Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Summer Catch-Up ’08: I Want to Believe that Space Chimps are Happening

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 11, 2008

Well, we’re a little past the halfway point of the summer movie season, and I thought this would be a good time to catch up on what I’ve seen so far. Despite the whining and moaning of most critics, I actually think this has been a surprisingly excellent summer, probably the best in quite some time. Keeping in mind, of course, that this isn’t Oscar season; this is Summer, the season of pure escapism, of Big Dumb Fun. If you’re not into that, either stay home or spend the summer at the nearest art house.

I don’t have a problem with blockbuster films; the only problem I have is that Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do them well for the last decade or so. Most summers we get one or two decent films surrounded by crap. And ever since 9/11, summer flicks have mostly become total downers – what I like to call “Funishment”. These are films that promise escapist entertainment but deliver a lot of angst and gloom instead. I believe it was last summer that I asked, “where has all the fun gone?” I’m glad to say that, for the most part, the fun seems to be back. And it’s about time! Apparently the Powers that Be in Tinseltown have finally remembered that, when times are tough, people need their escapism more than ever.

But sometimes, even that simple idea can be taken too far. You want to know what current movie bizarrely fascinates me, even though I’ll most likely never see it? Space Chimps! I am totally obsessed with this thing, mainly because it’s opening in a week and I have yet to see a single trailer or TV ad for it anywhere. So I have no idea what the Space Chimps actually look like! I suppose I could just watch the trailer online… but I’m not that obsessed, OK? I just wonder how a movie like this gets made in this day and age. It sounds like something Buddy Hackett would have starred in circa 1961. Is anyone actually going to see this thing? Anyone over the age of 8, I mean? I’m genuinely curious about this. I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m not being bombarded by constant advertisements for a movie I have no interest whatsoever in paying to see… but part of me is just insanely, bizarrely curious. I mean, it’s Chimps in Space, for cryin’ out loud! How can anyone not want to at least check out 30 seconds or so? And you gotta feel sorry for anyone who actually appears in it. I’ll bet that paycheck was nice though – you want somebody to star in Space Chimps, you have to pay up. And what amazes me is that this is a major studio film! Assuming one still considers Fox a major studio, anyway. I could almost see it if some upstart like Summit or Overture was releasing this thing. But 20th Century Fox!! It just boggles my mind. I guess we’re coming ever closer to the “Ass” movie from Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. I’m sure Ass will be a Fox film too.

Anyway… before I get to the other summer movies, I just want to apologize for my Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull review. Yes, I sincerely want to apologize, because I honestly don’t feel that I raved about the film enough. If anything, I was too understated in my enthusiasm. I honestly, truly don’t understand anyone who doesn’t at least like the movie. It’s one thing not to love it as much as I do, but you’ve got people saying things like “Worst Movie of the Year” and “Worst Movie Spielberg Ever Made”. I’m sorry, but these people are insane. The former group apparently hasn’t sat through Love Guru yet (more on that later), and the latter group apparently never saw 1941. I went to see Crystal Skull a second time – I took my nephew who hadn’t seen it yet – and I thought maybe this time I’d see it the way everyone else seems to. Instead, I loved it just as much the second time, and had an absolute blast with it again! My nephew loved it as well. So I really, honestly don’t see what people are bitching about. And I have yet to hear anyone give a valid, rational argument for why it’s supposedly such a horrible film. Other than the use of CGI, which didn’t bother me and which is a minor flaw at best. I expected some nitpickers and some naysayers, but the amount of vitriol that’s been unleashed on this wildly entertaining film is just bizarre. The only thing I can fathom about these people is that they just plain don’t like movies. I don’t know what else I can say. I wonder if they hate other things that give regular people joy, like the laughter of small children and bare female breasts. I would guess that they probably do.

So, without further ado, let’s get to it:

Iron Man – OK, now that’s how you start off the summer! Jon Favreau steps up to the big leagues with this one, the best superhero film to come along since Batman Begins. It’s about time Marvel got to make their own films – they’re obviously better at it than most of the people who have adapted their comics in the past. Pretty much everything that could be said about this movie has already been, but Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark = stroke of genius! Already looking forward to the sequel. Go Marvel! ***1/2

Speed Racer – you know, I just don’t understand what people expected from this movie. I was never a big fan of the cartoon; I only saw maybe a few episodes as a kid. But based on my vague memories, I thought the movie was a pretty faithful live-action translation of the show. Is that not what people wanted? Most of the time the fanboys bitch and moan when a film isn’t faithful to its source material. This time, they bitched and moaned because it was too much like the source material! Why is that suddenly a bad thing? The thing they don’t seem to grasp is that it’s a movie for kids, and the anime-influenced ADD style absolutely works for the audience for which it’s intended. If you just don’t like that kind of film, fine. Don’t go. But you can’t say it’s a bad film for doing what it’s supposed to do, and doing it well. It’s a neon day-glo hyperactive fantasy, and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be! That’s pretty much what the cartoon was, and I can’t imagine why anyone would expect anything else from a live-action version. Maybe if the Wachowskis had dressed them all in black leather, made Christina Ricci’s character a lesbian and had Racer X killing people left and right, the fanboys would have been satisfied. But that would’ve been a very different movie, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be Speed Racer! And you know what’s interesting about Matthew Fox? He’s actually kinda cool in this! Quite possibly the most underrated and misunderstood movie of the summer, and maybe even the year. Massive fun, in the right frame of mind. ***1/2

The Strangers – another really good horror film for which Richard “Cock” Roeper missed the boat. A pleasant surprise, given that the movie was pushed back from August ’07, that it actually turned out really well. First-time writer-director Bryan Bertino has obviously studied ‘70s horror, particularly Halloween. A simple, basic story done exceedingly well, intense and brutal and the scariest thing I’ve seen on a big screen in quite some time. (For an even better “home invasion” horror film, check out the French Inside on DVD) What’s most frightening about it is its ambiguity – that the killers are doing this for no apparent reason other than they’re just sick fucks. The less we know, the scarier it is. I kinda thought the studio was dumping it by releasing it in late May, but given how well it actually did, I guess one can’t complain. For once the horror fans actually came out for an R-rated film in summer! Good for Rogue Pictures and Bertino, and I look forward to seeing his work in the future. ***1/2

The Happening – on one hand, I know that it’s not a great film. There are way too many logic gaps and plot contrivances for it to be anywhere near great. On the other hand, I didn’t totally hate it – certainly not as much as others did. I think it’s better than Lady in the Water anyway. I like the fact that M. Night tried something different, stretched the boundaries a little bit and at least made an attempt at something ambitious and cerebral, even if it didn’t totally work. Hey, at least it’s not another fucking remake! I did think parts of it were really creepy and disturbing – watching people off themselves in various creative ways always has that effect on me. But I wouldn’t say it was a total success either. I didn’t get Zooey Deschanel’s character at all – I normally like her, but here she seemed like an extra from a Romero zombie film. Was that on purpose? Probably. Was there a point to it? I have no idea. The pro-environment message, by contrast, was loud and clear (is anybody actually anti-environment?), so much so it was deafening. Frankly, I think I liked Night better when all he cared about was scaring the crap out of us. **1/2

The Incredible Hulk – Marvel does it again with this surprisingly fun and entertaining reboot of the character previously adapted by Ang Lee (remember the zombie dogs? Nick Nolte and Sam Elliot overacting furiously?). This time they’ve dropped the angst (for the most part, anyway) and concentrated on chase scenes, scientific experiments gone wrong and big monsters clobberin’ (I know, wrong character) each other. In other words, they’ve made a comic-book movie, and a pretty good one at that. Edward Norton, one of the best actors working today, manages to inject pathos and likability into Bruce Banner where Eric Bana was just moody. Nothing wrong with moody, but a little goes a long way in your summer blockbuster movies. Still, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d just seen these characters not that long ago, and maybe it was a bit early for a “reboot”. I do like the anti-military undercurrents in both this and Iron Man though (Tony Stark quits being a war profiteer when he sees the devastation his weapons cause, and both the Hulk and Tim Roth’s Abomination are products of military science gone horribly wrong – did anybody actually miss all of that?). Funny how audiences avoid more “serious” anti-war films but they’ll happily lap this stuff up. From now on, all anti-war films should have superheroes and monsters in them! I’m OK with that. ***

Get Smart – movies based on old TV shows are almost always either mediocre or horrible. This one’s the exception, a smart (no pun intended) and genuinely funny movie that’s true to the original while being just “updated” enough for modern audiences. The main reason it works is Steve Carell, who makes us like and root for his intelligent but field-untested Maxwell Smart. He plays Smart as a real, relatable guy, where other comic actors might have turned him into a bumbling clown. And the gorgeous Anne Hathaway is no slouch herself as Agent 99. This is one case where perfect casting goes a long way – I can only imagine how bad this would have been with, say, Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. Yikes. OK, it’s not a great work of cinema artistry, but it is a light, silly spy comedy and I had a lot of fun with it. I think it works in a way that a lot of these movies don’t. The leads have chemistry, the gags are funny more often than not, and the action scenes are well staged and make sense within the context of the film. What more do you want? I see definite franchise possibilities here, and I have a feeling they could make an even better movie next time around. ***

The Love Guru – this one, on the other hand, has NO possibilities for anything. WOW, what a stinker! Just atrocious. I’ve always liked Mike Myers, going back to his SNL days, but this is just lazy, infantile comedy that’s not suitable for anyone over the age of 6. What was he thinking with this garbage? First of all, the character of Pitka isn’t a particularly funny idea to begin with. What’s funny about a self-proclaimed guru who helps people with their relationship problems? He’s basically Dr. Phil with an Indian accent. I don’t see anything inherently funny about that concept. If Myers had a funny angle on the guy – let’s say he goes around preaching peace and love but in real life he’s a miserable, hateful bastard who can’t stand the ruse and has a hard time masking his true nature – there might have been something there. Instead Pitka’s only real problem is that he’s not as popular as Deepak Chopra (awww, poor baby!) and wearing a chastity belt keeps him from fucking Jessica Alba. Is that all? Is Myers so out of touch that he thinks people can relate to this? Truthfully, Pitka is just unbearably annoying. Worse than that, he fills the movie with awful groaners that he runs into the ground, dragging the jokes out to excruciating lengths despite the fact that they’re not funny in the first place. He seems to think that the more he laughs at his own terrible jokes, the more the audience will too. He might as well be running his fingers across a chalkboard for 90 minutes. Seriously, this is just bad, dated, moronic, kick-in-the-balls level humor. Say what you will about them, at least the Wayne’s World and Austin Powers movies had funny and creative concepts (at least until the sequels completely forgot what they were, anyway). It’s funny (odd funny) that in interviews Myers always talks about how much he loves British comedy, from the Ealing films to Peter Sellers to Monty Python, because he seems to have completely missed that the comedy he loves was intelligent and wasn’t about how many references to bodily functions you can fit into an hour and a half. It’s hard to imagine even Benny Hill stooping to the “Diarrhea in a Cup” gag. Yikes! Maybe Mike should consider acting in other people’s films for awhile, because he seems to have completely lost any sense of what makes people laugh in 2008. Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, Love Guru is the one that made me feel the saddest for its star and his fans who paid their money to see him. But on the bright side, I’m sure the French will love it. *

Wanted – strangely enough, I thought it was pretty cool. I seem to be in the minority though, as I’ve heard the film’s lead character described as both a “wimp” and a “pathetic asshole”. In truth, he’s just a guy stuck in a dead-end life who’s offered a way out. If you can’t relate to that, well, you just haven’t lived long enough. Watch it again in 10 years and see how you feel. While many critics have lambasted the film for the characters’ moral choices, it’s important to remember that 1) this is an action-movie fantasy, for cryin’ out loud, and 2) it’s a movie about assassins, who are not necessarily the most moral people in society. It’s not a guide on how to live your life, for Christ’s sake. If you want to be preached to about morality, go to church. I thought the film was a real kick, a combination of Fight Club and The Matrix and La Femme Nikita done in crazy high style by Russian director Timur Bembekatov. That’s all I expected or wanted from it. Then again, maybe I just didn’t take this insane action flick based on a comic book seriously enough. Whatever. ***

Hancock – now here we have a movie that just never makes any sense. Most critics have argued that the film loses its way during the third act, after the twist is presented. I would argue that the film never makes any sense at all, and the twist just reinforces that! Here’s the thing – why on Earth would a guy who obviously hates people and doesn’t care about society become a superhero in the first place??? Why wouldn’t he just hide his powers or even become a supervillain? They never answer this fundamental question, because there is no logical answer to that question. Never mind Hancock’s drinking and his issues with his job performance – it simply makes no sense that he would be doing that job in the first place. If the basic concept of the movie doesn’t make sense, how is anything that comes after that supposed to make sense? The screenwriters’ explanation for everything that happens is just pure lazy nonsense. The twist is both entirely predictable (if you’re paying attention at all) and utterly ridiculous. It’s a shame, because Will Smith is actually really good here, continuing a streak he started with the underrated I Am Legend. But he’s playing an unplayable character, one who has no reason to do anything that he does. Likewise, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman are solid performers equally stranded by this cockamamie idea. The trio does what they can with it for as long as they can, but eventually the movie goes off the rails and they’re forced to go right along with it. The funny thing is, this is the same basic idea as the recent Japanese film Big Man Japan, which made no damn sense either. Maybe the concept of “asshole superhero” just doesn’t work, because it’s a contradiction by nature. If you’re an asshole, you wouldn’t want to be a superhero, and people wouldn’t want you to be one. An unworkable idea just makes for an unworkable movie. Not a horrible one, but one that just plain doesn’t work. Nice try though. **

So that about covers it for the first half of the summer. I’m looking forward to all the potential delights coming up in the rest of July and August. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with more reviews and other nonsense. Talk to you later!

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