Monday, March 17, 2008

2007 films in review (part 1 of 5)

Everyone has their favorite movie years. Many people look back on 1974 with a justified fondness, holding its output in high regard. With Chinatown, The Godfather, Part II, Young Frankenstein, The Conversation, Lenny, Alice Doesn’t Live Her Anymore, Murder on the Orient Express, Hearts and Minds, A Woman Under the Influence, and <ahem> Harry and Tonto all released that year, one can see why. With 2007 now well behind us, many believe it will be viewed as one of the great years in cinema. Oscar show full of surprises and deserving winners serves to support this notion. In order to properly recognize all the achievements from ’07, we’re taking a deeper look at the films with an eye for how they’ll be judged in the distant future. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up as the week progresses, doing four to five films a day.

NOTE: Spoilers abound! Also note: this was obviously supposed to come out sooner, but knee surgery, so yeah.

The Simspsons Movie

The previous two major cartoon franchises that stepped up to theaters pulled out all the stops with their films. Beavis and Butthead left their town to “Do America,” and South Park staged a violent war musical. But this just felt like another episode – and not a classic from season seven by any means. Perhaps the show is its own worst enemy in this regard. The Simpsons have been around long enough and been creative enough that they’ve previously gone everywhere and done everything. So one could ask, “Why make a movie then?” The fact that Homer says “People paid to watch what’s on TV at home for free," a good line, was far too apt. If there is no remaining grand adventure available, then why not play to the show’s strength which is the diverse populous of Springfield? The entire episode – er, movie – focused almost entirely on the Simpson family and the Secretary of Defense. There is no reason for a repeat viewing and the output was nowhere near The Simpsons’ heyday. People don’t frequently go back to the aforementioned animated movies, so there’s no chance that this film will even be regarded a decade from now. Seriously, would you go to see a movie that’s just a long episode of Sex and the City? Um, forget I said that.

The Darjeeling Limited
I was super-enthused for this one for two reasons. 1) Because Wes Anderson had pretty much done no wrong in his previous four efforts, with Rushmore being one of my all-time favorites. 2) It promised to have a unique take on how brothers get along and don’t get along, and there just aren’t very many movies that have tackled that subject well. Unfortunately, the brother topic is every bit as ripe as it had been before this film’s release. This movie was just one big downer. The first real laugh comes 1 hour and 14 minutes in, which is far too late to salvage the picture. Anderson has basically made an homage to himself, but without the youthful exuberance of any of his other films. It is a retread without joy – replete with suicide attempts, his usual troupe of actors, and double-meanings. Unfortunately, when Owen Wilson says, “I think I need to do some more healing,” we are only reminded of Max Fischer’s claim, “I didn’t get hurt that bad,” and how much better that line worked. In sum, it looks like a Wes Anderson picture. It sounds like a Wes Anderson picture. But except for the few moments when Anjelica Houston is onscreen, it never feels like a Wes Anderson picture, and will (hopefully) remain the black sheep in his oeuvre.

Ocean’s Thirteen

Generally a third film created solely to make some more cash is something destined for failure. But there was just enough fun in this one to make it worthwhile. That’s about all anyone can say. The three movies totally blur together now, and this broke no real new ground. Nonetheless, it was a good time, though the odds that is remembered in years to come are unlikely (because it would require people sitting through the second one). Enjoyable, but please don’t make another.

The Host
We may find that The Host is one of those films that spawns scores of imitators, much like “Ringu” the original Japanese version of The Ring (knock-off currently in theaters: Shutter). Or it may just stand on its own as a campy monster movie that stands on the strength of its lead performance by Kang-ho Song as the slacker who is forced into action when his daughter is kidnapped. Either way, it’s unlikely that people will be coming back to this one – the monster is just a bit too comical to be truly frightening, and while entertaining, there doesn’t seem to be much of a deeper theme.

The Kite Runner
In a weaker year, this is the kind of movie that would have received a Best Picture nod. But not in 2007. It was perhaps too faithful to the book and therefore had way to much plot to include in a feature length film. A TV miniseries may have worked better. Well done to a point, but great cinema, it was not. Its most worthy role would be as a look into Afghani life before and after the Taliban took over. But after a few years, it will likely only appeal to those who’ve read the book. In sum, I agree with these guys:

Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
Part 4 here.
Part 5 here.

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