have more information about why the aliens are indulging in endless slaughter - questions are not answered, but the audience no longer really expects them too. Tom Cruise was very convincing as a sleazy dad suddenly forced to become very, very responsible, and Dakota Fanning was flawless, as usual. Something has to be wrong with that kid. At her age, she can't really rely on Method. However, I'm not sure that the movie might be so entertaining when translated to the smaller screen of DVD.

4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christopher Lee, Helena Bonham Carter, Deep Roy.
Review: This was an excellent, and to my mind, superior adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel. However, while they're both based on the same written work, and while they both more or less cover the same events (one of the kids being shrunk by a television, another turning into a blueberry, etc.), they are different enough in tone, theme, and style that you could watch both and not feel like you're watching the same thing, just with different people in it. The Gene Wilder version focused more on the contest itself - the movie ends with Charlie and Willy in the glass elevator, after Charlie's already won. Also, Gene's Wonka performed like an inscrutable, all-wise God-like character who was entirely in control of the entire situation. However, in Tim Burton's Wonka, the focus is not so much on the contest as on Willy Wonka himself, a man Johnny Depp interprets as, rather, a highly unstable, antisocial, fragile genius balanced on the cusp of sanity. The story does not end in the glass elevator, instead it continues onward as Charlie helps the damaged chocolatier to find some sort of redemption. In this version, meanwhile, the Oompa-Loompas are all played by the same seemingly inexhaustible actor (Indian performer Deep Roy), multiplied a hundred times by movie magic. On top of all that, while the Oompa-Loompas do sing, they perform toe-tapping, darkly humourous numbers composed by Danny Elfman (the music man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas's "What's This?").

5. The Island
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou.
Review: It had an entertaining premise, but was a little too long for my taste, and was a bit inconsistant. Basically, Ewan and Scarlett play Lincoln Six-Echo and Jordan Two-Delta, clones raised in a sparkly-white, meticulously-organized commune, believing themselves and the other clones to be the only survivors of a vast, world-wide plague. Lotteries are held every once in a while to determine which lucky survivor is shipped off to 'The Island', a place they believe to be the world's last uncontaminated area where they can begin to repopulate the world. Of course, the riskily curious Lincoln eventually discovers that lotteries are only held when a wealthy sponser on the outside needs an extra heart, liver, or child carrier. The film consists of an odd tone formed out of dark action bits and ethical arguments (is it right to grow humans only as spare parts?) crudely stirred with off-key moments of childish humour (the clones are left completely oblivious to sex and pop culture - Scarlett's character, after escaping with Lincoln, enters a bar, is offered a beer 'straight up', and looks towards the ceiling - ha ha.) In the end, it was pretty campy - who knows, it might be considered a cult hit later on.

6. Sky High
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Dave Foley.
Review: As one of the only recent movies aimed at younger audiences that doesn't indulge in fart and poo humour, it already ranks as one of the better films just for that fact alone. It's no Incredibles, but it is still wholesome, occasionally clever, and entertaining. Sky High is, just so you know, a floating, secret high school exclusively for the progeny of famous superheros. Will Stronghold is the son of the super-strong Commander (Russell) and the flight-capable Jetstream (Preston), but on his first day is labeled a Sidekick when he is initially unable to prove he has any powers at all. It's all very campy and wink-wink nudge-nudge, and all of the various tropes of teen-school movies are paraded for show (the bully with a past, the lifelong friend who discovers she's fallen in love with the boy she's grown up with, the trauma-drama-rama of cafeteria seating, impromptu parties and high school dances), but the super-hero aspect does manage to spin a bit of the dust off some of these old hats.

7. Wedding Crashers
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken.
Review: A raunchy sex-comedy, it came with a lot of hype, but was somewhat disappointing. Owen and Vince play John and Jeremy, two divorce mediators who consider wedding season better than Christmas, resorting to a bag full of clever tricks to scheme their way into every wedding they can (regardless of religion or race - a montage at the start of the movie shows them crashing Jewish, Indian, and Chinese weddings with flawless charm). They find a hitch in their well-worn routine when John falls for the sister of the bride (Rachel McAdams) at the wedding of the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury (Walken), and Jeremy finds that bedding the bride's other sister has some dangerous side effects. There are plenty of funny bits, and Owen and Vince provide a consistant screen chemistry, but the movie could have dealt with some serious editing. There are dozens of loose ends, and many scenes that make no sense at all (one in particular - where the Secretary's unfaithful wife played by Jane Seymore forces John to grope her breasts, only to call him a pervert and perform no other lines - is an especial head-scratcher).

8. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Starring: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd.
Review: As this season's other sex comedy, this was the funniest film I saw all year. I kid you not. Wedding Crashers desperately wishes in its shallow, resentful little heart that it could be as funny, as dirty, and as sweet as Virgin. Crashers had a 14A rating, Virgin got slapped with 18A, mainly for some clips from porn, and a scene where an Indian man describes some truly obscene sex terms. Other than that...Andy (a brilliant Steve Carell) is a sweet-natured but desperately antisocial virgin who works at an electronics store. During a poker game with his co-workers, it becomes hilariously apparent that Andy has never experienced the female body (the giveaway was when he described touching a breast as "like holding a bag of sand"), and his co-workers immediately make it their solemn duty to get him laid. What sounds like a one-note premise expands into a hilarious study of sex itself. While Andy's inexperience is the focus, it also deals with the way sex has affected the people around him, from his over-solicitous boss (Jane Lynch), to the salesman David (Paul Rudd) who remains obsessed with a brief affair he had two years ago.

Despite the sexual plotline, the movie never gives in totally to hedonism. While his friends encourage him to have sex with whomever he can, however he can, as soon as he possibly can, Andy holds out for a special lady (Catherine Keener), and in the end he finds himself paid in full for that investment. This, along with Batman, was my favourite movie of the summer.

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