This weekend is a major showdown at the box office between two highly anticipated sequels (at least for me who appreciates both drunken adult comedies and the adventures of fat, animated panda bears. Both Kung Fu Panda and The Hangover were surprise smash hits, each earning over $200 million domestically, which means both have incredible potential to fail miserably in their second efforts. So here’s the breakdown from what I saw.
Kung Fu Panda 2
I first must disclose that I am a huge fan of Jack Black (I even looked favorably on Gulliver’s Travels) so that needs to be taken into account with any assessment I offer of a Jack Black film. I loved the first Kung Fu Panda, but because KFP is not a Pixar film, but rather a Dreamworks film, I was wary of their ability to maintain the first film’s level of quality (after all they took Shrek from a classic first installment into a piece of total sh*t by the third film, thus ensuring that I would never see the 4th and final Shrek).
I got to the theater Thursday night and it was only about 40% full, almost entirely made up of Asians, with more Asians following me in. I did not realize Kung Fu Panda was such a niche film, but I felt like I was sitting at the Asian table in a high school cafeteria.
The movie was solid, but unlike the first film this one was a majority action-oriented. The first film was so good because, although it had a few well done action sequences, the bulk of the film was the joy of seeing Jack Black’s wit and energy translated into a giant animated panda. The second film sort of reverses the ratio as Po, the main character, searches for answers to his birth origins, while trying to stop an evil peacock from taking over China (you aren’t sold yet?). In animation, because anything is possible as long as you can draw/design it, it is less impressive to me to make an action packed animated movie, than to make a truly witty and intelligent animated movie.
The movie is still solid, but it is not nearly the same level as the first, despite having Jean Claude Van Damme voice one of the characters. And given the lessons of the film, if you are a Dad with young kids, it will make a decent early father’s day trip, especially if they are not biologically yours.
The Hangover Part 2
This movie had me laughing steadily throughout, but with about 20 minutes to go it dawned on me that the reviews I had read were spot on – the movie is identical to the first one. So much so, that it feels as if the screenwriters just cut and pasted the original screenplay and then changed names, locations and drugs. It is a slightly more outrageous film than the first and on its own very funny. However, it feels slightly cheap when you realize how easy the movie must have been to write (Thailand and missing brother in law replace Vegas and missing groom as the only two substantive differences). But judging by the previews for all the frat bro films coming out this Summer, it appears that The Hangover is spurring on other filmmakers to create their own original take on Hangover-style comedies, even if The Hangover people are being lazy about it.
I thought this year was a really good year for movies, despite the garbage that was listed on this site yesterday. Before getting to the top 10 movies of 2009 (and the decade) here are some special (mostly positive) awards for movies in 2009.
Most Surprisingly Good Movies (in no particular order)
1)This Is it– Thoroughly enjoyed the concert (rehearsal) documentary about Michael Jackson. Great music and a worthy tribute to the fallen icon and aficionado of play dates with tweens.
2) Taken– The Liam Neeson film is a perfect example of how a movie that has no ambition, only one star and a simple plot can still deliver if it just tries to do the simple things well. And the scene where he shoots his friend’s wife to show that he means business was one of the best this year.
3) Crank 2– Either the most ingenious quasi-spoof of action movies ever or just a ridiculously entertaining goof. Either way I had no idea that I would enjoy this movie as much as I did. It now validates Jason Statham’s work visa to me, though his films have only grossed slightly more than my YouTube videos.
4) Drag Me To Hell – This Movie almost made the top 10. Funny, creepy, gross, and all on purpose. A good, but not great movie. However, there were very few movies I enjoyed more than this one.
The Any Given Sunday Award For Most Disappointing Movie Based On Awesome Trailer
Watchmen. Blue genitals and a waste of time is all I remember from this movie. The trailer, however, was perfection.
The Two Towers Award For Great Trailer That Delivered Great Movie
Nothing. But The Men Who Stare At Goats was my favorite trailer of the year and the movie was solid, but still did not meet expectations.
2009 Honorable Mention (A/K/A The Unpaid Guestspot of Movie Awards)
Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Two Lovers, Food Inc., State of Play
2009 Top Ten Movies
10) (tie) Sugar, The Messenger
Sugar is the story of a Dominican immigrant seeking to become a baseball star. Came out early this year to rave reviews, but has long been forgotten. Anyone who is a baseball fan or interested in the immigrant experience should see this. Or just hang out by Yankee Stadium.
The Messenger is the best war movie this year. It is about two soldiers who report to next of kin of the loss of loved ones. The things people do for work in this economy. Really strong and simple movie.
9)Capitalism: A Love Story.
This movie is a reminder that America used to be a place where a middle class person could thrive (middle class meaning one blue collar job with could salary and benefits, not $5 million dollars or less like John McCain seemed to think). Now thanks to a selfish, never too rich mindset the wealth is more concentrated at the top than ever before. Sadly for working Americans and Michael Moore, America is one big casino and the house always wins.
8) 500 Days of Summer
The fact that Music and Lyrics was my favorite romantic comedy before this movie came out (yes I have seen Love Actually, but have not seen When Harry Met Sally yet – gasp!) may diminish my credibility in this genre, but I am probably not the only person telling you how great this movie is. Funny, heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable. And the lesson of the film couldn’t be more optimistic: if you find yourself in a relationship with a cu-t, don’t worry because eventually you may go out with Derek Jeter’s girlfriend.
The selection most likely to anger people. First, yes I thought it was funnier than Borat. Second, the best opening of any film since The Dark Knight. As the techno music began blaring and the words “black guys” and “taint” flashed on screen I could not stop laughing. For many the film was too crude. Other complaints I heard was that Borat had a point in showing some ignorance in funny ways, whereas this just went for cheap laughs. Probably true. Perhaps it was easier to embrace a character who was exposing racism and sexism and, most flagrantly, anti-Semitism in Borat and feel good about laughing than in Bruno, where you are just laughing at the absurdity of a gay character’s libido on steroids. My advice to the self-righteous – take the champagne bottle out of your ass and watch Bruno pour some champagne out of his boyfriend’s.
6) Precious Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Fat, pregnant by her father (again – fool me once shame on him, fool you twice… shame on him again in this rare exception to that saying), illiterate and Mariah Carey as your social worker. And I thought being a comedian was tough. This movie is a powerhouse and Mo’nique’s performance is one of my three favorite this year (Christopher Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Paul Rudd in I Love You Man being the other two). And I would like this movie to win Best Adapted Screenplay so that Sapphire, who probably negotiated the self-indulgent title has to hear the dumbest phrase ever uttered at an awards show: The winner is Precious Based on The Novel Push By Sapphire Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.
The opening to this movie may be the most touching sequence in movies this year. It is just another great movie from Pixar. Normally stories of old men hanging out with young fat kids is awkward (think Herbert the Pervert and Chris Griffin from Family Guy as one such pairing), but this movie is nothing of the sort. Plus it has a talking golden retriever, which will always get support from me.
4) Inglorious Basterds
Christopher Waltz was amazing, but surprising to me was how good Brad Pitt was. A funny, intense, enjoyable movie about Nazis and the Jews that hunted them. It was also a welcome relief from the usual parade of mediocre, maudlin films about the Holocaust that are raised to critical praise because of the subject matter. After Schindler’s List I think Hollywood could have just waited for this one . After all slavery has had what, Roots and Amistad? I think 6 Holocaust movies come out last year alone. But I digress. Basterds is awesome (and my favorite Tarantino film – that is what I think, but I am also writing it because I want to anger those who worship at the altar of Pulp Fiction).
3) Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
Even more than Bruno, this choice is likely to bring on some WTFs. I did not even want to see this movie, but then reviews kept talking about how much fun it was. The biggest shock of the year for me was this movie. It was hysterical from start to finish. It was like the humor of Family Guy, but not as crude or easy. I flirted with putting this #1, but the last two choices, upon reflection, were the two best movies of the year.
2) Up In The Air
I am tired of the “this is the movie that defines our times” type quotes, but besides that this is a great movie. George Clooney’s best (unlike his win for Syriana, no complaints if he gets Best Actor) and a movie that is so good that I cannot exactly explain why it is so good. Perhaps it is because it is a movie that defines our times… oops.
1) District 9
The most original movie I have seen in a long time. The biggest crime of the Oscars could be if Avatar gets a best picture nomination and this does not (if they only feel like honoring once sci-fi-ish film). Since it is #1 I don’t think it needs any explaining, other than the fact that it comes out on DVD today so you should rent it if you have not seen it.
TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE DECADE
10) School Of Rock – Along with The Wrestler, no movie has matched an actor better this decade than Jack Black and SOR.
9) The Departed – I hate the Boston accent, but that was the only thing I hated about this movie.
8) Eastern Promises– Russian mob in London and the best fight scene in any movie ever. Sorry Bourne Ultimatum. You were second.
7) Million Dollar Baby – The only movie that made me cry this decade (joining E.T., Glory and Dead Poets’ Society on the career list). Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank all at their best.
6) Traffic – A decade later the violence in Mexico is worse and the liberal pot smokers who abhor the violence of war or the treatment of chickens that are not free-range, but still help fund the cartels that propagate massive bloodshed in and around the border. This movie would go under the category of wake up calls unheeded. Great movie.
5) Finding Nemo– My favorite movie from the most consistently great movie studio.
4)4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – I am not a big foreign film guy, but this was so intense and so good I regretted not speaking (Romanian if my recollection is correct) the language because even checking the subtitles was too much attention away from the acting.
3) The Dark Knight – I have never seen a movie in the theaters more than this one. And it’s not even close. Die Hard, The Matrix and The Dark Knight are the three films that changed and elevated action movies higher than any others in the last 20 years. To me, it was even more impressive to take action, the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger did, and turn it into art.
2) The Lord Of The Rings – Because of The Godfather III’s mediocrity this is the greatest trilogy of all time. Shut up Star Wars people. (and if I had to pick just one – The Two Towers).
1) United 93 – I have only seen two perfect movies in my lifetime. One was Amadeus, my favorite movie of all time. The other was United 93. I am not saying it is my favorite movie of all time; it would be hard to make that claim about a film focused on 9/11. But the realism, the intensity, the respectful rendering of an incredibly sensitive subject and the overall product was second to none this decade for me. In a sad way I guess it is fitting that the decade’s defining event yielded the decade’s best movie. Besides, a movie about our collective self-indulgence and self absorption called Twitter v. 3.05 would not be nearly as riveting.
People often ask to start with the bad news when given a good news/bads news option and this blog will be no different. Besides, the worst movies will provide more humor than the best movies of the year. For me it as also easier to come up with the list of 10 worst movies than the ten best. Here they are,
10) Year One. Jack Black, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd and Harold Ramis, to name a few, decided to take off from being successful and funny and make this terrible movie, which, like many liberal comics in New York, showed that making fun of the Bible does not necessarily make you as funny as George Carlin.
9) Friday The 13th. It came out early this year, but was strong enough it in its shi*tiness to stick around. This was actually the first horror film I have ever seen where the acting was actually better than the film. That is like watching a WNBA game and saying, “Man these girls are awesome, if only they had better coaching to take advantage of their skills and athleticism.”
8) Funny People. This film is here, not so much because it was a terrible movie (it was not), but because I have not been misled by a marketing campaign for a movie this much since I thought I was going to a sports movie called Jerry Maguire. Late night show hosts and bloggers seemed to all be in on the scam – this was a movie that would show what being a comic is really like. Instead it showed the audience what the lives of chubby, unfunny, overpaid Jewish guys is like. It could have probably been called Goldman Nut Sachs (as a tribute to the genital humor that also abounds in this movie).
7) Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.Needless to say this was the #1 movie of 2009 in terms of financial success. Racist robots were apparently the cure for the summertime blues of Obama fatigue. This was also the worst movie experience of the year for me since I sat next to a guy who talked so much during the movie that I think he was conjured up in a stereotype machine invented by the Wayans Brothers a la Weird Science’s creation of Kelly LeBrock.
6) 2012. The biggest disaster film of the year not starring Tiger Woods (I am almost done making Tiger jokes). The effects were weak and at 2 1/2 hours long, the film was about 2 hours and 27 minutes too long.
5) The Proposal. In a year where 500 Days of Summer showed how good a romantic comedy could be, this film showed how bad they could still be (and people ate it up). Puritan sexual mores and too much religious fervor are some of the things that people point to to show how unenlightened America is compared to some of its less powerful, but equally Disney and McDonald’s craving European allies. I think looking at the collective grosses of Sandra Bullock’s movies make the case much more strongly. (I have not seen The Blind Side yet, but am looking to get a free ticket, which will allow me not to financially support a great white hope story that looks terrible).
4) X Men Origins: Wolverine. My hopes ran high a year ago when I saw The Dark Knight for the 432nd time. Perhaps people would demand higher quality action films. And the trailers for this film looked promising. What was delivered was the worst thing from Australia since Yahoo Serious.
Let’s take a breath here and recognize that the next three films are even dangerous to say out loud they are so bad.
3) Antichrist. Here is the review I posted on Facebook after seeing this film:
I wanted to see this movie based on the preview, despite mostly bad reviews. Upon seeing the movie, here is who should see this movie:
1) Want to see a montage in which Willem Defoe sexually penetrates (shown) an actress while his character’s son (approx 4 yrs old) falls out a window to his death.
2) Want to see a fox eat its own wounds (take that Fantastic Mr Fox)
3) Want to see Willem Defoe receive a handjob and then ejaculate blood.
4) Want to see a woman self-circumcise herself.
If you have answered yes to more than one of these questions (I appreciate morbid curiosity in small doses) then please de-friend me. 🙂
2) Paul Blart: Mall Cop. One of the surprise hits of the year and that is what made me watch it. However whenever something that I am initially skeptical about generates popular success (Mamma Mia! the musical, The Fast and The Furious to name two) my initial skepticism is always correct. This may be the greatest example of this in pop culture history. It seemed to have the quality of a student film, but with far less quality work on the part of the actors. A movie of truly devastating crappiness. To paraphrase the Dude from The Big Lebowski: “Well, you finally did it America, you’ve killed fu-king comedy.”
drum roll please
1) Amelia. Perhaps Amelia Earhart knew this movie was coming, because I would disappear too if this bag of sh*t were attached to my name. Hilary Swank and Richard Gere both producing the worst film of their careers (yes I am counting The Next Karate Kid). And here is the worst thing I can say about a movie. This was not only worse than Paul Blart, but was worse than last year’s worst film – Twilight. ‘Nuff said.