In Which Crystal’s July 18th Movie Reviews Happen in October

Back in the old days of my Xanga blog, July 18th was the arbitrarily chosen official date for my to post my unofficial reviews of the year’s movies I’d seen so far. I’d been hoping to carry on that tradition on this new blog, but various factors beyond my control (illness, family vacation, inconsiderate landlords who give you less than 24 hours notice when he’ll be doing repairs that require you to leave your home for days, etc) derailed that plan unexpectedly this year.

HOWEVER, the majority of this post was written pre-July 18th and I don’t like change, so for all intents and purposes, we’ll consider the July 18th tradition alive and well. (So obviously all of the following stats & reviews are only up until July 18th. Because otherwise the majority of this would be discussing Scott Pilgrim and honey, that would make this a much longer and much more hysterical post.)

Movie Attendance Tally
My attendance count for this year is a bit tricky. I was bedriddenly (I’m sure that’s a word) ill for the month of January and much of February. In the final week of February, I ventured out into the world once again and caught 11 movies in 2 weeks. However 10 of those films were part of AMC’S Best Picture Showcase, meaning that they were released in 2009 and thus will not be reviewed here. (Yes, my “Best of 2009” post is still forthcoming. Don’t judge me, I mentioned the bedridden part, right?) ALSO, I missed out on the annual “Can’t Stop the Serenity” charity screening I’ve attended for the past 4 years after some behind-the-scenes drama resulted in the event being pushed back several weeks and moved from LA to Santa Clarita (ie: I guess in my case, you can stop the Serenity).

Nevertheless, as of July 18, I saw 13 2010 releases and made 15 trips to the theater. (I saw Get Him to the Greek and The A-Team twice. Oh yes I did.)

And guess what, movie executives? ONLY ONE OF THESE MOVIES WAS IN 3D.

Without further ado, my July 18th reviews for 2010. (Spoiler-light unless otherwise noted; movies listed in chronological order cuz I’m OCD like that.)

Cop Out I’m trying to keep this review brief and on topic because despite Kevin Smith’s less than admirable behavior post-Cop Out, it would still be unfair for me to judge the movie on anything other than its own merits. Unfortunately this movie has very little merit to begin with. I wasn’t as angry at it as most critics were (it has an ouch-worthy 19% on Rotten Tomatoes), I had a fun enough time watching it but I simply thought it was silly and forgettable. The main problem is that nearly everyone involved deserves better than “silly and forgettable.” There are a few funny bits and it isn’t necessarily a chore to watch, but that’s not really a poster-worthy quote, is it? The fact that THIS is the movie that caused Kevin Smith to call film criticism irrelevant and enter a seemingly permanent state of douchery and false grandeur makes it even more of a disappointment. 
Grade: D

The Runaways – Biopics are generally a frustrating genre for me: they’re formulaic often out of necessity, they’re ultimately -though blamelessly- predictable (if the person is famous enough to have a film made about them, more often than not we know what the film’s outcome will be) and unless skilled creative forces are behind the wheel, dramatic license can take over and turn a melodramatic story into something more reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. Somehow all of this works in The Runaways‘ favor. Acclaimed music video director Floria Sigismondi makes a stunning feature debut as she paints a stylish and often appropriately gritty picture of LA in the late 70s. Dakota Fanning is stunning in both appearance and performance as teenage provocateur Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Joan Jett once again proves she is miles above the Twilight franchise. The film makes way for some interesting discussions about women and sexuality in rock music (Michael Shannon is another standout in an effectively disturbing performance as The Runaways’ manager) and offers up some trippy/cool music sequences along the way. The first half of the film is so kinetic and exciting that it is both forgivable and disappointing that the final act not only seems to run out of steam but falls victim to the usual biopic trappings. Nevertheless, the good absolutely outweighs the bad here. Grade: B+

Hot Tub Time Machine – The fact that there is actually a movie in existence bearing the title of Hot Tub Time Machine and that the phrase “Hot Tub Time Machine” is actually USED in that movie AUTOMATICALLY earns this movie a passing grade. Ultimately, Hot Tub Time Machine delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect from a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine: (yes, I am trying to say Hot Tub Time Machine as many times as possible in this review) throwaway gross-out gags, juvenile humor spotlighting jokes that verge on the homophobic, nostalgia-centered 80s references and a winning cast whose chemistry and charm almost completely makes up for the rest of the film’s shortcomings. (I’m interested to see how this film plays on repeat viewings, since much of the film is gag-oriented, as opposed to character/dialogue-based humor like last summer’s surprisingly re-watchable The Hangover). Was this the best comedy I saw this year? No. But did I have a huge blast watching it with a packed, opening night crowd? Absolutely. (And yay, I made it through this whole review without once mentioning my undying love for John Cusack. I’M TOTALLY MATURING YOU GUYS!) Grade: B-

How to Train Your Dragon (3D) – Like most of the movie-going public, I was completely flabbergasted and shocked to find that A) studios other than Pixar release animated films and B) studios other than Pixar actually release GOOD animated films! I think the last non-Pixar animated film I’d seen was Shrek the Third in 2007 – a film I was so disappointed by, I unofficially swore off non-Pixar animation- so I was surprised when HTTYD‘s reviews were coming out almost entirely positive – 98% on Rotten Tomatoes?! – and positively gushing with praise. After a couple weeks of relentless recommendations (most convincingly from At the Movies and The /Filmcast), the family and I decided to give Dreamworks another shot (and actually pay the 3D premium for only the 3rd time in our lives) and boy, were we glad we did. Helmed by the writing/directing team of Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois who were also responsible for Lilo & Stich, HTTYD takes a page from the Disney/Pixar handbook, combining laughs and action with an admirable amount of heart and an undercurrent of profundity. The voice cast is a cavalcade of some of my favorite underrated performers (most notably Jay Baruchel and Craig Ferguson), and as for the 3D effects… well, let’s just say How to Train Your Dragon made me feel everything I was told Avatar would. The film isn’t perfect (as close as it may come, it isn’t a Pixar film) but it was an encouraging and admirable step forward, not just for Dreamworks Animation, but for animated film as a genre. Remarkable.
Grade: A

Date NightDate Night is a bit of an anomaly. I’m having trouble deciding if I should recommend the movie because I fear that the majority of my enjoyment comes from residual love and respect I have for Steve Carell and Tina Fey. By the same token, I think the majority of my frustration with this film stems from my love and respect for Carell and Fey, who have done much better films and star in TV shows that are qualitatively better on a weekly basis. GRR. Enough hemming and hawing, if you enjoy Steve Carell and/or Tina Fey you’ll have no problem sitting through this movie because most of the film’s humor is based around the duo playing off of their well-known personas. The film is funny enough, subtly touching when it needs to be, there are some amusing cameos and a couple of unnecessarily lengthy action sequences aside, there is nothing overtly problematic with the film. However, it is my hope that Date Night‘s worldwide gross of $150+ million will lead to a re-teaming of Carell/Fey in a film that one or both of them writes. Grade: B

Death at a Funeral (2010) – I’m still not sure how I ended up seeing this movie. My brother & I were seemingly stalked by the trailer (I swear we saw it in front of every movie we saw from January – April) but somehow our reaction shifted from annoyance to enjoyment and we decided to see the flick. We were happy to find that, like most offbeat comedies, the trailer played up the most slapstick-y, gag-oriented set pieces when the film’s actual tone is much more of a farcical, screwball, fairly dark nature. Chris Rock, whose films I’m not usually a big fan of, delivers a sincere, funny and surprisingly subtle (and dare I say nuanced?) performance that grounds the rest of the strong supporting cast. (Here, I feel compelled to say, who would’ve guessed that Cyclops himself, James Marsden, would turn out to be one of this generation’s most dependable character actors?!) Having never seen Frank Oz’s 2007 version, I cannot compare the two (and it is to my understanding that if I had seen the original, my feelings might be much different) but I was pleasantly surprised enough by what I found here.
Grade: B-

Kick-Ass – Or as it may forever be known, “The Little Fanboy Movie That Could’ve and Almost Did. But Not Quite.” The internet buzz leading up to Kick-Ass was remarkable, from Comic-Con previews to the film’s first screening at Harry Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon, to with the excitement seeming to reach a fever pitch in the midst of the opening night screening I attended. I was surprised to find that even at my ghetto Regal Cinema theater in Long Beach, CA , there was a line snaking around the multiplex for the supposedly controversial film whose title couldn’t even be properly displayed on the marquee. (The marquee and tickets hilariously read Kick-A**, even though a gigantic cardboard standup of the film’s title and characters had been decorating the theater since the beginning of the year.)

I couldn’t have asked for a better experience watching this movie. The theater was nearly sold out (a rare sight at this theater) and the air was purely electric. As the movie unfolded, the audience laughed, cheered, gasped (and yelled at their much-too-young-to-be-there children to cover their eyes) and groaned in all the right places – there was even scattered bursts of applause following certain fight sequences (most notably during Hit Girl’s grand entrance) and I even witnessed my first theatrical standing ovation when I saw a group of people stand up and rapturously applaud a moment during the film’s climax when Kick-Ass appears with the film’s deus ex machina to save the day. It was a magical experience that I will never forget.

Of course, that experience makes this movie all the more difficult to review. When I think about the movie, I can’t help but think about that night, that experience, the pure elation pulsating throughout the audience. Obviously when I left the theater that night, I couldn’t help but sing the film’s praises. But as people asked me how the movie was, I found myself describing the audience reaction to it more than I was describing my feeling about the film itself. So how do I feel about the movie by itself, divorced from the heightened emotions of that night? It’s hard to say. I’ve since revisited Kick-Ass on DVD and even without the fan hysteria I experienced, there is still a lot to like. The performances are uniformly superb, all production aspects are top notch and all creative forces behind it are firing on all cylinders. I think it’s also worth noting how extraordinary it is that such a dark film, a film that dares you to simultaneously be disgusted and excited by its pointedly extreme violence could elicit such a joyous audience reaction. When watching the movie at home, I found myself cheering more for the film’s subversion than for the merits of the film itself. What was everyone else cheering for? Was that entire magical movie experience I had based upon a mass misreading of what this film was really trying to say? Does that taint my experience? Which means more to me: the movie or the experience of seeing it?

While I can’t answer those questions just yet, the fact that I have to ask myself that many questions about the film tells me that it was worth the price of admission. Beyond my experience, the film itself leaves you with at least a dozen questions to discuss amongst yourselves after viewing. It is here that in my opinion, Kick-Ass succeeded in numerous ways where last year’s Watchmen adaptation failed. What would it be like if everyday people were superheroes? Odds are, they’d be some pretty messed up people (It’s no mistake that early on, Dave/Kick-Ass compares his mindset to that of a serial killer) – some might use the opportunity as a distraction from their mundane life (Dave) while others might use it as a psychotic revenge scheme (Big Daddy). And next is the question: are these vigilante heroes really more messed up than the people who adopt the “better to stay out of it” mentality when they witness a crime being committed? Who’s more dangerous? How would society react to these vigilante heroes? Merch and Myspace requests, obviously!

And perhaps most fascinatingly, there’s the question of Hit Girl. She’s awesome, she’s fierce, she’s ruthless, she’s ironic, she’s our hero. She’s basically brainwashed. She’s kind of a serial killer. She’s just a baby. While it’s amazing to see this pint-sized wonder hack and chop and gut her way through a band of goons, if you stop and think about how and why she was taught to do so – it’s pretty sad. Tragic even. And the fact that a hyper-stylized action movie based on a comic book is making me stop and think about the tragic complexities of its characters? Leads me to believe that perhaps I didn’t buy into the hype as much as I feared and that perhaps Kick-Ass truly earned this rating.
Grade: A-

Iron Man 2 – A long, long time ago (or you know, like 2008), Jon Favreau went from a likable yet average actor/writer/director to Marvel’s man of the hour with Iron Man. All the condescension, stupidity and embarrassment of X3: The Last Stand and Spiderman 3 were pretty much washed away as soon as Robert Downey Jr. created his iron suit in that terrorist cave. While it wasn’t a perfect movie, it excited me enough that I absolutely could not wait for the sequel. And kids, IT… SLIGHTLY DISAPPOINTED BUT I’VE COME TO TERMS WITH IT! Favreau’s direction has improved significantly since the original and the script (this time authored by the dreamy Justin Theroux) mixes the silly with the serious, the goofy with the bad-ass and the fast-paced with the thoughtful. Whereas the first movie suffered from a sub-par villain (Jeff Bridges, we love ya, but come on. That was just silly.), here we get Mickey Rourke’s intimidating (if ultimately wasted) Whiplash and Sam Rockwell’s scene-stealing Justin Hammer.

There is also an attempted “serious” subplot concerning Tony Stark’s alcoholism and the revelation that the arc reactor that is keeping him alive is actually poisoning him, but these issues are danced around and then resolved handily without bringing the party down too much (which is actually one of my main complaints about the film, I think it could’ve and should’ve delved a bit deeper into the darker issues). One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film is its dedication to continually placing things in motion for the upcoming Avengers film, from Samuel L. Jackson’s extended cameo as Nick Fury to the various Marvel objects scattered throughout the film (Captain America’s shield in Tony’s workshop! THE HAMMER OF THOR AFTER THE CREDITS)! The film sadly once again suffers from a third act meltdown but again, the fun in the first half makes the faults easy to forgive. Can Iron Man 3 top it? Will I spontaneously combust from the awesome that is sure to be The Avengers? Time will tell, friends. Time will tell.
Grade: B

MacGruber – First off, I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS WAS A MOVIE. Secondly, I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS WAS ACTUALLY NOT A COMPLETE DISASTER OF A MOVIE. For the uninitiated, Will Forte’s “MacGruber” character (a loose parody of the ’80s TV icon MacGyver) was birthed on Saturday Night Live in 2007 and the basic concept of the sketch was that MacGruber was so incompetent that he and his trusty sidekicks would end up blown to smithereens by the end of the 90 second short. And then another “MacGruber” short would turn up 20 minutes later. And he and his buddies would be blown up once again. THE ENTIRE JOKE OF THE CHARACTER IS THAT HE BLOWS UP AFTER TWO MINUTES. This should not be a movie. But it is. And it should not be good. But it is. Absurdity both at its most sophomoric and its finest. If you like movies grounded in reality, this is not the film for you. If you like odd non sequiturs, homages to terrible 80s action films, massive scenery chewing, villains with nearly obscene surnames and people having sex with ghosts – well, apparently there aren’t many of you out there because this movie made about $45. YOUR LOSS. 
Grade: B

Get Him to the Greek If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you already know that I bow down at the throne of Apatow. So it should come as no surprise that I found Get Him to the Greek to be incredibly hilarious, clever and subtly touching. I find it entirely commendable and noteworthy that in the hands of anybody else, this would have just been a cash grab, a glorified spin-off film based around the breakout but seemingly one-note character from another film (Russell Brand’s “Aldous” character originated in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a fact a surprising amount of people are unaware of) but with Team Apatow at the wheel, this film ended up as something much more. While the film goes to some strange places in the third act (and I honestly can’t decide if it makes it back entirely or not), it’s excusable because the film has been such a blast thus far. AND Get Him to the Greek marks the THIRD time in Crystal Cinema History that I almost blacked out due to oxygen deprivation from laughing so hard. (1st time: chest waxing in The 40 Year Old Virgin, 2nd time: absurd Franco/Rogen/McBride brawl in Pineapple Express, 3rd time: crazy Jeffrey-induced brawl in the hotel room with furry walls/being chased by Diddy in Get Him to the Greek.) Not to mention that the flick boasts a rockin’ soundtrack filled with tunes that taught me 2 things: 1) If Infant Sorrow were an actual band, I would totally be a fan. 2) If this film is remembered for only one thing it should be Rose Byrne’s turn as Jackie Q, Greek‘s biting satire of pop provocateurs, complete with catchy numbers which are actually quite clever in their uncleverness. Grade: A

The A-Team – Fact: I grew up watching cheesy 80s TV. Fact: The A-Team was a cheesy 80s TV show. Fact: This 2010 movie adaptation of The A-Team could’ve tarnished a lot of childhood memories. Fact: It didn’t. Fact: I may or may not have been distracted by Bradley Cooper being shirtless quite a bit. Or Jon Hamm’s random and unnecessary 30 second cameo. Fact: These may have been clever ruses to trick me into enjoying this movie. Fact: they worked.

But seriously folks, The A-Team was a cheesy, disposable distraction much like it’s TV predecessor. The things I remembered and loved from my childhood about Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. were handily transplanted here and assembled into a modern action-comedy that both takes itself too seriously and pokes fun at itself. I enjoyed the flick much more than I expected to and was pleased to see that it mostly held up on second viewing. Grade: B

Toy Story 3  – I seriously don’t even want to review this movie because to review it would mean I would have to review it, as in think about it in my mind – and that would surely only lead to tears. I was a month shy of 10 years old when Toy Story was released and I actually still have vivid memories of watching it for the first time. This franchise means more to me than I could put into words. As the movies grew up, so did I. True story: Had it not been for Toy Story 2, my beloved Baby Spice doll might not be sitting on my desk at this very moment. (Picture me, 14, sitting in a movie theater WEEPING during the “When She Loved Me” sequence.) Basically, Toy Story 3 had a lot riding on it – but of course, with the outstanding folks at Pixar at the helm, there really wasn’t any need for worry.

Toy Story 3 continues Pixar’s criminally perfect track record, combining laughs with tears, subtle irony with childlike slapstick, the optimism of youth with the knowing wisdom of adulthood. I don’t want to highlight any favorite moments because there are plenty of delightful surprises to be found here but I have to note that the almost inappropriately dark origin sequence featuring Lotso, Big Baby and Chuckles the Clown is one of my favorite Pixar scenes ever produced. The film’s action climax is a master class in nail-biting tension and overwhelming mortal fear (yes folks, this film is rated G!) and the emotional climax is devastatingly bittersweet, an almost unfairly perfect sendoff to Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Hamm, the Potato Heads and all the other friends (yes, friends) we’ve come to know and love over the past 10 years. If you’re not a weeping, blubbering mess by the time the credits roll, you have no soul. Grade: A+

Inception– Is there really anything left to be said about this film? Unlike the majority of my fellow film geeks, I do not think Christopher Nolan is the second coming and -gasp- I’ve only seen The Dark Knight once. My main interest in this movie stemmed from the fact that almost no details were known about it prior to its release, an achievement that is pretty much unheard of in the internet age. Going into this movie cold definitely adds to the experience, as I didn’t find the film to be the game-changer that many film bloggers purported it would be. This sounds like a bizarre and possibly film-snobby complaint, but after nearly a year of speculating, I was actually disappointed at how accessible the movie’s premise and logic ended up being. Perhaps it’s because two of my all-time favorite films are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich but I definitely didn’t expect to understand a film about the human mind on the first go-round. The film plays around with structure in ways that are challenging but not incomprehensible and once the main action elements of the film begin, the mythology and overall world of Inception are left disappointingly unexplored.

So what I was expecting to be a smart person’s summer blockbuster instead turned out to be an exercise in making the summer blockbuster audience feel smart. Does that mean I walked out of the theater feeling disappointed? Not at all. Inception is still an extremely excellent film and 200% better than most summer fare (perhaps 350% this year, given the lackluster summer offerings). Once I accepted the film for what it was and divorced myself from what I’d expected it to be, I enjoyed it immensely. And the collectively disappointed/shocked/”Nolan, you bastard!” groan that erupted from the audience upon the film’s conclusion made for one of my fondest movie memories ever.
Grade: A

Post-script (October 31, 2010): Since July 18th, I have seen 12 new films, gone to 1 revival screening of Back to the Future and (thanks to my Scott Pilgrim hysteria) made 29 trips to the theater. AND in 13 days, I’ll be attending a special midnight showing of my beloved Scott Pilgrim at the famed New Beverly theater, hosted by none other my beloved Edgar Wright. SO yeah. The universe is definitely working overtime trying to compensate for that whole “bedridden for two months” thing.

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