REVIEWS: 2009 Movie Review Retrospective

This is a retrospective of the movies I saw in theaters this year.  I’ve arranged the movies in the order in which I would recommend them.  You might notice that the listing doesn’t match up exactly with the ratings I gave them originally, but that’s the point in a retrospective.

  1. Avatar
    Yes, I’m going to do it.  I’m going to put the last movie I saw at the top of the list.  But this movie changes so much about movies in general, that I can’t help but put it at the top.
  2. Star Trek
    JJ did the impossible and made a great Star Trek movie that manages to both reboot and continues the series in a worthy manner.
  3. District 9
    Surprisingly good, partly because the ad campaign gave nothing away and partly because it was heartwarming and action filled.
  4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    I think this movie can finally stand alone as a good movie, not just a good Harry Potter movie.
  5. Up
    It’s Pixar.  It’s funny, heartwarming, doesn’t talk down to you or your kids, and looks amazing.
  6. Drag Me To Hell
    A good balance of funny and scary, with a satisfying ending.
  7. Zombieland
    While Zombieland wasn’t exactly what I wanted, it was still tons of fun.
  8. 2012
    The world is literally falling apart and they want us to care about individual people?
  9. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
    My least favorite book of the series turns into a dull movie.
  10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
    A movie built on the cliché that bigger is better, which it definitely isn’t in this case.
  11. Terminator Salvation
    Skynet reveals their big plan and its a Terminator with free will?  All I know is that it could have been worse.  A lot worse.  It’s still pretty bad.
  12. The Hangover
    Funny, but highly inappropriate.  Can’t really recommend it.
  13. The Men Who Stare At Goats
    Advertised as a slap-stick comedy, its more of a dark comedy, and not very comedic at that.
  14. Watchmen
    So long, so boring, so weird.
  15. Hannah Montana: The Movie
    Yet another “movie” version of a TV show that manages to not be a game changer, even when that’s supposed to be the moral of the story!
  16. Year One
    Probably the worst movie I’ve ever seen.  Unfunny comedy, cringe-worth dialog, every scene dragged on and on.  First movie we literally talked out loud about walking out of.
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REVIEW: Avatar (2009)

A whole new world.

Summary: It’s 2154 and a marine who lost the use of his legs finds a new opportunity to take his twin brother’s place controlling an alien body on a beautiful planet.  His job is to study the natives and maybe convince them to relocate so the humans can have a rare substance on their land.  However, he finds that betraying the natives is a lot harder after they accept him as one of their own.

Thoughts: James Cameron hasn’t made a movie since Titanic.  The mind that brought us Terminator and Aliens has been out of action since 1997.  However, this movie has been in his mind since before then.  Finally, the technology caught up with his vision, and unlike George Lucas and the Prequels, Cameron’s vision was worth waiting for.

While the story may have been told before, its never been told this well.  Every aspect of the film is technologically superior to anything that has come before, CGI or live action.  The characters are incredibly life-like (Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar is obviously alien and obviously Sigourney).  The mannerisms of each actor is brought through their CGI counterparts perfectly.  The planet itself is beautiful as well.  I found myself lost in the CGI, forgetting it was computer-generated several times.  The action was fantastic, the plot engrossing, and it was genuinely entertaining.

I got to see it in 3D, which I have to recommend.  Cameron designed it to be seen in 3D, and it is exquisite.  Most of it is very subtle and really helps bring you into the movie.

Overall: Beautiful, thrilling, groundbreaking.  While I wouldn’t say it changes everything about filmmaking, it certainly changes a whole lot.
5/5

Star Wars Saga Viewing Order

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me what order to watch the Star Wars movies in.  I’ve thought about the different options for a while now, and I think I’ve come to a decision.  There are two main options, plus one that may seem pretty radical.

SPOILERS FOR THE STAR WARS MOVIES (not like you wouldn’t know them anyway)

Option 1: Numerical (Episode) Order

This would seem to be the way Lucas wants you to see them: starting at the beginning.  However in my opinion, there are several flaws with this idea.  One being that it seems like the prequels weren’t written with this in mind at all.  There is no introduction to the galaxy or the Force in Episode I (which there is in Episode IV), it just goes by the assumption that everyone knows all this.  Also, there are several jokes/references to the Original Trilogy that one simply wouldn’t get watching them in order.  The big deal, at least for me, is that the Prequels spoil all of the surprises one might have watching the Original Trilogy (who is Yoda, is Vader really Luke’s dad, siblings?).  Watching them in numerical order ruins some of the best parts of the Saga.

Also, starting a new viewer off with Episode I probably isn’t the best idea quality-wise.  One really should start with the universally acknowledged “good” movies before getting into the, at the very least debatable, “new” movies.  Which leads us to:

Option 2: Release Order

As I just said, its probably better starting off with the good ones before going back to the Prequels.  Doing this also eliminates the effects jump you get going from a movie made in 2005 to one made in 1977.  This is the most logical order to watch them.  But I found a radically new order:

Option 3: 4-5-1-2-3-6

That’s right.  Probably the best order for a brand-new watcher of Star Wars is the following:

Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

A user named “cap” on the Star Wars board I’m on proposed this. At first, I scoffed.  But then I realized how good of an idea this is.

Think about it.  You start off with the two best movies, the one that introduces the galaxy and the one that has all of the surprises.  Then, when you’re wondering if Vader is telling the truth about his fatherhood, you go back and watch what happened to Anakin Skywalker.  This also brings the “Redemption of Anakin” arc closer together instead of having a two movie gap where Anakin is barely mentioned (IV and V).  The same with “Palpatine’s Rise to Power”.  The order also spaces apart the Death Star attacks, “bookending” the series, as cap put it.  You feel for the celebration more, as you’re more invested in the galaxy after watching all of the movies before VI than after just watching IV and V.  Perhaps the best part is watching them 4-5-1-2-3-6 is that RotJ’s drastic drop in quality from ESB is lessened by having the entire Prequel Trilogy separating them.  It also makes ESB’s cliffhanger ending a cliffhanger again, as you haven’t seen any of the Original characters for 3 movies!

It seems weird, but the more I think about it, the more I like it.  Read the post I already linked to for some more in-depth analysis of this idea.

Let me know what you think!

REVIEW: Star Wars In Concert (12-12-2009)

Star Wars... IN CONCERT!

Summary: Imagine a clip show of the best parts of the Star Wars Saga, like a condensed music video version of all 6 movies.  Now imagine that the music was being created right in front of you by a full symphony orchestra introduced by Mr. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)!  That’s basically what “Star Wars In Concert” is.

Thoughts: I wanted to see this for two reasons.  The first was the opportunity to see John William’s score performed live.  The second was to see Anthony Daniels in person, a dream of mine since childhood for some reason.  The show preformed well on both accounts.

Starting with the THX Deep Note (sadly not played by the orchestra) and ending with an encore of The Imperial March, the whole show was the memorable themes John Williams wrote for characters or events played against clips along with some dialog from the movies relating to the musical theme.  Some clips had laser lights, and a few had PYROTECHNICS that we could feel on the other side of the arena!  The opening theme played against clips from the saga in release order (4,5,6,1,2,3), but once Anthony Daniels came out he started the (heavily condensed and choppy) story from the beginning.  Anakin’s Theme, Duel of the Fates, Across The Stars, Battle of the Heroes, all of the great themes Williams wrote for the prequels were there, proving that while Lucas may have lost his way for the prequels, Williams certainly didn’t, making what I’d argue to be some of the best musical pieces of the modern era.  I especially liked the clip show for “Across The Stars” (Anakin and Padme’s love theme), as I liked the idea of using parts of Episode I as flashbacks (complete with sepia tone and echo).  One of the other clips was memorable (at least to me) as it had Episode I clips of Yoda, but not the horrible-and-brown-for-some-reason Muppet they made for the film originally, the decent CGI model they use now when they show clips from Episode I in videos since 2005, presumably waiting for the rumored 2010 Special Edition Blu-ray release of the films (Special Editions of the Prequels are fine by me, in case you were wondering).  The first act ended after Anakin’s even-more-abrupt-than-Episode-III fall to the Dark Side with the Imperial March played against some of the Empire’s glory from the Original Trilogy.

After a 20 minute intermission (and dismissal of the choir since Williams wasn’t in his choral phase in the 70s and 80s), the Original Trilogy started.  Luke’s Theme, Leia’s Theme, Luke and Leia’s Theme, The Hoth Battle, The Forest Battle, Mos Eisley, several of the classic arrangements were played.  The clips started to lose focus at this point, as except for the personal themes, all of the clips had shots from the prequels thrown in.  For instance, while Obi-Wan is explaining to Luke that this is his father’s light saber, they show a clip of Anakin with the random lightsaber he got tossed on Geonosis after his was damaged (which you can tell is green, even in the sepia tone).  Also, apparently there wasn’t enough of the Forest Battle to fill the whole time, so they used clips from the Battle of the Naboo Plains from Episode I, somehow creating a video containing both Ewoks and Jar Jar!  The best part musically was when they actually played the Cantina Band song in the middle of the Mos Eisley section.  Incredible talent there.

You may notice how I really only talked about the clips they were playing.  This was mostly because the music was so note-perfect that we all found ourselves becoming so engrossed in the clips that we would forget that all of the music was being performed live.  There were times when the main screen would show the orchestra playing and it was some of the best parts, honestly.  There’s something about hearing and seeing this music that I grew up with performed live and uncompressed by any means analog or digital.  The fact that C-3PO himself was introducing the clips only enhanced the unrealness/awesomeness of it all.

Sadly, this was the second-to-last American show, so if you live in the States, you missed it already.  If you’re one of my European friends and this is coming near your home, by all means, go see it!  It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.