Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Snooch to the Nooch!

2008 has started off in fits and spurts for me as a moviegoer. The Oscar season came and went with relative ease, but personal issues and a need to get myself on the right track after last year’s health scare has put moviegoing on the slow track. Not as slow as years past, but that I’ve missed films like “Leatherheads,” “Shine a Light,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” must rate as some sort of sin in the circles of “serious moviegoers,” which- let’s face it- I’m not shy of thinking I am. Now with things moving in the right direction, it’s time to catch back up- I don’t expect to lose as much ground during the summer, which hopes to be one of the strongest in recent memory. Before we get to that, though, a lookback at the first four months worth of films I did see.

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle

What Sizzled:
Truth told, more than you might think. Not a lot stood out that’ll likely find its’ way on either my best or favorites lists (that’s what the rest of the year is for…lol), but what moved ahead of the pack did so with good reason. One film, however, is all but assured a slot of my 10 Best come December from the past four months; that it’s Kimberly Peirce’s emotionally-wrenching “Stop-Loss” (A+), with Oscar-worthy performances by both Ryan Phillippe and a particularly haunting Joseph Gordon-Levitt (two of the best actors of their generation), shouldn’t be too surprising given the weighty subject matter and compassionate soul that comes second-nature to the “Boys Don’t Cry” filmmaker. The two films immediately behind it in the pecking order this Spring- January’s monster movie sensation “Cloverfield” (A) from producer J.J. Abrams and Michel Gondry’s frisky but affectionate ode to creativity “Be Kind Rewind” (A-)- don’t try to be great art, but celebrate it in their own ways, and are better for it. Beyond that, escapist fare is the order of the day, with Rob Minkoff’s entertaining martial arts fantasy “The Forbidden Kingdom” (B+) and Roger Donaldson’s gritty true crime thriller “The Bank Job” (B+) sitting head and shoulders above entertaining fodder like the nostalgic love story “Definitely, Maybe” (B+), the CG-animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who” (B+), and the latest thriller to rip-off Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” structure in the politically-minded “Vantage Point” (B+).

What Sucked:
As usual, too much. Not really- I just went out of my way to see some pretty terrible cinema. Why? I had my reasons. My initiation into the cinematic crapheap that is Uwe Boll’s filmic legacy got my moviegoing year off on a positive note with the positively dreadful “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Seige Tale” (F). How is that positive? Let’s put it this way- things could only get better from there. (Plus, screening it with friends at the theatre was one of the single most enjoyable moviegoing experiences I’ve had in years.) They didn’t get much better with Doug Liman’s incomprehensible sci-fi actioner “Jumper” (D+), but let’s be honest, can anyone say they had THAT much hope for the film anyway? (Maybe in the hope that the “Swingers” and “Bourne Identity” director would find his groove again, but with a script this dumb, that’ll have to wait.) Making matters worse was Roland Emmerich’s “10,000 B.C.” (C-), which looks great on paper and on the screen…so long as the paper isn’t the pathetic excuse for a script and the screen is twice as tall as you are so you can at least enjoy the pretty pictures and try to downed out the insipid dialogue.

What’s Just OK:
Everything else. As is usually the case, mediocrity is the order of the day in Spring- variety usually happening just in terms of how mediocre some films are compared to others. On the high side of the average pile is David Schwimmer’s British comedy “Run Fatboy Run” (B), with smart laughs generated by Simon Pegg and Hank Azaria and the indie high school satire “Charlie Bartlett” (B), with smart turns by Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr.. Placing behind those are an utterly predictable romantic comedy (with an utterly charming star turn by “Knocked Up” babe Katherine Heigl) called “27 Dresses” (B( and an utterly predictable serial killer thriller (with an utterly engaging performance by Diane Lane) called “Untraceable” (B). You could do worse than those two, and would have had you seen the mildly amusing Will Ferrell basketball comedy “Semi-Pro” (B-) or the true story of ripping off Vegas casinos in “21” (C+) where even a solid cast and great story can’t make up for the lack of dramatic tension.

Favorite Performances: Don’t look for a lot of fave performances to come out of this Spring outside of the peerless cast from “Stop-Loss” (in particular, traumatized soldiers Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Channing Tatum). That said, I’ve seen worse performances than the scrappy charms of Mos Def, Jack Black, Mia Farrow, and Danny Glover from “Be Kind Rewind”; the delightfully comic pairing of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell from “Horton Hears a Who”; Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, and the lovely Isla Fisher from “Definitely, Maybe”; the must-see pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li in “The Forbidden Kingdom”; the comically down-on-his-luck hero Simon Pegg plays in “Run Fatboy Run”; or the well-toned grit Jason Statham displays in “The Bank Job”.
Favorite Music: Can I tell you how completely forgettable the past four months have been for movie music? Let me clear it up for you, only one full soundtrack (John Powell’s powerful work for “Stop-Loss”) made a lasting impression. Sure, “Definitely, Maybe” had some good nostalgic ’90s tracks to offer, but as far as original music is concerned, only Michael Giacchino’s thrilling end credits tone poem “Roar!” from “Cloverfield” packed the creative and musical punch to match up with Powell’s score come Oscar time. Unfortunately, the rest of the film lacked music, so unless Oscar deems it unusually eligible for Best Original Song (unlikely), best pray that the summer and Fall has more to offer us musically.

What to Watch This Summer- 5 Flicks to Get Psyched About:
On paper, this summer should be one of the best in recent memory (think 1996 or 2005-like good). Last year had some good stuff, but a lot of films fell flat in the long run. This year risks more of the same, with the usual helping of superhero movies and sequels, but one gets the feeling there might be more to this summer than meets the eye. No, the Transformers from last year’s action epic by Michael Bay aren’t back yet, but other big-name filmmakers have some surprises up their sleeve, even if they have a brand name franchise supporting it. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (5/22)- OK fanboys, George Lucas is back as executive producer/storywriter, Steven Spielberg is back at the helm, and Harrison Ford is back with the fedora and whip as everyone’s favorite adventure hero- what more do you want? Plenty after years of fits and spurts, rumors and speculations, and 19 years separating this film from the last one in the classic series. That said, I’ve always been on board for a fourth film with Indy, so long as it’s an aging Indy and he’s not still trying to take on the Nazis like he did back in the day. So far so good- Indy’s 19 years older, and this time it’s the Russians in the mid-’50s, with Cate Blanchett leading a charge towards another one of Lucas’ supernatural “MacGuffins.” Indy’s not alone, though- as if the appearance of Karen Allen as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” leading lady Marion Ravenwood didn’t get fanboys excited about the possibilities, Spielberg and Lucas seal the deal by introducing Shia LaBeouf to the franchise and a ’50s youth who maybe Indy’s son. Another Indy is risky for all parties involved, probably no more than it is for Spielberg, whose headed to darker dramatic territory in recent years with films like “Schindler’s List,” “A.I.,” and “Munich.” But a glimpse of the trailers makes you think the two-time Oscar winner is primed to get back to his youthful energy and deliver the goods. I, for one, can’t wait.

2. “The Dark Knight” (7/18)- After the franchise collapsed under its’ own over-produced weight back in the ’90s, DC’s Caped Crusader reinvented himself under the watchful eye of “Memento” co-writer/director Christopher Nolan with 2005’s dark and exciting “Batman Begins,” which introduced us to Christian Bale’s brooding take on the Dark Knight. This time, Nolan risks including the villain played so memorably by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 landmark- The Joker- and having him played by “Brokeback” heartthrob Heath Ledger. But even before Ledger died tragically back in January from an overdose, the footage of his Joker looked to reinvent the character into something more elemental and dangerous, just the right baddie to take on Bale’s Batman. Returning to the cast are Oscar winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman as Bruce Wayne’s mentors and Gary Oldman as Batman’s police ally, joining the cast are Maggie Ghyllenhaal- in for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes- and Aaron Eckhart as Mayor Harvey Dent, but this is gonna be Ledger’s show, a tribute to the live-wire talent and his last completed performance, making it- undoubtedly- the movie event of the summer.

3. “Iron Man” (5/2; A+)- If you have yet to see Jon Favreau’s terrific adaptation of Marvel’s metalhead anti-hero, just released this weekend, check out the linked-to review on this site as proof that you need to head out to the theatre and check it out. Talk about getting the summer started with a bang.

4. “WALL-E” (6/27)- Until I feel they completely fall flat on their artistically-gifted asses, the geekboys at Pixar Animation Studio- America’s gold-standard animation house- will have a slot reserved for them on my must-see list. Their latest offering- from the Oscar-winning writer-director of “Finding Nemo,” Andrew Stanton- is nonetheless, their riskiest venture to date. WALL-E is is a garbage robot left on Earth to organize things when the planet becomes uninhabitable. But the universe has big things in store for the little droid that looks like “Short Circuit’s” Johnny 5’s relative. The animation looks typically stunning, but the story is a risk, since WALL-E doesn’t strike me as much of a talker. No matter; after Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille” won me over profoundly in multiple viewings, I wouldn’t put anything past these guys.

5. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (7/11)- A lot of people didn’t cotton to Mike Mingnola’s horned and tailed anti-hero (personified in all his sarcastic, lumbering glory by Ron Perlman) in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2004 film. That’s fair- he’s not your usual hero. But one look at Del Toro’s DVD-released Director’s Cut of the film (for my money, better than the theatrical version) should change people’s minds. The crew’s all back this time around for a second helping, and this time, Del Toro’s star shines higher. No longer just the cult director of genre entries like “Blade II” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” Del Toro cemented his status as one of the great visuals around with his dark fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which not only won three Oscars but also led to him being tapped to direct the much-anticipated adaptation of “The Hobbit.” So give the big guy a second chance; I’ll be sure to say “I told you so.”

Here are some more movies to look out for this summer:
Other movies with high hopes for creative and financial rewards this summer include (in order of promise): “The Incredible Hulk” (6/13), Marvel’s reboot of the big green’s movie chances, this time with Edward Norton as mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who nobody likes when he’s angry; “Get Smart” (6/20), a TV adaptation that might actually work, with inspired casting of Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99, and sealing the deal with Alan Arkin as the Chief; “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” (5/16), which looks to bring some edge to C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series onscreen after “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” felt like child’s play; “Tropic Thunder” (8/15), a Hollywood satire from director/co-star Ben Stiller with Stiller, Jack Black, and Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. as actors in over their heads filming a Vietnam movie- did I mention Downey Jr.’s character undergoes an operation to play a black man?; “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (8/22), a Spain-set romantic farce with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson from Woody Allen; “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” (7/25), the continuation of Chris Carter’s sci-fi classic franchise six years after its’ conclusion on TV (and 10 years since its’ first film) with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning as Mulder and Scully; “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (8/15), the CG-animated big screen launch of George Lucas’ next chapter in the “Star Wars” series- taking place between “Episodes II” and “III”- before it takes its’ home on TV’s Cartoon Network- yes, I thought we were done with it on the big screen too; and “Hancock” (7/2), with box-office heavyweight Will Smith playing a boozing superhero in need of a PR makeover (led by “Arrested Development’s” Jason Bateman) after some bungling- a hit or miss possibility from “The Kingdom’s” Peter Berg. Yes, I know I’m missing a lot, but if you want to know which ones I will be seeing this summer, start here. More to come along the way.

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