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2008 Fall/Winter Movies

In my list of movies I was looking forward to in the fall/winter of 2008 (which can be found here), there are only a handful of movies I was actually able to see. And due to my current circumstances (having a new baby and living far away from any decent movie theaters), I wasn't able to get to the movie theater very often. Therefore, know that many of the movies below I watched on DVD, and know that these are not all of the movies I wanted to see in the period between the end of the summer and the end of the year. (Box office numbers were taken directly from Box Office Mojo.)



PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
Release Date: August 6
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $23.2
To-date: $87.3
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Ten years ago, I probably would've thought that stoner comedy Pineapple Express was one of the funniest movies ever made. Nowadays, I don't smoke pot. Still, this Cheech & Chong-esque adventure is worth a few really good laughs, most of which result from James Franco's performance as the nicest drug dealer on the planet. There were a few annoying bits (for example, Danny McBride's half-Ben Stiller half-Will Ferrel routine), but on the whole, this movie is pretty darn funny.
FINAL SCORE:




TROPIC THUNDER
Release Date: August 13
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $25.8
To-date: $110.5
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In one word: overrated. The performances by Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, and Matthew McConaughey are truly great and worth the price of admission. Still, the movie itself is flat and a little too screwball to be deserving of much praise. There are a lot of things about the movie that are funny, and the set-up isn't a bad idea for a comedy (it worked pretty well for The Three Amigos). Unfortunately, there are other things that are just obnoxiously un-funny, most of which involve Ben Stiller being an idiot, and many of the jokes are recycled and repeated throughout the entire film. In truth, it felt more like a really good SNL skit than a full-length comedy.
FINAL SCORE:




STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS
Release Date: August 15
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $14.6
To-date: $35.2
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It seems that few people are capable of simply enjoying Star Wars anymore. This CG movie, originally intended to just be the first few episodes of the new kid's television series, should be something a lot of Star Wars fans could get behind; it has a ridiculous amount of action, a bunch of fan-favorite characters, and takes place while the galaxy is at war. Sure, the story's a bit thin, and the CG isn't up to Pixar standards, but the movie is designed to be one thing and one thing only: fun. In that regard, it succeeds with flying colors, and I don't care what anybody else has to say about it. I walked away from the movie theater with a smile on my face and surrounded by a bunch of over-excited kids swinging their fake lightsabers all over the place. If you don't think that's what Star Wars has always been about, you've lost touch with your childhood.
FINAL SCORE:




TRAITOR
Release Date: August 27
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $7.9
To-date: $23.5
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There was very little buzz surrounding this modern-day spy movie about terrorism and religious extremism. Still, it deserves more attention than it has gotten, because it is a staggeringly sober look at the modern world. It doesn't pull its punches and it succeeds in being a fairly realistic take on subject matter that is usually handled with more explosions, melodrama, and political agenda. It also doesn't hurt that the movie stars two acting heavy-weights in Guy Pearce and Don Cheadle, neither of which is in enough movies. Granted, the film is a bit slow (especially in the beginning), it does have the unsteady atmosphere of a first-time director, and the climax strains believability a little, but all in all, Traitor is an important and well-made movie that more people should be watching.
FINAL SCORE:




HAMLET 2
Release Date: August 27
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $1.7
To-date: $4.9
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Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland's Opus are two of my favorite movies. Still, it was refreshing to see the inspirational teacher movie satirized to an extreme degree in Hamlet 2, a deliciously funny movie starring my new favorite comedic actor, Steve Coogan. There is a lot going on in this film, especially near the end, and it is all pretty darn funny. Still, it does drag on at times, relying too heavily on one joke repeated over and over again, and the climactic performance of "Hamlet 2" isn't as outrageous as it could have been. The movie is on the verge of being comedy gold, but it never quite gets there. If this movie had been made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it would have been the funniest movie of 2008.
FINAL SCORE:




BURN AFTER READING
Release Date: September 12
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $19.1
To-date: $60.4
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Dumb people doing dumb things, interspersed with random and extreme acts of sudden violence, is usually pretty funny (see the aforementioned Pineapple Express). Additionally, the Coen brothers, who are responsible for such greats as The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, are also known for being amusing, when they're not putting out Oscar-winning dramas. Still, despite everything it has going for it, something about Burn After Reading just doesn't work. Maybe my expectations were too high (my mother-in-law and wife insisted that it was awesome), or maybe there was some crucial ingredient missing. I'm not sure what that ingredient is, but I can say that the plot is too disjointed and chaotic for an audience to dive right in and start laughing. Maybe the characters are simply too sad and pathetic to be good clowns, or maybe I just don't get it. I really don't know, but I'd recommend rewatching The Big Lebowski long before I'd recommend renting Burn After Reading.
FINAL SCORE:




CITY OF EMBER
Release Date: October 10
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $3.1
To-date: $7.9
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It's really too bad that City of Ember was such a huge flop. I blame timing more than anything else, because the film is incredibly imaginative and visual. It's a fun adventure with a few neat twists and turns, and there is nothing about it that I can point to as being a failure. It's an enjoyable, family-friendly ride, so I don't understand why more people haven't seen it. Seriously, it's the modern equivalent to The Neverending Story, Flight of the Navigator, or any number of great sci-fi/fantasy family films I grew up on.
FINAL SCORE:




QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Release Date: November 14
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $67.5
To-date: $168.4
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Casino Royale is one of the best Bond movies ever made. Quantum of Solace is not. The plot isn't bad for a Bond movie, the scene at the opera is wonderful, and Daniel Craig's nuanced performance is fantastic, but Quantum of Solace is still a huge disappointment. The biggest flaw is how the action scenes are handled, because the audience can't tell what the bleep is going on. Extreme close-ups are accompanied by shaky camera work, intentionally bad framing, and lightning-quick editing, to make for long scenes where you are left dizzy, confused, and reaching for the dramamine. Compare this to the awesome action scenes in Casino Royale, where you know exactly what is happening and it takes your breath away. Remember that parkour scene in the beginning? Yeah, I'd rather talk about how great Casino Royale was than spend another second on its sequel.
FINAL SCORE:




THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
Release Date: December 12
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $30.5
To-date: $78.8
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Before I begin, let me say that my opinion of the movie is not tainted by my stance on global warming. Believe it or not, I think the plot of the movie was its strongest and most well-thought out point, and as it is a work of fiction, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief. After all, I really like The Day After Tomorrow, and I thought that, as long as you accept the premise that mankind is destroying the planet, everything that follows, narratively speaking, makes sense. Now then, let me explain why The Day the Earth Stood Still is an awful movie you should never bother watching. For one thing, it's a remake of a classic. For another thing, the special effects are terrible, so terrible that, at times, it looks as though they never finished post-production. The performances are wooden and stilted (which in the case of Keanu Reeves, I thought it actually worked), and the casting is baffling. There are lame lapses of logic, insultingly bad cliches, really groan-worthy lines ("Whatever it is, it's not a game"), and a mean-spirited tone that offers real-world critiques but no solutions. But worst of all is Gort, who they turned into a ridiculously large robot made up of little metallic insects. Just dumb. Oh, so effing dumb. The Day the Earth Stood Still is easily the worst movie I saw in theaters in 2008.
FINAL SCORE:




THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
Release Date: December 19
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $10.1
To-date: $50.2
Screenshot

When I went to go see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the film apparently broke, and so my wife and I, unwilling to go back home, saw The Tale of Despereaux instead, not knowing a thing about it. The movie never really lets you get a foothold before it throws a lot of weirdness at you (I still don't understand the vegetable man), and it strangely refrains from introducing you to the title character until twenty minutes of set-up has passed. Even then, the plot moves along as though driven by distractions; you follow one character for a few minutes, and then randomly start following a completely new character. It all sort-of comes together in the end, but it is a very unsettling form of storytelling that doesn't lend itself to a typical children's movie, which is what The Tale of Despereaux feels like it should be. Still, despite this, I really want to like it. There is something charming about the film, and it is definitely unique, not to mention the unbelievable voice cast (Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Robbie Coltrane, Frank Langella, Christopher Lloyd, and Sigourney Weaver). Unfortunately, however, I can't whole-heartedly recommend it; the final product is just too disorganized and awkward.
FINAL SCORE:




VALKYRIE
Release Date: December 25
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $21.0
To-date: $82.0
Screenshot

Valkyrie is everything I was hoping it would be. If you want to see a well-made period piece with some incredible acting, a bunch of hand-wringing Nazis, actual historical accuracy, and a lot of explosions, Valkyrie is the movie for you. Naturally, Tom Cruise is the wild card, but he pulls off the role of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg very well, mostly because he doesn't even try to have a German accent. He is supported by some acting giants, too, in Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Terence Stamp. And of course, the film is directed by Bryan Singer, one of the best directors around today. Truthfully, this is a damn good movie, and I'm disappointed that it hasn't been nominated for more awards. I appreciate that it doesn't get tied up in personal melodrama (no shoe-horned love story, in other words), and it does its best to give you a historically accurate account of what really happened. If I have any complaints, I will admit that the movie feels slightly antiseptic from time-to-time, that maybe it's a little too straight-forward.
FINAL SCORE:



When it comes to movies, it seems that the fall/winter season wasn't as good as the summer. Most of the movies I saw were disappointments, from the overrated Tropic Thunder to the abyssmal The Day the Earth Stood Still. Still, there were a few gems, like Valkyrie and Hamlet 2. Also, I never got a chance to see the big Oscar movies, like Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon. But I'll save my opinion of the Academy Awards for another rant, and perhaps I'll get the chance to review some of these movies when I see them on DVD.

Until then, here are the ten movies I'm interested in for the first part of 2009, subject to radical changes of course. Note that my next mass review probably won't arrive until well into the summer, as I won't get to see these movies until they are no longer in theaters. Alas, being a new parent does have a few disadvantages.

January 23 - Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
January 30 Taken
February 6 Push
February 6 Coraline
February 13 - Friday the 13th
February 13 - The International
March 6 Watchmen (if for no other reason than to see what all the friggin fuss is about)
March 13 - The Last House on the Left
April 17 - State of Play
April 24 - The Soloist


-e. magill, 02/09/2009








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