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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Summer 2012’s Hits, Misses, And The Films In Between



Another summer at the movies has come to an end and I do enjoy providing some sort of wrap up to this busy time for the cinema.  I decided to do things a bit different this year though.  I have listed what I consider my top five films of the summer (alphabetically), along with the worst films of the summer, the biggest disappointments, the biggest surprises, and a few indies that deserve more attention.  I should note that while I did manage to see a large amount of films this summer, posting at least 2 reviews of new releases a week, there were a few that I missed (avoided) as well.  Also, I always encourage interaction in these posts.  What were everyone else’s favorites of the summer (possible putting Avengers and Dark Knight Rises aside)?  Or surprises and disappointments?  It is always fun to dig into these questions.

Best:

The Avengers
It is a good thing I am doing this alphabetically, as it makes it easy to get these first two out of the way.  Not that I am trying to take anything away from the ridiculous amount of fun that was seen by practically everyone this summer with the arrival of Marvel’s The Avengers.  What started as a dream of an idea, only to turn into a reality, became a great joy to see on the big screen, as Joss Whedon was able to apply the sensibilities of a true comic book geek that were only matched by his capabilities as a filmmaker.  Geeks and regular film patrons alike were able to bask in the glory of not only getting to see Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk in a film together, but seeing them in a film that was a ton of fun to watch.  The Avengers assembled wonderfully. (Full Review)


 
The Dark Knight Rises
The other inevitable selection for me on this list was of course Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy.  The fact that I would rank this third amongst Nolan’s Batman films does not mean a whole lot, given that I still saw the film four times in IMAX.  With its vast scope, large ensemble cast, and so many plot threads to take care of, Nolan was still able to bring a very satisfying sense of closure to his story of Bruce Wayne and his fight for Gotham City.  The fire certainly rose, as Batman and films fans from all over became somewhat divided on how good ‘Rises’ actually is, but we are talking about the goddamn Batman after all, and the film was a strong finish for our enduring hero. (Full Review)

Moonrise Kingdom
‘Delightful’ is an easy word to use when describing the latest from Wes Anderson.  Moonrise Kingdom succeeded in being a film that encapsulates almost everything about the director’s quirky style, but also one that I feel could be viewed an enjoyed on a broader scale, as opposed to many of his previous features.  I think I would mainly credit that to the lack of cynicism this time around.  While the film has its share of melancholy elements, Moonrise Kingdom succeeds in being a sweet tale about two kids who just want to be together.  The fantastic adult cast only helps things further, with people like Bruce Willis and Edward Norton nailing their respective roles.  Highly enjoyable. (Full Review)

ParaNorman
One of the top films of the summer I was incredibly excited for and one that completely delivered.  I was absolutely taken by ParaNorman and its wonderful, hand-crafted style.  With a fun and witty script that is able to balance big laughs with zombie thrills.  Yes, this is a film that managed to pay homage to both John Carpenter and zombie films, as well as fun, 80s kid’s adventure films, like The Goonies.  It is highly entertaining, while even managing to find poignant moments and nice messages to come away with.  Plus, it looks great throughout. (Full Review)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
This movie hit me at just the right time and I loved it.  The Steve Carrell/Kiera Knightley end-of-the-world-dramedy was exactly the movie I wanted it to be.  The concept of the world coming to an end and everyone being aware of this and left to their own devices is a novel one.  Putting together Carell and Knightley as a team, in what essentially became a fun on-the-road movie for its majority led to many inspired scenes tackling the film’s core idea in interesting ways.  The fact that the film did not back away from what was setup only made it that much more affecting.  I really appreciated that this film was able to be entertaining, but also one not afraid to go for it. (Full Review)

Worst:

Piranha 3DD
I will be surprised if I see a worse movie this year.  Every reason that people figured the preceeding film, Piranha 3D, would be terrible is present and in full force in its sequel.  Cheap looking, terribly assembled, and with no regard for anything one could mistake for entertainment, this movie makes the mistake of purposefully trying to be so bad it’s funny, but just winds up flat on its ass instead.  Piranha 3DD was released on VOD and in a smattering of theaters at the same time for a reason; it did not deserve a full release.  It’s a terrible film. (Full Review)

Snow White and the Huntsman
It may seem harsh, but the more I reflect on ‘Snow White’ the more I realize I have little to say about it that is positive.  It looked pretty, as did Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth continues to have a nice smile, but there are so many things about this film that are just bad or do not make any sense.  Good job spending tons of money on fancy production design and special effects, but how about a chase story that is not so uninteresting to watch, or a film that is not lazy in its use of logic involving magic?  At least I got to see K-Stew stare down a rejected troll monster from Guillermo Del Torro’s creature vault. (Full Review)

Total Recall
The most unnecessary movie of the year.  A remake that had potential, given the strength of the story and its themes, ended up cashing in on neither, instead opting to be an exciting action/sci-fi film.  Except that the film was not very exciting.  Total Recall felt incredibly generic, with a majority of the cast bringing nothing to the table and director Len Wiseman putting his mediocrity to the test for all to see (or not, given its lackluster box office performance).  Still, the worst crime is completely jettisoning the ambiguity aspect of the story, which is the one thing that makes it so interesting in the first place.  This nothing movie made hovercar chases boring. (Full Review)

 
 Disappointments:

The most controversial category, because I am sure plenty of people may have things to say about Prometheus or even The Dark Knight Rises.  There is only one film here that I was hugely let down by, but a couple did make me wince as well.

Battleship
Some may need to bear with me on this one, because plenty of people did not care to see this movie to begin with, but I was quite looking forward to Battleship.  It looked like it could be a silly, fun time at the movies, which brings the board game to the big screen and adds an alien invasion for whatever reason.  Peter Berg is a director I like, Taylor Kitsch is a likable screen presence, and Liam Neeson is in it.  I don’t know how this could have gone wrong, but the film ended up being incredibly loud and bland overall.  It wasn’t silly enough and it wasn’t fun enough.  The film just sat in the water, without a paddle to push itself anywhere interesting. (Full Review)

The Bourne Legacy
As a huge fan of the Bourne franchise, I was really excited for this new direction the series was taking.  Matt Damon may have been out, but Jeremy Renner seemed like a good fit, in a new role that would factor into the same world, which would be expanding greatly.  Add people like Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz to the cast, bring Tony Gilroy up from just screenwriting capacity to writer and director, and ‘Legacy’ looked like a solid idea.  Unfortunately, similar to Battleship and ‘Snow White’, the film just wasn’t very interesting.  Some of the action stuff was nice, but there was not much of it and there was little that felt intriguing about the spy/thriller aspect.  Add on an abrupt ending and this spy has gone back into the cold, hoping for a better sequel. (Full Review)

Step Up Revolution
Yes, I am being serious about this one.  For whatever reason, I have seen all of these Step Up films and found the previous entry in the series to be a legitimate, fun film to watch, given the dancing and solid direction in depicting said dances.  I don’t expect much in the way of story and characters from these types of films, but they have delivered enough on that sense in the past as well.  ‘Revolution’ felt like a chore to get through.  Regardless of the bland story and characters, the dances were effected by having way too much editing that did not even let me fully appreciate that aspect of the film.  Sure, there are some talented dancers and interesting dance routines present, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as Step Up 3D and was therefore a disappointment. (Full Review)

 Surprises:

I’m sure others may have some different ones for this category, but given my own personal tastes and how much I read regarding movie news, it does need to be a considerable surprise for me, when thinking about what qualifies.

Men In Black 3
When talking about surprises of the summer, Men In Black 3 easily stands out.  With the stink of the second film still apparent, the various production issues that were made pretty public, and concerns about its high budget, MIB3 could have easily been a disaster.  Instead, this film managed to be not only a lot of fun, but what I would now consider the best of the series.  It is a lot of fun, has a lot of creative visuals and creature effects, and packs a really strong finale, both in terms of the action and emotion (the biggest surprise of them all).  Even with the lame Pitbull song over the credits, as opposed to a new Fresh Prince jam (I’m still bitter about that), Men In Black 3 was a very solid effort. (Full Review)

Premium Rush
A ridiculously simple premise for a film that was pushed to be released at the end of the summer; Premium Rush was not exactly the film people were expecting much from and even as it slowly dies at the box office, I would like to think the people who did see it were able to have a fun time with it.  The bike messenger/chase movie was not about to set the world on fire, but because of the fun attitude, solid bike-related action sequences, and an inspired villainous performance from Michael Shannon, Premium Rush is a movie that turned out to be much more fun that it had any right to be.  Given the darkness that is coming between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s turns in The Dark Knight Rises and the upcoming Looper (super excited for that one), it is nice to see him in a fun film like this. (Full Review)


Ted
I tuned out of Family Guy a while ago, so the prospect of a live-action movie about Mark Walhberg hanging out with a teddy bear come-to-life did not sound too far from a Family Guy movie with a few tweaks.  To my surprise, Ted turned out to be a really funny comedy, which had some great laugh-out-loud moments, but also actual characters allowed to develop and an overall vibe that, while certainly raunchy and un-PC at times, managed to have some heart.  As opposed to Family Guy, which can be very mean-spirited, Ted did not set out to be a series of mean insults and instead worked well by having some hard-R jokes, as well as some satirical edge, and a good story about friendship and growing up at its core. (Full Review)

Indies Deserving Love:

To preface this section, there were plenty of independent and art house releases this summer, which were quite good.  Some received more attention than others and a few I still haven’t seen, but here are a few that I would encourage people to check out.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
An absorbing adventure-drama of sorts that is also one of the most unique films of the year from a visual standpoint.  Set in a fictional village known as “The Bathtub,” which is located in Louisiana and is flooded by a massive hurricane, this story of a young girl named Hushpuppy was fascinating to watch do to the unique filmmaking techniques that managed to merge the gritty with the fantastical.  The wonderful performances from the very young Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, who plays her father, only helps cement the film as a great little feature with plenty of ambition. (Full Review)

Bernie
I never wrote an official review of this film, but this true story about a mortician driven to murder is quite good and a great embodiment of Jack Black’s talents as an actor.  This Richard Linklater-directed feature has all the elements of a quirky, dark comedy, which is only made better by Black’s performance.  He completely embodies this character he is portraying and the film is fine with letting it play out without irony.  It should be noted that the film utilizes a slight documentary technique by having both actors and real members of the town where the events of this film took place frequently appear in interview portions.  The film is somewhat dry in its presentation overall, but the interesting story and Jack Black make it worth checking out.  

The Imposter
A really good documentary that has enough in the way of intrigue that I can easily recommend it to all and not just those with an affinity for docs.  The film that features the bizarre story of a man conning his way into the life of a family, posing as their son, only to make you go back and question the families motives as well.  The movie has its share of somewhat thrilling elements, balanced by a darkly comedic feel as well.  I also really enjoyed the way this film has been assembled overall, utilizing interview footage and adding in some filmed sequences for the sake of dramatization in an effective manner.  The Imposter was a solid doc that I really hope more people check out. (Full Review)

Killer Joe
Wild, lurid, graphic, and darkly hilarious – everything a family wants in a summer movie, right?  Well no, but I still had a lot of fun, in a dark and twisted way, when thinking about what I took away from Killer Joe.  The William Friedkin thriller, which I took as an explicit version of a Coen Brothers film, features some strong filmmaking and even stronger performances from the cast involved.  Led by Matthew McConaughey in one of his best performances, this story of a contract killer and his relationship with a dysfunctional, redneck family was an extreme blast for sure. (Full Review)

Safety Not Guaranteed
Another film truly deserving of some love.  This indie feature has all the elements of a hip, quirky comedy for the younger hip crowd, but it really is a joy for anyone.  Maybe a little slack in its pace, but the setup is strong – a team of young journalists (which includes a very winning Aubrey Plaza) investigate a man who claims to have a time machine.  The film gets by on the strength of its cast and the likable qualities of all involved.  Made on the small scale, the film manages to be very entertaining with moments that resonate nicely.  An enjoyable performer. (Full Review)



And So…

That is it for the movies of the summer.  I should point out that I did not mention plenty of movies that I am sure will come up, mainly because they just did not seem to fit anywhere for me.  I enjoyed Prometheus more than most, but would not call it one of the best.  The Amazing Spider-Man did not surprise or disappoint me, just felt average.  I knew Magic Mike would be soild, because I had faith in Steven Soderbergh as a director.  And I didn’t even bother with That’s My Boy.  I am looking forward to both the Fall Movie season, with plenty of new films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Rian Johnson’s Looper, and Ben Affleck’s Argo, among others; but I am also hoping to hear from everyone else regarding their picks of the summer.  What stuck out besides Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers?



Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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