Greg Hunter

Summer Film Favs ’09

In Film and Television on August 14, 2009 at 4:13 AM

It’s only mid-August, I know, but with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra confined to art house theaters on the coasts and Inglourious Basterds looking like Tarantino’s greatest rental, there’s no real reason not to recap the summer in film. My top five are below, in no particular order.

Star Trek

A lot of the good genre work of the last few years has grappled, with varying degrees of subtlety, with the War on Terror (BSG, Dark Knight, Iron Man, etc), so it was refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie that prioritized fun over relevance.  There was a fundamental optimism to Roddenberry’s original Star Trek, and it still shows in J.J. Abrams’ relaunch,  as brightly as a lens flare.*  Spock is the role Zachary Quinto was born to play, even if it was someone else’s role first, and Simon Pegg makes anything better.
 
*Star Trek also had a lot of lens flares.

Up

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of attention Up will get around Oscartime -with the enlarged Best Picture pool, it might be Pixar’s first-ever contender- but it’s certainly year’s most effective movie so far. Up‘s opening montage is a series of emotional gut punches designed to break down the defenses of the most cynical moviegoers. When it’s time to watch a four-foot old man escape from urban sprawl via baloon house, we are ready and anxious for it.

Few movies are as successful as Up at persuading viewers to invest so much in such a ridiculous conceit.  In the next two-thirds, absurd developments keep coming, and so do extra gut punches.  There’s a certain ruthlessness with which Up tugs at viewer heartstrings, but a gracefulness, too–even when the film sprawls out into its climactic talking-dog-airship-battle, sincere exuberance holds everything together.

The Hurt Locker

In a recent New York Times article about summer moviegoing, A.O. Scott suggests a film like The Hurt Locker “might have been a blockbuster once upon a time.” Which is a bummer, no doubt. But rather than asking What It Means that America would rather watch Transformers 2, let me just note how right Scott is to mention that, yep, this future Criterion Collection member has the same basic shape as other, much dumber movies. In fact, The Hurt Locker shares a structure with most of Steven Spielberg’s popcorniest fare: like with Jurassic Park, we’ve got a sequence of problems to be solved, a new one every 10-15 minutes, gradually escallating in scale. The Hurt Locker is two hours of tension, built, released, then built again.

What make the film prestige fare, I suppose, are the remarkable performances of Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, and the film’s relatively depoliticized but genuinely terrifying vision of Iraq. But The Hurt Locker delivers on a more visceral level, too, and forces a level of investment you weren’t sure you were prepared to give.

Moon

Moon, like The Hurt Locker, is part of a small (but growing?) group of movies framed by one critic or another as the anti-Transformers. (And maybe it’s another win for Michael Bay that even snobs who didn’t see Revenge of the Fallen are still using it as a contextualizing device.) But while The Hurt Locker is all about building and releasing tension, Moon is notable for the sustained tension throughout the film–there’s not a series of highs and lows so much as a kind of ambient dread. Sam Rockwell plays opposite Sam Rockwell as the lone worker on a lunar mining outpost who (literally) finds himself. Duncan Jones’s directing is restrained but imaginative, with moments of wry humor throughout. Bonus points for having the duplicate Rockwells only say the same thing in unison once.

In the Loop

In the Loop is a political farce, and I’m sure lessons can be found for those who choose to seek them. But its moral take-aways, and plot in general (British, American politicos conspire for, against a war in the Middle East), are less resounding than the film’s dialogue, which is hysterically, masterfully, profane. Loop is dominated by Peter Capaldi, who was formerly best known in the States for playing a bashful walking Orange Juice song in cult classic Local Hero. Here, he’s Malcolm Tucker, right hand man of the Prime Minister, who would have the most quotable lines of the summer if they didn’t come out too quickly to be comitted to memory.

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  1. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see Inglourious Basterds, but I’m excited to see it. Well, I was excited to see it after reading this review.

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