31 May 2009

The May Review Round-up

I didn't keep up with this blog like I should have over the month of May (most of 2009, really), so here's a few mini-reviews to get us call caught up and ready to kick this blog into high gear over the summer.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (B-)
Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston
Written by David Benioff and Skip Woods
Directed by Gavin Hood
I went in expecting the worst only to discover that this prequel wasn't quite that bad. Most critics derided it as boring, but I was riveted throughout. And while the Oscar-winning South African director (Tsotsi) isn't quite the right pick to tell the origin story of one of the comics' most iconic characters, it's not a total mess (though there is a bit of heavy-handed commentary on the U.S.'s mistreatment of Africa--it's important, but not relevant here). Bonus points for the scene-stealing Ryan Reynolds as sarcastic superhero Deadpool.

Star Trek (A-)
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana
Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Now here's a prequel (ahem, relaunch) that really takes off. The Abrams-Orci-Kurtzman team (arguably the greatest creative trio since the ZAZ days) have once again taken a franchise desperately in need of some creativity (see also: Mission: Impossible III) and produced the nearly unthinkable: a summer blockbuster with a brain. The entire crew of the USS Enterprise are perfectly cast, and the special effects are actually, well, special. But beneath all that is a compelling story with a whole lot of heart, and that's why it's been the only summer movie with legs thus far (as well as the first 2009 release to surpass $200 million at the box office).

Terminator: Salvation (B)
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Written by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris
Directed by McG
In what's hopefully the first part of a new trilogy, the formerly terrible McG (the unfortunate Charlie's Angels movies) brings us into the future of the Terminator universe, where Skynet has blasted most of humanity to bits, and hunt down the survivors in order to craft more menacing machines. The action (including a frighteningly realistic helicopter crash) pops onscreen, and the acting (something not exactly notable in the first trilogy) elevates the so-so script. New talent discovery/heartthrob Sam Worthington truly impresses, stealing the movie right out from under Bale as the half machine-half human yearning to understand more about his condition. It's his moments onscreen (as well as the spiritual undertones) that separate this from this summer's other machines vs. humans flick. It actually has a brain and a heart.

Drag Me to Hell (A-)
Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Adriana Barraza
Written by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
Directed by Sam Raimi
The big problem with summer movies (and movies in general) lies in the lack of originality, and horror movies especially suffer from this absence. These days you get stuck with sickening "gorenography" (Hostel) or a dreadful remake of a much more effective original scarer (Friday the 13th). So how refreshing a little movie called Drag Me to Hell. After elevating the comic book movie to new heights with Spider-Man 2 (and then dumbing it right back down with the overblown part 3), Sam Raimi has returned to his low-budget scary-funny roots (which reminds me, if you haven't seen any of the Evil Dead trilogy, get on it), devilishly delivering an A-list B movie. The lovely Alison Lohman plays Christine, the fat farm girl turned petite loan officer who denies a phlegmy gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) a third mortgage extension. The shame the old lady experiences turns to unholy anger, and she places a curse on poor Christine, damning her to hell. While the events grow more ludicrous, terrifying, hilarious (and even a bit predictable), it becomes apparent that Raimi is in complete control of this movie, crafting every scene to elicit the audience response he wants. It all adds up to the most unique movie-going experience of the year.

Up (A)
Starring the voices of Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer
Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy
Screenplay by Peterson and Docter
Directed by Docter and Peterson
After last summer's magnificent WALL•E, it's obvious that Pixar is no longer content with being the best in the animation game, the want to make the best movies period. And they've staked they're claim with Up, their elating 10th feature. Throughout the film you'll laugh, cry, and stare in awe at the majestic tale of the curmudgeonly Carl and his overeager stowaway Russell. While Disney marketed the film as an adventure, it's more about relationships than anything else. And while it could have easily gotten maudlin, the astute writing team masterfully control the tone of the picture, adding just the right touches at every stop. It's still early, but I doubt any film this year will rise higher than Up.