The 2008 Mid-Year Review

We know that the end of June is technically the midpoint of the calendar year, six months down with six to go, but that doesn’t mean that it is exactly the mid-point of the year in film. Around here, we like to believe that the end of July is, in fact, the middle of the year in film. It is the point when the summer movie season begins to slow down, Comic-Con has left us salivating for next year already, and we begin seeing tons of marketing for the Oscar-worthy (or otherwise unworthy) films that will take over the screens of our local cineplexes in the fall and into the winter.

So with Comic-Con over and done, we want to take a moment to pause and look back, at the year so far. We do this in a format that we like to call “Ten Things We Liked, 5 Things We Didn’t.”

Ten Things We Liked

10. Big Summer Blockbusters, No Big Summer Bombs
Sure, not every big summer blockbuster has been universally loved by all the fanboys and fangirls out there, but overall Hollywood seems to be on a streak of making tent-poles that are at the very least, good. Even the polarized opinions around Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull couldn’t keep it from scoring a 7.0/10 on IMDB and making over $300 million at the box office. Fans may have thought that it “nuked the fridge,” but ultimately it seemed to please the masses. As well, other films that seemed to be in trouble, such as The Incredible Hulk, turned out to be pleasant surprises.

9. ‘Chick Flicks’ For Everyone
Since the vast majority of our readers are of the male gender, we try to do our best to look out for them by reviewing romantic comedies and anything else that falls under the ‘chick flick’ banner by placing it in the context of “is it enjoyable for dudes?” And in 2008, the overwhelming response has been yes. Sex and the City turned out to be glamorous for the ladies and tolerable for the gents; Ryan Reynolds kept us entertained through Definitely, Maybe; and even Ashton Kutcher stayed out of the way long enough to make What Happens in Vegas relatively fun (thanks to a well-placed supporting cast that included Zack Galifianakis, Rob Corddry and Lake Bell.) Overall, as long as guys weren’t getting dragged to see Made of Honor, they seemed to be in good shape.

8. The Lovely Surprise that was Kung Fu Panda
Where did this film come from, and how did Jack Black get into it? I’m sure that is what many moviegoers were asking themselves after seeing Kung Fu Panda. In the wake of every comedian and their brother trying to recreate the success that Mike Myers found with Shrek, it was almost certain that a talent-driven animated epic from the sub-Pixar animation team at Dreamworks would be a dud. Not that it wouldn’t make a bunch of money, but that it wouldn’t be all that good. As fate would have it, Dreamworks delivered one of their most beautifully animated films of all-time and Jack Black left the scatting at home, leaving us smitten with a Kung Fu master wannabe named Po.

7. The Fact that Pixar has Still Got It
Sure, its easy to sit there now and say that you knew that Pixar’s WALL-E was going to be amazing. But what about at the turn of the year, when all we knew about it was that it was another Pixar animated adventure that starred two characters who couldn’t talk. As well, we had heard rumblings about them mixing live action elements in with the animation. Tell me that didn’t get even the most adoring Pixar fans weren’t a little worried. Then came the release, and once again we saw the master animators at Pixar deliver one of the best reviewed films of the year. Go figure.

6. Cloverfield Proves that Internet Marketing Does Work
Secrecy, misdirection and an intricate web of online viral marketing were all the rage as the calendar flipped over from December ’07 to January ’08. Even weeks and days before Cloverfield hit theaters, we still had little idea of what the monster looked like and little idea as to what the film was going to be all about. What we did know is that we wanted to know more. And out of the shadow of failed films that received tons of online buzz (Grindhouse, Snakes on a Plane, etc.) rose Cloverfield, a masterfully marketed film that would rake in $80 million dollars in a January release. It just goes to prove that J.J. Abrams, that tricky son-of-a-bitch, was right all along.

5. Spider-Man 3 Finally Gets Overtaken
The most recent of our list items, this one seems to have washed away some of the bad taste left in our mouths after Spider-Man 3 set the all-time opening weekend gross record to kick of the summer of 2007. Sure, it was backed by a shit-ton of marketing and it was oozing mainstream appeal, so we can see why it did so well. But that doesn’t mean that it was a great film. In fact, it was the exact opposite of a great film — it was abysmal. For comic book fans and moviegoers alike, it failed to keep track of all the villains, storylines and unnecessary characters, delivering an experience that was severely disappointing in the wake of the excellent second film. Oh, and there was that Jazz Club scene. Thank you Christopher Nolan, and everyone else who worked on The Dark Knight – we finally have a film on top of that chart that deserves to be there.

4. Seeing Marvel Studios Step Out on their Own
It seems that everyone is proud of the success achieved by Marvel Studios as they stepped out to deliver two films this summer that not only found the bank-roll, but they didn’t alienate their fanbases. First, they delighted audiences with Iron Man — a film that lived up to the hype and shot Robert Downey Jr. back up to the top of Hollywood’s A-List. Then, they came out of nowhere with The Incredible Hulk, a production that seemed marred with behind the scenes problems, and delivered another awesome spectacle of cinema. The best part about all of this? The fact that Marvel can now move on to bringing more franchises to the big screen, including Captain America, Thor and The Avengers.

3. Rambo Returns, Disembowels
Some may argue this one’s position on the list, but you can’t argue with how much fun it was to see Sly Stallone back in action as John Rambo. When Lionsgate didn’t screen it for press, we were all a little worried. But when we finally saw it in theaters and it was pounding away at us with head-rattling sound and intense hard-R violence, those action junkies in the room were more than pleased. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect Rambo film, but in a sea of constant remakes, reboots and re-imaginings, it was nice to see one that didn’t need to re-invent the wheel. All it needed to do was blow the wheel all to hell.

2. Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man
Iron Man could have gone all sorts of different ways. It was a heavily marketed, highly hyped film that was kicking off the summer movie season, and we’d been there before. As well, Iron Man has always been a B-level character in the Marvel Universe, taking a back seat to The Hulk, Spider-Man and the X-Men. Not to mention the fact that it was all hinging on the performance of Robert Downey Jr., an actor who has had his ups and downs. But with the success (both critical and financial) of Iron Man, the tone of Summer ’08 was set — it was going to be a good year for superhero flicks.

1. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight
Speaking of superhero flicks… Now, it would be really easy to just make #1 The Dark Knight and move on, but that just isn’t how we roll. It is important for us to look at what we loved about the film so much, and it really comes down to two people: Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart. Sure, the death of Heath Ledger helped fuel interest and spark Oscar buzz, but there is no denying that his performance was off the charts. He took a once comical, silly cinematic villain and drove him off the deep end of crazy, back to his sinister and anarchist comic roots. The only thing that we didn’t like about his performance is that it so powerfully overshadowed the equally fantastic job that Aaron Eckhart did bringing Harvey “Two-Face” Dent to life on the big screen. With respect to Tommy Lee Jones, his Two-Face looked like a clown show compared to the dynamic performance delivered by Eckhart.
 

Five Things We Didn’t Like

5. Wang… Lots of Wang
Most of the male staff here at FSR are probably very fond of their own phalli, but that doesn’t mean that we need to keep seeing other fellas’ dicks on screen, does it? Absolutely not. From Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall to the “bottom-less party” guy in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, we haven’t seen this much on-screen shlong since we attended that Harvey Keitel/Kevin Bacon retrospective marathon. Knock it off, Hollywood. Seriously.

4. The Lack of Break-through Indies
This one is probably most personal to me, the Reject who travels the country from festival to festival trudging through piles of Indie garbage to find those one or two great little films that could be the next big thing. It seems that, at least so far this year, there have not been much in the way of breakthrough successes from fests such as Sundance or SXSW. It could be the looming shadow of Juno that spilled over from 2007, or it could be the overpowering summer tentpoles, but either way it is a bit sad that films such as Charlie Bartlett, Be Kind Rewind and The Wackness never caught on. Then again, the year is still young.

3. Old-School Comedy Favorites Crashing and Burning
We are not saying that more people should have gone out and seen The Love Guru and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Neither film was incredible by any means. What we are saying is that it is very disappointing to see the likes of Mike Myers and Adam Sandler delivering films that are so lost on everyone — films that make us go back through our library and question why we ever liked their movies in the first place. Thankfully, there is always Wayne’s World and Happy Gilmore.

2. Sequels That Are Too Late to the Party
It may seem a bit hypocritical to have this one here, as I did mention Rambo in the list of things we liked, but bare with me. Rambo might be one of the few exceptions to this, with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull being the other. But when you look at films such as The X-Files: I Want to Believe and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, it makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with Hollywood. Actually, I take that back — good or not, Indiana Jones 4 came way too late.

1. The Success of Spoof Movies
The fact that such cinematic abortions as Meet the Spartans, Superhero Movie and soon to be Disaster Movie keep getting made is an easy target for #1 on this list. But what bothers us more than their existence is that people continue to go and see them. Meet the Spartans made $84 million dollars worldwide at the box office. Quick, everyone who saw it — kick yourself in the ass. You are what’s wrong with movies today.

So there you have it, a little not quite mid-year review from those of us here at Film School Rejects. Stay tuned later on this week as we take a look at some of the films that have us excited the most from the rest of 2008.


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