Sincere Question: During this, Pixarâ€™s Golden Age of Animation, is it somehow ungrateful to wish for an occasional decent deviation from Masterpiece after Masterpiece, in the way that Bugs Bunny and Co. served as a hellzapoppinâ€™ corrective to Disneyâ€™s dignified heft? (Despite the repeated efforts of Dreamworks, the mere presence of pop culture references and â€™70s songs on the soundtrack just doesnâ€™t scratch the itch, somehow.) Call me Looney, but the more resonant and spectacular Pixarâ€™s output becomes, the greater the risk of reducing the surface pleasures of watching drawings (or renderings or whatever) do things that real people canâ€™t.
Despicable Me would likely be enjoyable on any terms, but in the wake of the heart-wrenching Toy Story 3, its emphasis on Rube Goldbergian pratfalls and spittakes seems almost heroic. Much like last yearâ€™s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it recognizes the virtues of letting a cartoon be, well, cartoony, no matter how newfangled the technology.
Is there an actor alive who digs himself more than Robert Downey Jr.? (Ok, possibly Richard Gere, but thatâ€™s in more of a creepy, reptilian vein.) At a time when more and more actors are going Methody opaque, Downeyâ€™s lightspeed thought processes are gloriously external, finding hidden ironies in the material while simultaneously delivering his own commentary track. Too much of a good thing can sometimes be way too much of a good thingâ€”the actorâ€™s best performances tend to come when heâ€™s bouncing off of a tight-reined director, ala David Fincher in Zodiacâ€”but when heâ€™s cooking, itâ€™s hard to look away.
If you like watching Downey half as much as he evidently likes himself, Iron Man 2 might make for a reasonably diverting couple of hours. That doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s not a major mess, though. Flabby, disjointed, and eschewing conflict for extended scenes of improv clowning, itâ€™s the Superheroic equivalent of a Rat Pack film.
Picking up more or less directly where the first installment left off, the story finds billonaire playboy Tony Stark dealing with his decision to go public with his secret identity, while fending off threats both internal (radiation from the device that powers him up) and external, in the form of Sam Rockwellâ€™s competing arms dealer and Mickey Rourkeâ€™s Russian inventor with a grudge. Stuff goes boom, but in nowhere near the quantities youâ€™d expect. This may be the only superhero movie in existence where more time is spent lounging around the heroâ€™s swinginâ€™ pad instead of vrooming through the sky.
Squeezing in just before the Oscar nominations are announced, here are a few final lists and remarks from Parallax View contributors and friends, along with those published by Seattle top critics, as a snapshot of the way we see 2009.
The upcoming statement isnâ€™t exactly going to set the internet on fire, but here goes: Iâ€™ve got a bit of a beef with Harlan Ellison, namely for his oft-crowed, dependably nerd-enraging assertion that the OG Star Trek series was nothing more than a â€œcop show in space.â€ Although said statement does serve to nicely deflate the pomposity that has grown around the franchiseâ€™s later incarnations, it also dismisses the very factor that made the concept so memorable for a casual fan such as myself; namely that earnest essence of parable-rich weirdness which went far beyond the cardboard sets and aliens with Russian accents. Computers being talked to death, OK Corrals in space, evil designated by goatees: these are the things that linger past the phasers and prime directives.
Star Trek, director J.J. Abramsâ€™ much-ballyhooed attempt at giving the ravaged franchise a reboot, doesnâ€™t exactly prove Harlan right, but it doesnâ€™t really go out of its way to find new frontiers, either. Although undeniably a lot of fun — along with his standard snappy patter, TV vet Abramsâ€™ command of both pacing and big screen environs has grown visibly since Mission: Impossible 3 — the final impression is of a slightly self-conscious undertaking kept so busy appeasing both nervous hardcores (Kirk still likes green chicks!) and newbies alike (but he also misses his father, in easily recognizable blockbuster fashion!) that it never quite manages to blaze its own trail.
The reading of the Oscar nominations marks the unofficial (and long overdue) end to the season of Top Ten lists and year-in-review pieces and various awards bestowed by every group who wants to add their stamp to the passports of Oscar hopefuls. So as a postscript, I gather a few lists and remarks from Parallax View contributors and friends, along with those published by Seattle top critics, as a snapshot of the way see 2008.
1. A Christmas Tale (France) (dir: Arnaud Desplechin)
2. The Edge Of Heaven (Germany) (dir: Fatih Akin)
3. WALL•E (dir: Andrew Stanton)
4. Let The Right One In (Sweden) (dir: Tomas Alfredson)
5. Wendy And Lucy (dir: Kelly Reichardt)
6. The Fall (dir: Tarsem Singh)
7. The Dark Knight (dir: Christopher Nolan)
8. The Class (France) (dir: Laurent Cantet)
9. The Secret Of The Grain (France) dir: Abdellatif Kechiche
10. My Blueberry Nights (dir: Wong Kar Wai)
I also saw six films at various film festivals that could easily have made the list, were they eligible under most Top Ten guidelines (i.e.: a theatrical release). Some of them have been set for a 2009 release, a couple still await distribution.
Four Nights With Anna (Poland/France) dir: Jerzy Skowlimowski The Hurt Locker dir: Kathryn Bigelow L’heure d’ete (Summer Hours) (France) dir/scr: Olivier Assayas Of Time And The City dir/scr: Terence Davies Still Walking (Japan) dir/scr: Hirozaku Kore-Eda Ain’t Scared (France) dir/scr: Audrey Estrougo
(in lieu of a list, Mr. Cumbow put together his Observations, Reflections, and Ruminations from 2008 for Parallax View here)
1. In Bruges (comedy, gangster; on DVD)
2. The Edge of Heaven (multi-narrative drama; on DVD)
3. A Christmas Tale (comedy, family)
4. Pineapple Express (comedy, stoner/bromantic, crime, action, Ninja; on DVD/Blu-ray)
5. Wendy and Lucy (heartbreaker)
6. Let the Right One In (comedy, tweener love story, horror)
7. Still Life (comedy, romantic/industrial; on DVD)
8. Chop Shop (docudrama; on DVD)
9. Shotgun Stories (Southern Gothic; on DVD)
10. The Fall (comedy, Western/Eastern fantasy adventure; on DVD/Blu-ray)
11. Che (instructional documentary, with re-enactments)
(more or less in order)
The Edge of Heaven Man on Wire WALL•E Waltz With Bashir The Pool Milk Taxi to the Dark Side Boy A Frozen River
and the most interesting SIFF film I saw that hasn’t been released: Tony Barbieri’s Em
1. The Edge of Heaven
2. The Duchess of Langeais
3. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
4. The Dark Knight
5. Wendy and Lucy
6. Married Life
8. In Bruges
10. Let the Right One In
Richard T. Jameson
2008 was one weird film year for a variety of reasons, and trying to throw a Ten Best list around it has seemed a fool’s-errand. This fool’s latest version of one, for the editor of Germany’s brave Steadycam magazine to post online, should be the last I hazard … though it, like its predecessors, ignores some half-dozen first-rate films seen at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and unreleased as yet Stateside.
1) The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
2) A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
3) The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche)
4) I’ve Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel)
5) Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
6) Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
7) In Bruges (Martin McDonagh) … hands-down favorite!
8 ) WALL•E (Andrew Stanton)
9) A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol)
10) Tell No One (Guillaume Canet)
1.Â The Edge of Heaven
2.Â In Bruges
3.Â A Christmas Tale
4.Â Iâ€™ve Loved You So Long
5.Â Wendy and Lucy
6.Â Let the Right One In
8.Â The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9.Â Vicky Christina Barcelona
10. Man on Wire
1. The Dark Knight
2. The Edge of Heaven
3. Let the Right One In
4. Burn After Reading
5. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
8. Encounters at the End of the World
9. Fear(s) of the Dark
1. The Edge of Heaven
2. Synecdoche, N.Y.
3. Boy A
4. I’ve Loved You So Long
5. Man on Wire
6. Funny Games
9. Rachel Getting Married
10. (tie) Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight.