While the real summer began this Sunday, we’re at the end of the second
month of Movie Summer. Movie Summer keeps getting longer and longer –
some might say it began in April this year – but I think it still
starts in May, getting off right away with X-Men Origins: Wolverine on May 1.



So we’re halfway through the summer – July is a full month of summer
movie, and then there’s August, which is less packed. How has it been?
Last summer was strong – The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Happening, Tropic Thunder, Wall*E and Pineapple Express will be movies people watch for years to come – so can 2009 match up?



Here’s a chronological look back at the blockbusters of summer of 2009 to date, with a couple of peeks into the future. I’ll try to take a look back at the smaller, indie films next week.



May



X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Grade: F



Is this the worst movie of the year? Wolverine sure
seemed like a serious candidate in May. It has since gotten some
serious competition, but this uniquely shitty superhero movie will be
forever remembered for its amnesia bullets and parade of crappy mutant
cameos. People who bemoaned Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3 finally had something to really complain
about with this pile, which managed to take one of the most beloved X
characters, Deadpool and ruin him – how do you decide that a character
known as ‘The Merc With The Mouth’ should have his lips sewn shut? Tom
Rothman you dipshit.


Star Trek

Grade: B+



Hey, when you’re wrong you’re wrong. I was a vocal Star Trek skeptic
before release, and while I still think it’s about as thought-free a
movie as I have seen in recent years (seriously, defend the Ice Planet
of Coincidences. Even the characters have a hard time believing what’s
happening to them), I must admit that JJ Abrams and company crafted a
fun, light and character-driven adventure. The film is probably one of
the top three or four Trek movies, which isn’t a major accomplishment since most of those movies suck ass, but Star Trek manages
to get the franchise back on its feet without doing too much to sully
the old girl. I’m hoping that everybody really brings their A game for
the sequel, now that all the prebootquel business is out of the way.



Angels and Demons

Grade: D



Well, it was better than The DaVinci Code. Faint praise, indeed. And the movie seemed to make a faint impact; while DaVinci was a phenomenon, both before and during its release, Angels and Demons felt
really perfunctory. And it’s really transient in the brain; just a
month after seeing it most of the particulars are out of my memory, and
all I can recall is a really silly movie with some delightful location
photography. And the most laughable finale in modern cinema history,
with a dress-wearing Ewan McGregor parachuting away from a helicopter
being engulfed in a matter/anti-matter explosion. Maybe I’ll actually
come to like this silly movie over time.

Terminator Salvation
Grade: C+

This movie was the whipping boy of the summer. Was it anything like the previous Terminator films?
No, and that’s what I liked about it. Look, it’s not great – God knows
it’s just barely at the okay to watch stage – and its plot has been
mangled by poorly thought out script rewrites, and the ending is
totally out of nowhere and carries zero resonance… but it’s got some
interesting stuff going on, a couple of really fun performances from
Anton Yelchin and Moon Bloodgood, a couple of truly fantastic set
pieces, some really imaginative robot design and it finally moves the Terminator  franchise forward into the post-Apocalyptic world we’ve been waiting for. It’s certainly more watchable than the wretched Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian
Grade: N/A

I
didn’t see this movie! Fox doesn’t invite me to press screenings
anymore, and I wasn’t about to pay to watch this shit. I hope you
didn’t either. While it may be fine for the young ones who have no
ability to discern – loud noises and movement are all they need – it’s
sad for me to see lots of talented people slumming for a paycheck. The
first one was pretty rotten despite the fantastic pedigree on display.
When will people look at what Pixar does and realize that making a kids
movie doesn’t mean just coasting on cheap laughs? Speaking of which…

Up
Grade: A+

This is quite possibly the best film of the year. Touching, exciting, funny, thrilling – Up hits
just about every single base you want hit in a movie that’s not
pornographic or from Eli Roth. I was in love with the movie when I saw
the first 40 minutes in rough animatic form at December’s
Butt-Numb-A-Thon and I wanted to marry it and settle down after I saw
the completed thing. And the 3D presentation was delightfully subtle,
not throwing things in your face but creating depth and texture.
Pixar’s got a great track record, but Up is undoubtedly their crowning achievement.



Drag Me To Hell

Grade: A



The movie that breaks my heart. Not because it’s bad – it’s so good
I’ve seen it twice in theaters and could easily see it again (if I
could find it playing anywhere) – but because it was so roundly ignored
and misunderstood. Sam Raimi returned to the horror genre to show
everybody else how it’s done, and how it can even be done completely
effectively with a PG-13. In doing so he crafted a movie that’s
probably his best since Evil Dead II, and that is a
front to finish romp – a real spook-a-blast, just as he claimed it
would be. I love this movie so much, and it really reaffirmed my love
for the genre. But it also made me feel pretty bad about the fans, who
I had just finished patting on the back in an editorial before the film
was released. Up side to the movie not doing well: there won’t be a
sequel. Raimi seemed open to the idea at the junket, and Justin Long
(understandably) was chomping at the bit. I thought the ending was
perfect as is.


June

Land of the Lost

Grade: B



You’re gonna get this one in about two years. People didn’t know
what to make of this mix of Gen X nostalgia, weird ass stoner humor and
kiddie action. Hell, I’m not sure I know either, but I do know that
every time I think about this movie I grin a little bit. A subversive
little gem, Land of the Lost is probably the raunchiest PG-13 since we saw Kelly LeBrock’s bush in The Woman in Red.
And it’s got legitimately cool dinosaurs, completely awesome Sleestacks
and Jorma Taccone delivering an off-the-charts funny take on Chaka that
will forever color your view of that little Pakuni. Again, I think this
movie is two years away from being rediscovered as a cult classic.
It’ll start in college dorms and then you’ll end up seeing t-shirts
with Land of the Lost catch phrases like ‘Chaka you asshole!’



The Hangover

Grade: N/A



I know, I know. I haven’t seen The Hangover yet. It’s
just one of those movies that slipped by me in press screenings and I
haven’t had a chance to catch it in theaters. But at the rate that it’s
going this fucker will be playing until August. Everybody tells me it’s
great, and I’m almost tempted to just give it an A and pretend like
I’ve seen it so the other kids in school don’t make fun of me. But I’ll
be honest about it. I will say this: any movie that seems to be making
a star out of Zach Galifinakis is alright in my book. And any movie
that pushes the R rating envelope as hard as this one apparently does
also makes me happy.



The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Grade: C+



Hey, it’s not terrible. It’s always tough to really judge a movie
when you’re clouded by your low expectations being exceeded. I thought
for sure that Tony Scott’s remake of the wonderful little 1974 film,
which is more about character than action, would be a complete turd.
When it ended up being only like a stinky fart I had to re-evaluate
everything. And to be honest, what makes this movie stinky at all is
Scott’s meth binge directing style; Brian Helgeland’s script, while
skimpy on supporting characters, delivers good lines and smart tension.
In someone else’s hands this could have rivaled Star Trek as the sorta dumb but compelling summer movie.



Year One

Grade: F



What a disappointment. Harold Ramis, the head writers from The Office and
a bunch of today’s great comic actors and overexposed irritant Jack
Black making a Biblical comedy in the vein of Mel Brooks. But instead
of classic laughs you get mostly silence and a few chuckles. The last
time something bombed this hard it was a plane above Dresden… and if
you think that’s an old joke, wait until you see the aching zingers
this film trots out. While Year One isn’t an unwatchable
disaster, it is an utter mess, filled with scenes that simply end. They
don’t come to conclusions, come to jokes or lead into anything else –
they just finish. Like there’s a time limit on scenes and they just get
played off by Keyboard Cat. There are a couple of good moments in the
movie, but otherwise this movie isn’t fit to be in the same genre as Wholly Moses.



Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Grade: F



Probably one of the worst films of the year, if not the decade, Revenge of the Fallen feels
like an announcement that cinema is dead. This isn’t a movie, it’s a
series of FX reels slapped together without thought for character,
geography or continuity. The joke has always been that story doesn’t
matter in big blockbusters and Michael Bay seems hellbent to prove it,
delivering TWO AND A HALF HOURS of film based on a concept that’s never
really expanded beyond a sentence: The location of the Matrix of
Leadership is imprinted in Sam’s brain and the Decepticons want it.
That’s it. The entire throughline of the movie. And I’m not even being
reductive; other events occur along the way, but most of them feel
weirdly unconnected from the ‘narrative.’ It’s almost like a giant
robot battle movie that’s been padded out with found footage that’s
been redubbed to sort of fit in with what’s happening onscreen.
Irritating, stupid and not even a very good giant robot battle movie, Revenge of the Fallen may be one of the worst made studio blockbusters in history.

The Winners, So Far:

While the box office disagrees, I think Universal is winning this summer, hands down. Quality-wise, at least. It only gets better for them in the coming weeks, as Public Enemies and Bruno both open; one is good, the other is excellent.

Also of note must be Pixar. While it’s unfair to judge their single film against everybody else, it’s certainly their best movie to date.

The Summer’s Final Score:

C+

Weighed down by a couple of serious stinkers, Summer 2009 ends up being right in the middle so far, despite some truly transcendent films. It’s possible that The Hangover could have raised that C+ to a B- or a B, but I suspect that Night at the Museum would have canceled it out. And it’s possible that films like Inglorious Basterds or Harry Potter or District 9 will bring it over the top in the end. But there’s always GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra to contend with…

Again, I’m hoping to do a similar round-up of some of the best indie movies this summer, and with films like Brothers Bloom and Moon on that list I think we’ll see a higher grade.