Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer Movie Rundown 2011


Believe it or not, but we are quickly approaching Labor Day Weekend which means the end of the Summer Movie Season is upon us. With a mix of superhero blockbusters, epic sequels, emotional indies and gut-busting comedies, I think it's safe to say that this summer was a success. Of course, I stayed away from the obvious dreck like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and One Day, but there's always going to be a few sour apples in the bunch.

With the onslaught of So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway reviews, the movie reviews have fell a bit by the wayside this summer, so let's do a quick rundown of all the movies I saw between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year.

Beginners
Beginners was a quiet, touching film about the relationship of a son with his dying father who has just come out of the closet after a 40+ year marriage. It wasn't always the most interesting of stories—when a movie less than two hours feels long, there's a problem—but the remarkable performances by Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer and the clever touches of comedy kept my interest. Grade: B

A Better Life
That it's the only movie I took the time to review this summer should be evidence enough of A Better Life's greatness. The delicate beauty of Demi├ín Bichir's performance remains as one of the best of the year so far, and I hope it can stay in the minds of Academy voters during the course of the awards season. Grade: A

Captain America: The First Avenger
Truth be told, I was reluctant to see this movie because it looked like a big cheesy mess. And while the cheese was certainly in full effect, it was in the best way possible. Set in the 1940s, the movie utilized American wartime nostalgia while never losing sight of the fact that it was, at the end of the day, a comic book movie. I was delightfully surprised by Captain America and can safely say it's my favorite Avengers movie so far. And, fine, Chris Evans' body certainly didn't hurt. Grade: B+

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
I caught a screening of this movie in April at the Independent Film Festival Boston, but since it was officially released in July I figured it was worth mentioning. I don't consider myself a huge Coco fan, but I enjoyed watching him as he toured the country in between his departure from NBC and his arrival at TBS. The documentary itself lacked a bit of reflection and sense of purpose and direction, but most of the time I was too busy laughing to care. Grade: B

Crazy, Stupid, Love
Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore—'nuff said. The star-studded cast was enough to get me to see Crazy, Stupid, Love and not one of them disappointed. I was delighted to see a summer comedy that didn't dumb itself down. It had a wonderful mix of serious drama with comedy in a way that reminded me a lot of Little Miss Sunshine. Grade: A-

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie
Although I attended the Glee Live! tour in Boston, I couldn't resist my inner Gleek begging to see the movie version of the concert. And while it didn't compare to seeing it live, the movie did a great job of highlighting the reasons we all fell in love with Glee: the incredible music and dancing from a group of underdogs. The emotional backstories of featured fans was a nice touch—though focused on a bit too much—but the 3D and the actors acting as their characters the entire time was unnecessary overkill. Grade: C+

The Hangover II
It's hard to believe that The Hangover II just came out this summer. It feels like I saw it an eternity ago, perhaps because I'm trying to forget it happened. That's a little harsh, especially considering I was in hysterics every time Ed Helms opened his mouth, but I would've much preferred the writers figure out a different way to get the Wolfpack into crazy antics than just figure out a bigger way. Unlike the surprising original, I knew exactly how the movie was going to play out from the first frame. Bonus points for Thai transsexual strippers. Grade: C+

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
What a stunning conclusion to one of the most epic series of our generation. Though I read the books, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 did not not fail to surprise and shock me, and it did a fantastic job honoring the characters and the story we have come to adore. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson were at their finest as Harry and Hermione, and Ralph Fiennes continued to delight as the evil Lord Voldemort. Combined with its first half, Death Hallows is undeniably my favorite of all the Potter films. Grade: A

The Help
Taking me along an emotional roller coaster, The Help had me smiling, laughing, crying and cringing without missing a beat in between. I have yet to read the book, but the way Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer brought the world of 1960s Mississippi to life was astounding. The pre-Civil Rights Movement era of our country is such a shocking and embarrassing one, and The Help brings light to what many endured under the Jim Crow laws. Expect this film—and Davis—to be in the hunt for Oscar by the end of the year. Grade: A

Horrible Bosses
Never underestimate the charm factor of Jason Bateman, especially when he's alongside the equally charismatic comedians Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. The premise of the movie—three best friends decide the only way to improve their lives is to kill their bosses—is cringeworthy at best, but the situations they are put in along their way provide enough laughs to distract from it. Also worth mentioning were surprisingly great supporting performances from Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Anniston. And, yes, I'm leaving Collin Farrell off the praise list intentionally. Grade: B-

Kung Fu Panda 2
Ska-doosh! Much to my surprise, I was really impressed by the first Kung Fu Panda so I couldn't help but see the sequel in theaters. Unfortunately, like The Hangover II, it did not live up to the high expectations of its predecessor. To be sure, there were plenty of laughs, and I will always prefer Jack Black's voiceover performances to his usual on-screen mugging, but overall Kung Fu Panda 2 did not reach legendary heights. Grade: B-

Page One: Inside the New York Times
To be fair, I work in the media/journalism industry—and, coincidentally enough, for a NYT company—so Page One was a must-see for me. The filmmakers brilliantly captured the ever-changing landscape of journalism and the way we acquire our information in the digital age, and Times writers David Carr and Brian Stelter were perfect for personifying the changes the company is undergoing every day. Add in the fact that this documentary was filmed in the middle of the financial crisis and you have one helluva headline. Grade: B+

The Tree of Life
Never in my life have I experienced such alternating levels of love and hatred during a film. The Tree of Life was at times bold, beautiful, remarkably poignant and riveting. At other times, it was pointless, egotistical, long-winded and dull. The story of creation mashed with the story of an all-American family tried desperately to relay a message, and it took me days of reflection (and a lot of reading) to figure out what it all meant. Ultimately, I'm choosing to side with the positive aspects of the film—namely the stunning creation sequence and standout performances by Bradd Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken—versus the negative. If you've seen it, I highly suggest you read Kris Tapley's breakdown of the film to help you sort it all out. Grade: B+

X-Men: First Class
I had very low expectations going into X-Men: First Class due to the underwhelming disasters that were X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Still, they are amongst my favorite comic book heroes so I couldn't abandon them, and I'm glad I didn't. The franchise reboot was fresh and exciting, featuring a killer performance by Michael Fassbender and a fun 1960s setting. Unfortunately, it took a long time to get the action started and January Jones was downright terrible. Overall, though, a fun and fulfilling summer superhero movie. Grade: B

Unfortunatley, I have yet to see all of the movies on my summer movie list. But, hey, summer doesn't technically end until September 21st, right? There's still time. On my list: Another Earth, Sarah's Key, Cars 2, Super 8, Bad Teacher, Larry Crowne, Friends with Benefits, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Debt.

What movies did you see this summer? Which were your favorites and which were total duds? And if any of those movies still on my list are too terrible to warrant seeing, please let me know in the comments!

[Image Sources: Warner Bros, Fox Searchlight and Disney]
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