Summer Movies: July-August (Part I)


Immediately following my coverage of the 2010 Edinburgh International Film Festival, my wife and I packed our tiny flat and moved back to the U.S.  We spent a month home and then finally moved to Iowa where she is now working on her PhD.

Thus, the summer was very busy and scattered; I left many films in my wake with nary a commentary post.  I will now provide a quick rundown of what you should check out and what you should chuck out.

Clash of the Titans

With which mega-Hollywood producer is Sam Worthington committing copious and various amounts of sexual congress?  Avatar, Terminator Salvation, and Clash of the Titans, all films with 100-200+ million dollar budgets featuring, no offense, but Block O’Wood Worthington.  There are plenty of other young male actors who could act better and keep their accents straight.

The film does have some decent action sequences thanks to Louis Leterrier.  I’m a bigger fan of his work now that I realize it wasn’t Luc Besson who directed the fantastic Unleashed, but Letterrier. The French director also did The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton, which I thought was well done thanks to Norton and plenty of practical effects over CGI.

Effects are one of the major flaws of Titans because as soon as the ginormous scorpion battle begins, it’s all downhill from there.  At some point you have to ask, “What’s the difference between an animated film and a film with metric f*ck tons of CGI?”  And let’s not even discuss the writing.  Ugh.

Avoid.

Diary of Wimpy Kid

“Oh, a quirky fun kids film based on a book.  This should be cool.”

(90 minutes later)

What in the hell did I just watch?!  I want to punch that kid in his smug self-absorbed noggin.  SPOILER Eating some nasty cheese does not redeem a character who spends the entire film talking about how cool he is while pissing all over everyone else.  Exasperating is the appropriate word. 

Avoid.

Alice in Wonderland

I liked it more when Tim Burton had a limited color palette (white-gray-black).  His whole fantasmagorical pop demeanor just doesn’t do it for me–it seems more about dazzling visuals than adequate drama.  Burton’s pre-Planet of the Apes work emphasized both elements.  And we’ve seen nothing really new from Johnny Depp since he became super famous.

Overrated.

Toy Story 3

I have seen all three of the Toy Story films, but not recently enough to draw any immediate comparisons.  As with any Pixar film, it was funny and enjoyable.  It doesn’t have the thick dramatic themes of Up, but makes rounds out a trio of Pixar films with respectable gravitas. 

SPOILERS, SKIP REST OF REVIEW When Woody and Co. are heading to the incinerator, the scene goes on long enough that you really think you might see your cinematic playmates get toasted.  And as they clasp hands, looking to each other for solace as their last moments pass in the company of friends, Toy Story 3 hits gold.

Of course, the literal deus ex machina save left me groaning, but the last second save provides Woody an experience that allows him to let go of Andy.  In what seemed like Woody’s final moments, Andy wasn’t with him–it was his friends. Instead of following Andy slavishly to college, Woody decides to stay with his friends and their new owner, which makes for a poignant and satisfying conclusion. So I can see thematically why Pixar didn’t kill the toys off, but the awe-inspiring or gut wrenching moments/sections of Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 leave me yearning for a real Pixar drama.  Because that would be flippin’ amazing.

See this.

Dead Snow/Dod Sno

Famous as “the Norwegian zombie Nazi film,” this was truly an experience.  The first half of the film plays like an atmospheric creeper, as some kids pile into a cabin in the mountains, then get visited by a mysterious man warning of dangers in the area.

Then in the last half they pour a gallon of blood down your throat.  It goes from Halloween to Dead Alive as soon as the Nazis show up (there’s a hint of what’s to come in an early scene, as the film nerd of the group is wearing a Dead Alive shirt).  The movie is creepy for the first half, then awesomely ridiculous for the latter.  I don’t remember feeling like it dragged on too long, which was my complaint of Dead Alive.

Gory and fun.  See it.

House of the Devil

My friend Paul recommended this while I was working on the dissertation.  After hearing a lot about the film, I was thoroughly looking forward to it.  Overall, it met my expectations.  Directed by Ti West, this is a horror film/period piece.  It’s set in the 1980’s where cassette tape Walkmans rule the school and land lines are still life lines.  West is very adept at creating tension, slowly propelling the film toward the catastrophe ahead.

This is not to say that it’s boring, since it builds the believability of the character and the world, thereby creating fear for a character we know.  It makes us more anxious to see what’s going to happen.  Plus, Tom Noonan (the Ripper in Last Action Hero and the bad guy in Robocop 2) as the creepy old man is AMAZING.  Noonan doesn’t creep you out with overt crazy, just a quiet, crisp demeanor.

The only problem is the climax does not adequately reward the audience for the time invested. The film is a volcano giving all signs of an eruption that’s going to kill the entire village, but burps some gas and goes back to sleep.  A film that makes you want to follow Ti West’s future films, but not necessarily the most satisfying.

Recommend, but with qualifiers.

Mystery Team

This is a hilarious, extremely quotable film.  The next time you are having people over and want to watch a comedy, you have to see this.  Easily the funniest thing I have seen this year (and it doesn’t rely on bromance Apatow work or The Office awkward comedy).  Watch the trailer below.

HIGHLY RECOMMEND

:come back Monday for part II:

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One response to “Summer Movies: July-August (Part I)

  1. Pingback: Summer Movies: July-August (Part II) « The Filmsmith

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