2009: A Year in Movie Reviews

Well, the year is almost over, and I have realized that there are a lot of movies that I saw and failed to write about at the time I saw them.  To remedy this sad situation, and to punish myself for laziness, I thought I would recap my entire year in movies (seen in theatre).  It is possible that I have forgotten some, but I’ll update later if I remember more.

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Coraline

I already wrote about Coraline, which was a most excellent stop-motion movie based on the children’s book by Neil Gaiman.  Recommended for anyone who enjoys creepy fantasy, but perhaps not for very young (or especially wussy) children.

Watchmen

I wrote about this before, as well.  Watchmen was a good adaptation of the graphic novel that fell just shy of being great.  I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Dragonball: Evolution

I also wrote about this one.  (Clearly, I started the year with a bit more drive to do my movie blogging on time—or perhaps the summer movie season just overwhelmed me with frequency.)  This movie was not nearly as bad as it could have been, but it occupies some sort of weird zone between not being close enough to the source material to satisfy all the existing fans, and _too_ close to the source material to appeal to new viewers.  I had fun watching it, but I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to.  Perhaps my best endorsement is this: there is no need to avoid this movie.

Fanboys

I held forth on this film as well, and quite enjoyed it.  I’m not sure people who aren’t Star Wars fans would get quite as much enjoyment as I did, but it was still a funny road trip comedy, with a nicely dark vibe running through it too.

Monsters vs. Aliens

I also wrote about this one, which was okay.  It was an adequately entertaining CG movie.  I did not feel upset or angry after having seen it, or that I had wasted my money, so that’s a plus, I guess?

Star Trek

Despite my reservations with certain elements of the Star Trek reboot (see this previous entry), I loved this movie.  It was great fun, and was pretty successful at pulling together a young new cast to fill the shoes of the iconic classic actors.  ‘Nuff said.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I also had a number of issues with this movie (see this previous posting), but was still entertained by it. The story had some problems, but the action was all pretty entertaining, and it was far and away better than X-Men 3, so kudos for that.  An adequate action movie, but it failed to live up to its potential.

Terminator: Salvation

That’s pretty much all I can say about Terminator: Salvation.  It was a passable action movie, but it turned out to be a prequel to the original trilogy, rather than showing an end to the war with Skynet.  So there was some combat sequences, and cool giant robots, and… well, that was sort of it.  Once we understood the timeframe, we kind of knew how things would end, since we’ve seen the other movies.  As a result, it was a rather disappointing conclusion to the Terminator movie saga, but in its own context it was reasonably entertaining.

Up

Pixar’s Up was fantastic, despite (or perhaps because of) the incredibly sad first ten or fifteen minutes.  As usual, Pixar hit on all cylinders, with excellent voice actors, a great script that had a perfectly-paced story, nice humour, and wonderful visuals.  Up was another example of why Pixar movies aren’t great because of their computer animation, but because they do everything else right, too.

The Hangover

This movie diverges somewhat from the overall science fiction and fantasy skew of my general movie watching, but I do enjoy my comedies, so long as they’re funny.  Thankfully, The Hangover fit the bill, and was a fun entry into the wacky night they can’t remember/road trip genre that defied convention in a few clever ways and yet didn’t refrain from toilet humour.  Highly enjoyable.

Moon

I had almost forgotten about Moon, which is unfortunate, because it was one of the better proper science fiction movies I have seen in a long time.  A (comparatively) low-budget movie about a miner on the moon, most of the movie has only one actor on screen, unless you count Kevin Spacey as the voice of the robot companion.

That makes it sound a bit claustrophobic and corny, I know, but the lead actor (Sam Rockwell?) does an excellent job, and the story is quite clever.  I was able to predict some elements of it (likely due to my greater familiarity with science fiction as a whole genre), but in terms of science fiction movies, I can’t think of anything quite like it.  It is most definitely not a sci-fi action movie.  But it was good.  Really good.  I liked it.  My girlfriend liked it.  A definite recommendation from me.

Ponyo

Ponyo is, I believe, the latest movie from Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary master of Japanese animation, and was released in North America by Disney.  (Pixar’s John Lasseter is a huge Miyazaki admirer, and was a driving force behind Disney’s aquisition of North American distribution rights for the Studio Ghibli oeuvre.)

Ponyo is a traditional 2D animated movie, with the story loosely adapted from the original Little Mermaid fairy tales.  The animation was beautiful, and intense and terrifying in places, but overall it was a cute movie aimed at younger viewers.  More like Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” than “Princess Mononoke”, for sure.  Still, any admirer of quality animation will appreciate this film.  I look forward to adding it to my Ghibli collection.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I have only read the first Harry Potter book, so all my knowledge of the story comes from the movies.  As such, I can judge the movies by whether they work as movie, rather than by how well they adapt the book.  For example, I thought the third movie (Azkaban) was great, but a lot of people were upset by how much was left out from the book.  The fourth movie tried to put in bits of everything, and it ended up being practically incomprehensible as a movie without knowledge of the books.  Thankfully, they got back on track with the movies for the fifth one, and continued the trend with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

It was a good movie.  It continued the story nicely (as you would expect), had some great visuals, intense moments, and a coherent story that came to the end leaving us wanting more.  We learned things we didn’t know, and did it because the characters were smart.  So I count this movie as a win.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

This movie was so terrible that my rage moved me to write of it after seeing it.  I think the comedy group Hot Waffles needs to rewrite their song “George Lucas Raped My Childhood” to feature Michael Bay instead.  This may have been the worst movie I have ever spent my own money to see.

Unfortunately, it made a hojillion dollars, so there will likely be a Transformers 3.  My only hope is that, like me, everyone else who saw this movie was so appalled that they will avoid any future installments like the plague.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Alongside Transformers, G.I. Joe was the other foundational toy of my childhood.  (Star Wars and Lego were also prominent, but Star Wars toys were adapted from the movie, not vice versa, and there hasn’t been a Lego movie yet, so I’m limiting myself to Transformers and G.I. Joe for the sake of comparison.)  After the abominable live action Transformers movies, I was less than hopeful for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Thankfully, it exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, and turned out to be a fun, if ridiculous, action movie.  I’m not exactly sure I’d recommend it, but it was silly and enjoyable.  My biggest beef was that they revamped the background of all the characters, removing their diverse and long-established origins and making them all interconnected and less interesting.

They set up a sequel, which I’m sure I’ll go see.  This was much better than the first Transformers (live action) movie, so even if they drop the ball on the second like they did with Transformers, hopefully it won’t fall as far.

Surrogates

This is a Bruce Wilis movie.  A friend of mine said he expected that, at the end, Bruce Willis would survive, and win the day, and be beaten to a bloody pulp.  He was not wrong.

Surrogates was an enjoyable SF movie about a world of the near future in which people live primarily through robotic surrogates that they control remotely from their homes.  The Surrogates never age, and can look like anything, from an idealized version of the owner to someone completely different.  Trouble starts when some surrogates are killed and and so are the owners connected to them, which should be impossible.  Bruce Willis (a cop, naturally) is put on the case to investigate.

As the story unfolds, we encounter a number of twists and turns, some cool action sequences, and some interesting characters.  I hadn’t read the graphic novel on which this was based, so I don’t know about the _accuracy_ of the adaptation, but at least the quality is high.  I recommend this movie.

The Imgainarium of Doctor Parnassus

I saw the gala premiere of this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which I wrote about here.  I don’t have much more to say than that.  It was a good movie, very Gilliam-esque, with delightful visuals and quirky characters and storylines.  Not for everybody, to be sure, but it will definitely resonate with the right audience.

Time Trip: Curse of the Viking Witch

The other TIFF movie I saw was a Norwegian movie about some kids who travel through time to help and immortal viking become mortal so he can die.  Not bad, actually, for a kids movie.  Not so good that you need to figure out how to import the DVD or anything, but not bad.

Astroboy

This movie was a computer animated take on the classic Astroboy anime.  Clearly aimed at kids, but enjoyable.  From what I can tell, it changed some elements of the story from the original, but still retained the basic premise: after his son is killed in an accident, a scientist builds a super-advanced robot with all his son’s memories as a replacement.  Needless to say, this doesn’t work out well for anyone involved, but Astroboy is born.

The movie had a bit of an environmental slant like Wall-E, and absolutely nonsensical science, but it wasn’t bad.  It was surprised that it showed some characters dying on screen, even if they were non-bloody deaths—I had thought that most films coddled kiddies more than that nowadays.  If you’re looking for a good kids movie, you could do worse than this.

Zombieland

I wrote about Zombieland briefly after I saw it, because it was just so much fun.  I do loves me some funny zombie-killing.  If you like zombies, and comedy, and don’t mind lots of gore, this movie is perfect.

Twilight: New Moon

I saw this with my girlfriend as atonement for taking her to Transformers 2.  I now consider that debt paid in full.  I mean, Transformers was still without a doubt the worst movie I saw this year, but Twilight: New Moon gives it a close run.  At least I didn’t spend my own money to see New Moon.

New Moon fails to entertain at every possible opportunity, and instead has vapid, uninterested actors spouting terrible, repetitive dialogue while they do absolutely nothing, and then external forces conspire to end the movie by essentially negating everything that did happen (which wasn’t much).  Terrible terrible terrible.

Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin is one of those titles, like Snakes on a Plane, that gives you a perfect idea of what the movie should contain.  You can quite readily know, when going to see a movie called Ninja Assasin, whether you are likely to enjoy it.  In that respect, you may consider me the target audience for Ninja Assassin.

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.  There were, indeed, some awesome action sequences, full of impossible martial arts and ridiculous gore.  But there was also a sort of storyline, and some superfluous characters that bogged the movie down.  There were parts where _minutes_ went by with no one being killed.  MINUTES!  I had been hoping for a movie like _Shoot ‘Em Up_, but with ninjas and swords instead of guns, but instead they actually had a bit of a plot.

Now, I likes me some plot.  It is my favourite thing.  I think my problem with it in Ninja Assassin was that it wasn’t interesting enough for me to accept it in lieu of non-stop over-the-top action.  The movie starts with a cool assination sequence, which sort of sets the bar.  When we switch away from ninjas, though, the plot better be DAMN GOOD to keep me satisfied, but I think it fell a little short here.

So, I liked Ninja Assassin.  I though the action sequences were pretty good.  The storyline was adequate—I mean, it made sense, and all—but it couldn’t match the action, and so the movie was uneven.  A decent enough action flick, but not one that I’d call “must-see”.

The Princess and the Frog

This movie marks Disney’s return to 2D animation, after they abandoned it in favour of 3D (thinking that was the secret to Pixar’s success).  After a number of notable 2D and 3D bombs, Disney has finally put out a decent movie again.

The animation is good, but I’ve seen just as good or better from Studio Ghibli and other Asian studios.  I enjoyed the jazzy soundtrack, although nothing stood out as especially memorable.  The characters, in a notable Disney first, were not entirely stereotypical: as an example, the spoiled, marriage-obsessed, self-involved daughter of the mayor turns out to be very generous and happy for her friend when she finds true love.  I was also suprised to see a main character killed, as in Astroboy, although this being Disney, perhaps they were returning to their roots in more ways than just going back to 2D animation.

Overall, this was a pretty good movie.  I’d recommend this one.

Avatar

James Cameron’s Avatar has been many years in the making, and has been getting lots of press.  Overall, it’s a very good movie, albeit a heavy-handed one.  The story is clunky and predictable, with absolutely no ambiguity or moral uncertainty about who is good and bad.

Much of acclaim has been accorded to the visuals.  I have to agree—the visual effects are among the best I’ve seen, with the aliens and their world seeming perfectly real to me, and blending nicely with the human actors.  I am less enamoured of the 3D nature of the showing I saw—I really don’t like the technology, and come out dizzy and disoriented, though sitting in the third row surely contributed to some of that.

The story concerns a Marine who essentially goes under cover with the natives of an alien planet to learn their ways.  Unfortunately, the alian culture seemed to be a mishmash of various First Nations and African tribal beliefs, rather than something truly alien, and the aliens were a little too human-looking for me to really view them as alien.

Anyway, as he becomes more involved with the alien culture, he puts himself at odds with the corporation and military group that want to move the aliens to mine some more “unobtainium” (we never learn why it’s valuable).  Wackiness ensues.

The cast is good, the visuals are great, and the story is kind of “meh”.  Still, definitely worth seeing, even at nearly 3 hours long.  I supsect I’ll prefer the non-3D version on DVD…

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And that’s about it!  I think my favourite movie of the year was _Star Trek_, with honourable mentions (in no particular order) to _Ponyo_, _Zombieland_, _Coraline_, and _Moon_.  For 2010, I’ll try to be more on the ball with movie blogging.

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