Well, the Summer of '09 is off to a fine start, with some real gems (STAR TREK, DRAG ME TO HELL, UP) scattered amongst lots of solid entertainment. I haven't been completely disappointed with anything I've seen over the past month and a half, which is nice. Granted, as I mentioned in a previous entry, I've been a bit more selective this year than in the past (no IMAGINE THAT for me, thanks)... but still... let's take a look at what goodies this summer has given us so far:
ANGELS & DEMONS -- The biggest question going into this movie was whether or not Ron Howard, Tom Hanks & Co. would be able to correct the mistakes they made in THE DA VINCI CODE -- that is, would they manage NOT to suck all the fun out of the story? Well, I'm happy to say that they got it right this time. Everyone and everything seemed much more comfortable -- in particular, Hanks as Robert Langdon, the noted symbologist with a knack for getting involved in potentially world-changing religious conspiracies. This time, the Catholic Church is attacked by the ancient society of the Illuminati, who kidnap four Cardinals that are considered frontrunners to become the new Pope. (It's interesting to note that I learned everything I needed to know about the Pope selection process when I first read the book, which came in handy when Pope John Paul II died... but I digress.) Even though the Church doesn't much care for Langdon after the events of THE DA VINCI CODE (yes, the movie is a SEQUEL, whereas the book actually came first), they call on him for help -- and along with a hot Italian chick, he embarks on a journey along the Rome's Path of Illumination to try and solve the mystery. It's well-paced, dark at times, but with some welcome humor sprinkled throughout. I think it also helps that the supporting cast isn't COMPLETELY loaded with all-stars -- in retrospect, that may have actually hurt the previous effort (especially since DA VINCI featured some very lazy and uninspired casting -- Jean Reno as a French cop? Ho-hum). That being said, Ewan McGregor was excellent as an enigmatic priest and it serves as a reminder that Ewan McGregor needs to be in more movies. All in all, a solid film, and true to the twisty-turny popcorn entertainment that is Dan Brown's forte.
TERMINATOR SALVATION -- I should have written a full review of this one, but oh well. Let's get one thing straight first off: There are really only two true TERMINATOR films, and they belong to James Cameron. Period. That said, T3 may have been a cartoonish mess in which Arnold's character was reduced to a caricature of his former self, but it had a good ending that set things off in an interesting direction. T4 picks things up several years later, with Skynet's ever-developing army of machines laying waste to the world. Christian Bale is John Connor, growling and snarling his way to the top of the human resistance. But John isn't necessarily the focal point of this movie. That role belongs to Marcus, a human who may or may not have been the subject of robot experimentation. He's kind of a tool, and I didn't really care much about his plight, nor his strange romance with Moon Bloodgood (odd, by the way, that there are so few women remaining in this post-apocalyptic world... but fortunate that they are apparently all hot). On the other hand, there's young Kyle Reese, played to perfection by Anton Yelchin, who nails Michael Biehn's portrayal from the original film. Kyle & John have their Anakin-and-Obi-Wan-esque meeting, which of course is significant since Kyle later become John's father after John sends him back in time to save his (John's) future mother from the Terminator that was sent to prevent his birth.... goddamn, Terminator films are crazy... but I guess that's why we just can't get enough of them, even when they are not very good. T4 is slightly better than T3 overall, though it is very nearly ruined by one major plot hole, which requires a SPOILER WARNING: If Skynet lists Kyle as their #1 most wanted, and John as #2... why don't they just kill Kyle as soon as they take him into custody? Why hold him there and wait for John to show up? If you kill Kyle, that's it -- humanity is finished. Terminators are supposed to be pure killing machines, not melodramatic Bond villains! Very, very careless and stupid oversight. But, it DOES set up the big battle between John and the newfangled T-800, complete with Arnie's face circa 1984 -- which is so awesome to see, that it kind of makes everything else worthwhile.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN -- The first NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM was a surprisingly enjoyable romp through my personal favorite museum, the Museum of Natural History (also, I think I just won the award for the most times using the word "museum" in a sentence). It was wacky & well-cast & dumb in a good way, but most of all, it was fun. I expected more of the same from this sequel, which brings Ben Stiller & Friends to the Smithsonian (natch), and I was not disappointed. It's wackier, slightly more dumb (still in a good way), and features an even better cast, including Bill Hader as a clueless General Custer, Hank Azaria as an sneering, lisping pharoah, and especially Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart -- an awesome, scene-stealing performance, filled with moxie and screwball comedy one-liners. It's actually a better portrayal of the doomed aviatrix than Hilary Swank managed in an actual Earhart biopic that will be released later this year. Plus, holy crap, did Amy's caboose look good in those skintight flight pants!
AWAY WE GO -- There is a lot to like in this indie comedy, co-written by Dave Eggers and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as a expectant thirtysomething couple who embark on a cross-country search for a new life. Along the way, they find that their own fucked up lives aren't nearly as bad as others that they encounter, and the best life you can choose is that which your forge for yourself. (I do not consider this a spoiler because if you don't see the ending coming a mile away, you should just stop watching movies.) Krasinski is his usual Halpert-esque self, and Rudolph -- who was always very hit or miss on SNL -- shows surprising range. Tremendous supporting cast including Catherine O'Hara & Jeff Daniels as Krasinski's flaky Antwerp-bound parents, and Allison Janney as a lewd, loud-mouthed friend. The film is a bit heavy-handed at time, and occasionally suffers from "quirky for quirky's sake" syndrome, particularly a ridiculously over-the-top sequence involving Maggie Gyllenhaal as a stroller-hating hippie mom. But when it works, it works well.
LAND OF THE LOST -- The trailers for this big screen adaptation of the '70s camp classic imply that it is one of those family-friendly, watered down PG-13 Will Ferrell comedies... and that is a shame, because in reality, it's far crazier than I expected and should be aimed at a whole other audience. It's loaded with raunchy humor (including an F-bomb!), bizarre non-sequiturs, old-school cheesiness and is generally pretty hilarious. Will Ferrell fans will not be disappointed by his portrayal of Dr. Rick Marshall, and pairing him with the always-funny Danny McBride is a recipe for comedic gold. Anna Friel brings some welcome hotness to the proceedings, and fans of the TV show should appreciate the cheesy effects, monkey people and rubber-suited Sleestaks who are still creepy after all these years. And of course... DINOSAURS! Smarmy dinosaurs, no less. It's not a great film by any means -- but it's wacky & fun.
THE HANGOVER -- I'm not sure why this movie is being considered a "surprise" summer hit. Seems like a no-brainer that the latest from the team behind OLD SCHOOL, a veritable love-letter to Vegas insanity, with a great cast and a hard R-rating, would be awesome. It definitely doesn't disappoint -- this is a funny-ass movie, possibly surpassing OLD SCHOOL in sheer, balls-out hilarity (though not quite as quotable). The plot is simple: Four guys celebrate a bachelor party in Sin City. Mad drunkenness ensues. They wake up in the morning to find their hotel room in shambles, a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom, the groom missing, and no memory of how these things came to be. Thus they attempt to retrace their steps and figure out what the hell happened. Kinda like the plot of DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR... only way better. The guys' adventures are ridiculous: Marrying a prostitute, sure. Finding an angry, naked Chinese high-roller in the trunk of your car, check. Mike Tyson singing Phil Collins songs in your hotel room, why not? But it never feels like TOO over-the-top, because Vegas is one place where you can totally imagine these kind of things happening. The cast is top-notch, especially Ed Helms as the straight-edge, pussywhipped member of the group, and Zach Galifianakis as a disturbed man-child. Easily the frontrunner for the funniest movie of the year -- and to top it all off, it features what may be the greatest closing credits sequence in movie history, so be sure to stick around for that. Vegas, baby, Vegas!
MOON -- Excellent little slice of sci-fi set in the not-too-distant future, starring Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an astronaut finishing up a three-year assignment on the dark side of the Moon to harvest a new-found energy source. He is alone, with little contact with the world below -- in fact, his only real companion is a HAL-esque all-purpose computer named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), whose monotone voice is offset by bright yellow emoticons that show its mood. One day, on a routine expedition on the Moon's surface, Sam gets into a serious accident and wakes up in the infirmary with no apparent injuries nor any memory of what happened. Weird, yes... but it gets even weirder when he returns to the accident site to find... well... something that makes you wonder if things on the Moon are not necessarily as they seem or if he is slowly succumbing to space madness. The plot is intriguing, but two factors really help kick this movie up a notch. First, Sam Rockwell is outstanding, which comes as no real surprise; he's one of those guys that is always great. Second, the setting is fantastic. The space station and the Moon itself are stark, desolate and claustrophobic -- the low-budget effects actually work to the movie's benefit, for you can really feel Sam's loneliness and isolation. Good stuff.
Okay, that's all for now. Still to come this summer: TRANSFORMERS! HARRY POTTER! G.I. JOE! BRUNO! APATOW! MIYAZAKI! And much more!