I don't go to the theater that often anymore. I'd just as soon wait for the film to come out on DVD or blu-ray and watch it on my spiffy system at home.
About this time of year, I usually view films that have caught my attention at the time of their general release during the course of the year. So, recently I've been doing far more film watching than reading. The 2009 crop of interesting films (so far) are Up, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and Star Trek.
Up is what you expect from Pixar. Great animation, funny sequences, touching character interaction, and - increasingly with Pixar - a sappy storyline. I own most of the Pixar films but I will not be adding Up to my collection. It was OK, a good family film, but that's about it. On a scale of 10 I'd give it a 7.
District 9 is an interesting, semi-documentary science-fiction film. It does not rely heavily on special effects nor on action sequences, though both are present in the film and both are well-done. Instead, it is a film with an interesting, mostly distinctive, story which relies not so much on the characters portrayed as on the larger story of an alien ship's mishap, the resulting segregation of the aliens from humanity, and their attempt to return to wherever they came from. The film pushed some genre boundaries without the usual trimmings and contained a well-crafted plot. It delivers a direct, meaningful, metaphorical message about the nature of prejudice without getting too preachy. I gave it an 8.
Inglourious Basterds is another Quentin Tarantino film, which means it is a film of a unique, specific style. Tarantino has a great way with characters, off-beat plots, intersecting storylines, exceptionally good music, and some of the best dialog you'll ever see in a film. The thing about Inglourious Basterds is that I just never bought into it. I was hoping for more and didn't feel it. I keep waiting for Tarrentino to achieve something on the order of Pulp Fiction again (one of my favorite films). This has a lot of the elements and is certainly zany enough but it just ain't it. I gave it a 7.
Star Trek, the remake ad nauseum, or so I thought. The idea of "rejuvenating the franchise" struck me as "whoring the concept." I remember watching the original TV series as a kid. I followed most of the movies, never really got in to the numerous off-shoot television series, so I am a bit of a Trekkie (not to be confused, I recently learned, with a "Trekker" - someone really into Star Trek, who knows all the dates and stats and places and characters by heart.) Anyway, I had long-since given up on this idea.
I should have known that J.J. Abrams (of Alias, Lost, and Fringe fame) would appreciate much of the original spirit of the television series and attempt to instill that spirit within the context of an "upgrade" in the effects and possibilities contained in the original series. He nailed that in spades and delivered a superb film that truly does (with the help of an "old friend") legitimately reboot everything and give us the basis for a new beginning directly from the 1960's roots of the franchise.
The film is masterfully done in terms of effects, action, character interaction, plot, music, props, costumes, etc. Everything I liked as a kid about the TV series is infused with new energy while avoiding a appearance of contrivance or the feeling of ripping anything off. The film manages something very difficult, to remain faithful to the "canon" of Star Trek while establishing something new and entertaining for both fans and non-fans alike.
That alone is a worthy achievement for an idea that has a huge fan based and more than 40 years of staying power. Not many television or movie franchises can make that claim. But, what really makes this film work so well is the outstanding cast the producers assembled for it. Zachary Quinto is a marvelous Spock. Chris Pine sold me on Kirk. Zoe Saldana is, if anything, a better Uhura - one of the "upgrades" that definitely sets well with me. The actors portraying McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu all get high marks. I believe in this cast. Their human chemistry together is as good as the originals and leaves opportunities for further exploration beyond the original series.
Abrams is to be congratulated for this. I gave the new Star Trek a solid 9 and I'll be visiting the theater when the next one comes out. How wonderful to experience such a rebirth of something so integral to my youth into something that is comfortably recognizable yet distinctively original.
I will see Avatar soon and report back with a post on that one. I suspect that it is a visual experience which demands a trip to the theater. I am also looking forward to seeing George Clooney's performance in Up in the Air as well as Daniel Day-Lewis (my favorite living actor) in Nine. So, there's still some 2009 movie magic (maybe) to be enjoyed with the coming of the new year.