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.

REVIEW: Star Trek (2009) – General

Boldly Starting Over
Boldly Starting Over

This review will remain relatively spoiler free, except for the items I mentioned in the PREVIEW.  After you’re done with this,  go here for the Trekkie-fied spoiler companion to this review.

Summary: Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the original crew of the Enterprise meet for the first time, again.

Thoughts: This movie is excellent, no matter how you look at it.  It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s action-packed.  Does it force you to think about issues in a different light, as “true science fiction” is supposed to?  No, but I don’t think it needed to do that at this point.  That’s what the inevitable sequels are for.

Overall, its an origin story.  But unlike most movies focusing on the origin of characters you know, besides the fact that these characters are different versions of the ones you may know, I believe the movie stands on its own without considering anything that came before it or what might come after it.  It’s fun and unpredictable, with an amazing cast and special effects.  The whole thing (sound design, production design, costume design, characterization, plot) keeps enough of what made The Original Series and its characters great while changing things enough to keep even the most die hard Trekkie interested in what’s going to happen.  It also managed to give every crew member (especially the usually underused Chekov and Uhura) an opportunity to contribute more than in any Star Trek (movie or episode) before, which is an impressive feat.

Honestly, the stuff that I explained in my PREVIEW was the only part that really bothered me.  After seeing the movie, I can see that they could have marketed and sold this movie as a reboot of the franchise (like Casino Royale) and the general audience would be fine with it.  Adding the elements from the “Prime” reality and having to explain what happened in the future (and having to explain that its not the future of what we’re watching now) slowed the film down a bit toward the middle, but it does tie into the plot directly and allow 40 years of Trek history not to be erased.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the concept, I just think it could have been handled a bit differently.

Some people may complain about the coincidences that led to everyone being at the right place at the right time.  I’d admit that some of it was a stretch, but unlike most origin stories, we didn’t have to spend the whole movie maneuvering to get to certain positions to make a difference; they were all thrust into the positions, through coincidence or willpower or simply because they belonged in those positions.  And that’s good enough for me.

Usually during movies, no matter how much I look forward to them, part of me is wondering how long its been on and how much is left in the movie.  That didn’t happen in this movie.  I got lost in the film, and even thought I knew the basics of what was going to happen because I can’t resist spoilers, I was still surprised and pleased every second.  That’s the sign of a good movie, at least to me.

Overall: A fun movie for all audiences.
5/5
Don’t forget to go here for the Trekkie-fied spoiler companion to this review.

REVIEW: Star Trek (2009) – Trekkie

This is the spoiler-filled companion piece to my “General” Review.  This is more from a Trekkie point of view, but should be understandable to those who have seen the movie already.

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As a Star Trek film, I think its definitely one of the best, if not the best.  Unlike Wrath of Khan (generally regarded to be the best), it doesn’t require any assumptions about the characters or any of the Original Series episodes, since this movie literally starts at their births.  I also think it changes enough about the characters to bring some depth to characters who originally had none (Chekov as a barely-understood boy-genius is much better than the “look, a Russian guy with a Monkees haircut” lack-of-introduction in TOS) and keep things interesting.

Things I loved:

  • The casting: Every main character was perfect.  Each actor brought their own interpretation to the role and even though they looked and sometimes acted different than the Original character, you could tell that they were the same ones.  Yelchin brought a thicker, more real Russian accent to Chekov while keeping it over-the-top (a bit too far maybe?), and Pegg actually made Scotty sound Scottish (since his in-laws are Scottish and he’s British, he knows the accent).  Pine brought an arrogance to Kirk that was reminiscent of Shatner’s most shining moments.  Quinto played Spock so cold that even the slightest hint of emotion on his face was like an explosion. Saldana made Uhura more real than just the girl who answers the phone.  Urban seems to be the only one who tries to actually sound and act exactly like the real McCoy (HA!), but he does it perfectly.
  • The nods to the Original universe: Besides Urban’s McCoy, there were many things kept from the Original that I appreciated being there.  The primary color uniforms, along with the sound of the intercom button being pushed and the communicator being opened were the most obvious.  So was Chekov’s inability to pronounce the letter “V”.  Putting Pike in a wheelchair and having him wear a modified admiral’s uniform from The Motion Picture at the end were a bit more subtle.  Seeing Kirk cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test while chewing on an apple (just as he was doing when he told his son about it in Wrath of Kahn) was just plain awesome (having Spock be the designer of the test was just icing on the cake).  Also, everyone got to say their classic lines and none of it felt forced or made me cringe (see Fantastic Four, which does make me cringe)
  • What happened to Vulcan: Nothing says “everything is different now” more than blowing up one of central planets in the Federation and making Vulcans an endangered species.  It changes Spock and even the face of the Federation.  Killing Spock’s mom fits into that too.  I didn’t expect that at all.  And people watching the movie wouldn’t either.  “Of course Kirk and Sulu will stop the drill in time to save Spock’s home— oh, wow, I guess not.  Spock will save his mom— oh, I guess not.”
  • The characters’ reactions to time travel, alternate realities, and older versions of themselves: All these huge concepts are being thrown around and their reactions range from “Bullsh**” to not even reacting when they see themselves 120 years older (they are Vulcan, of course).  Scotty was also very accepting of Spock Prime also.
  • The special effects: From the epic space shots to the extreme close ups of the hulls to the viewscreen that is actually a window, Star Trek has never felt more real.  The ships fly with weight behind them and “up” is relative, which is rare for any movie.
  • Simon Pegg: His portrayal of Scotty is an instant classic.

Things I’m not so sure about:

  • Spock/Uhura: It gives Spock an emotional bond that he never had before and gives Uhura more depth, but it just seems weird.  It’s hard to get used to Spock kissing anyone.
  • Engineering: I’m torn on the industrial complex as the secondary hull.  I mean, it makes sense to have the contrast between the shiny main areas of the ship and the grungy below decks, it just seemed off or too contemporary.  Again, its probably just that I’m used to the shiny engine room with the one warp core at the center.
  • Trans-warp Beaming (a real nit pick): I liked Scotty’s explanation that he couldn’t make it work because it was like “shooting at a bullet with a smaller bullet while blindfolded and riding a horse”, but the logic behind Spock Prime telling him that Scotty Prime figured it out didn’t make sense.  First off, the transporter technology in this new reality seems far different from the one in the Prime universe, what with its swirly lights and taking forever.  Second, when did Scotty Prime figure this out?  And why did they never use it?  I’ve not seen the official explanation, but I assume that since Scotty is still alive in the Prime universe (he was in an awesome episode of TNG called “Relics” where he helped the Enterprise-D and then took a shuttle and was not heard from since) that maybe he just came up with it after Nemesis but before the events that send Spock Prime to the alternate reality.  But I had to make that up to make it fit, and that’s not right.

Things I really didn’t like:

  • Nothing: Honestly, there was nothing I didn’t like about this movie.

I may add to this the more I think about the movie, but that’s pretty much it.

PREVIEW: Star Trek (2009)

Trek Begins Again
The Future Begins

UPDATE: My spoiler-free review and spoilered companion piece are where the previous links lead!

I figured since the new Star Trek movie is just over two weeks away, I should write up a preview of it to explain what is going on, and what this all means.

To put it simply: this is a reboot, much like Batman Begins or Casino Royale.  However, it is also actually a sequel to the rest of Star Trek.  Now this sounds confusing and involves time travel, but I don’t think its too hard to understand.  Instead of dropping everything and starting from scratch, the reason that things are different and rebooted is because characters from the Next Generation era (actually a particular character from the Original Series era that was “long-lived” enough to survive into the Next Generation era) are thrown back in time to before The Original Series began.  Just by being in the past, they have created an alternate timeline, which is what makes the concept of this movie so great to me.

Ordinarily with a prequel, you have to follow all of the rules set forth in the original series/movies.  Everything casually mentioned as happening the past has to be reconciled, shown, or made reference to.   If Kirk said in episode 015 that  went to school with such-and-such and in episode 002 that he was a bookworm and no fun in college, you have to protray him as that.  The big thing is that you have the problem of already knowing what’s going to happen because you’ve already seen the characters all “grown up”, basically.  The only ways around this are (a) be George Lucas and write prequels that have little to no reflection on the original movies and contridict them in almost every way or (b) reboot the franchise altogether.

Star Trek has gone b with a twist.  Since no one can really throw away 40 years of Star Trek history, the writers (the same guys who wrote Transformers, Mission Impossible III, and The Island, of whom one is a huge Trekkie) decided to bring characters from the original timeline (Prime, I think they refer to it as) into the new timeline.  Imagine that Casino Royale started out with Pierce Brosnan’s Bond.  Somehow, he sends a message back in time (using some Q device) to his young self.  Nothing happens, so he shrugs his shoulders and we assume nothing has changed.  Brosnan Bond lives on to fight another day.  So instead of this erasing all history up to that point like if you did something like this in Back to the Future Part 1, we end up following Daniel Craig Bond while still having the option of following Brosnan Bond if that proves to be uninteresting.

Its that way with the new Star Trek.  They wrote it in such a way that if the new movie doesn’t do well, Paramount can go back to trying to make more Next Generation movies.  Or Trekkies who don’t like the movie can just pretend it doesn’t exist and it would be easy for them to do (not like Star Wars fans who don’t have a choice since Lucas made the prequels himself, but that’s a post for another time).  There are Trekkies who are on both sides of the issue, but I think its a great idea.  Paramount wanted to renew its largest franchise that pretty much curled up and died a few years ago.  They also wanted to attract a whole new audience that may not have been willing to give Star Trek a chance.  It almost looks like they can have their cake and eat it too.

The new movie won’t require any knowledge of the Star Trek at all.  If you think it looks interesting, you can go see it as this summer’s big action flick, and you would be right.  Could it turn out to be a “Star Trek In Name Only” abomination that isn’t any good?  Maybe.  But I think no matter what, the ride will be fun.

Can the team that brought you LOST go wrong?

REVIEW: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Summary: The 22nd Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is a direct sequel to the 21st, Casino Royale, which rebooted the whole franchise in a grittier, more human direction. The story continues 20 minutes after the previous movie, and shows Bond stopping an evil plot by the mysterious organization that left him betrayed in Casino Royale. But its all about revenge for Bond.

Thoughts: I was never really a Bond fan until this reboot. I’ve only seen one of the old ones (Thunderball), but it just didn’t seem to suit me. I rented Casino Royale on a whim one night last year and loved it. It had humor, action, suspense, and a reality that I think the originals were missing. You got into Bond’s head a little and find out what makes him tick. Quantum continues this trend. In fact, it continues it so much, that you HAVE to watch them together. Not only will you be less confused about the plot, but the movies complete one another.

Let me explain: I was going to write this review as somewhat middling, because the basic plot is just that, basic. Revenge, blah blah blah, betrayal, blah blah blah. The action sequences were incredible, and were mostly lacking in Casino Royale, so that was good. Casino Royale was a bit heavy on plot and light on action, which Quantum was heavy on action and light on plot. It was only after reading Bill Hunt’s mini-review on thedigitalbits that I realized that I shouldn’t be comparing these two movies. They complete one another. They weren’t written together like some movies that come in two parts (Kill Bill, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), but they fit together so well that it would be a shame to not watch them together.

I really can’t talk about Quantum of Solace without spoiling both it and Casino Royale, so I’ll leave you with this: If you liked Casino Royale, you’ll like Quantum. If you didn’t see Casino Royale, don’t watch Quantum until you do. You’ll only be confused and left a bit empty. If you didn’t like Casino Royale, I’m sorry.

Overall: A great companion to Casino Royale.
4/5

Bonus!

On a majority of prints you find a trailer for JJ Abram’s Star Trek. It’s unlike anything ever seen from a Star Trek before. For those of you not aware, yes, they’re making another Star Trek movie. Yes, this is number 11. But like the 21st Bond, pretty much everything has been thrown out of the window and they’re starting from scratch. So far, its looking like this is what The Original Series would be like if it was made today and no one had ever heard of Star Trek before. It’s a prequel in that its young Kirk and crew and explores their origins more than the series and previous movies ever did. But its a reboot in that things are different in some ways (which could be explained by the presense of a time-travelling Leonard Nimoy). Overall, I think it looks good. It has potentional for either greatness or lameness. But I’ll see it with an open mind as a revitalization of one of my favorite franchises and I encourage my fellow Trekkies to do the same. I think even if you’ve written off Star Trek before, you should give this movie a look.

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REVIEW: Cloverfield (2008)

Summary: The movie is basically supposed to be a tape (SD card, actually) that the government found in the ruins of New York City. For the next 80 or so minutes, its like having a glimpse into the worst day of anyone’s life. It’s no spoiler to say that a monster attacks New York, and panic ensues.

The story (yes, there is one) is one of bravery, friendship, and love. One of them feels so strongly about this girl that he is willing to brave the chaotic city and the monster within to save her.

Thoughts: I really got a kick out of this movie. I felt that following a regular guy through this attack was a great idea. Yes, you are left in the dark on a lot of what happens elsewhere in the city, but that makes it all the more scary.

A lot has been said about the camera work, or lack thereof. Its supposed to be just a guy with a video camera, so there are few shots that are stable and there are even several shots of people’s feet. The camera was disorienting and I did get some motion sickness. I would bring some dramamine if I was going to see it again or wait for the DVD. But I wouldn’t have respected the movie as much if it wasn’t filmed this way. They took a risk, and as vomit-inducing as it is, I think it paid off.

I’m trying not to spoil anything, so I can’t say too much.

There is no soundtrack, so there’s no cheating when it comes to scares. Things appearing aren’t punctuated by a high violin note, they just appear.

The monster is scary. There is literally no other way to describe it. I’m looking forward to seeing some comics or something that explain its origin a bit more.

Overall: If you can stomach the camera, its worth every penny.
4/5

BONUS: Attached to the movie is the teaser trailer for the new Star Trek movie, directed by JJ Abrams (creator of “Lost” and producer of Cloverfield). There’s not much in the teaser, but there shouldn’t be or it wouldn’t be a teaser now, would it?