Summer Movie Rap-Up

Since I’m neither an investment banker like Noah nor a businessman/mathemetician like Jim, I will limit my public commentary on the financial crisis to a series of whimpering noises. As disaster counterprogramming, however, I would like to offer my reflections on the summer movie season just past.

Best Superhero Movie
Iron Man – It doesn’t have Heath Ledger but it does have Robert Downey Jr., which is a pretty fair trade to my mind. Iron Man was simply the most adroit and enjoyable studio film I saw this summer. Downey was a hoot, so deft and quick, like watching a great point-guard. It was weird to find myself remembering that, yeah, Gwyneth Paltrow got famous because she’s really good, I mean really charismatic and sexy, when she plays smart. I guess that’s why that call it acting. Anyway, I admit with some inner turmoil that I loved her in Iron Man, especially her great chemistry with Downey. Re. Dark Knight, this is one case when the movie’s popularity might feel like a rebuttal to my own reservations about it. Who am I to second-guess the post hoc logic of the blockbuster? But I’m frankly surprised the box-office legs of Dark Knight, not because of its darkness but because of it unwieldiness. I enjoyed it, despite its complete lack of storytelling discipline, and despite the fact that for no reason I can think of Batman sounded like the lead singer from Gwar. But I have to believe that these b.o. legs owe to a ghoulish box office alchemy – a combination of legit word-of-mouth about a great, great performance, a layer of hype that combined the forgoing with fascination about the lingering unpleasant fact about this performance, and an extra demographic boost thanks to an even broader voyeurism that brought nonmoviegoers to the theater to see the final performance by that Austrian homosexual fellow who died in the bed of that skinny girl from “Facts of Life.”

Best Summer Comedy
Pineapple Express – It was a summer where the big comedies engaged in a little mode-mixing, which guaranteed that the reviews would have at least one extra paragraph and the overall critical reception would be marked by a collective sigh of reconsideration that said, “Well, maybe the funny parts really were funny.” But Pineapple Express wins out over Tropic Thunder, which I complain about below. I found James Franco terribly winning, though I did come to the realization that Seth Rogen, whom I’ve liked less in each of his movies since 40-Year-Old Virgin, might be best appreciated when he’s a little more off to the side. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the cognitive jolt, the eruption of pure weirdness, and the recurring appearance in Pineapple Express of Danny McBride, and his meandering narrative significance, had the sort of committed weirdness you associate with other, weirder types of movies. He totally made Pineapple Express.

Best Actual Movie
The Edge of Heaven – The previous film by Turkish-German director Fatih Akim, Head On, had such an unrelenting smashmouth intensity that it almost felt like a stunt or an exercise, as if the movie was really about your reaction to it. In The Edge of Heaven, Akim tones down the level of confrontation, which allows his stunning gifts as a storyteller to emerge more fully. I cannot say any more about this wonderful movie without sounding like a below-average film critic, so I will instead suggest that you check out the well-above-average A.O. Scott on the same film, and also that you see Edge of Heaven if it’s still playing anywhere around you.(Also, it has Nurgül Yesilçay. Actually, it’s possible that the film is mediocre and it was just that she’s in it.)

Most Ineffably Deflating Movie
Tropic Thunder – Even though I laughed pretty hard several times in Tropic Thunder, and even though the Robert Downy, Jr., stuff in the first third of the movie was so funny I thought I might not be able to stand it, and even though I’ve been a fan of Ben Stiller for so long that I still think of him as an underdog, I came out of Tropic Thunder vaguely nauseous and depressed, hating the movie. Part of it was the doggedly unfunny Jack Black. (I’m starting to think that the high point of his film career was the scene in The Jackal where Bruce Willis blows off his arm.) But the main thing was how such movies always end up kissing up to the thing they purport to be satirizing.

Weirdest Blockbuster Casting Tendency
Tiny British Action Heroes – There’s a scene in The Incredible Hulk, where Tim Roth’s character – an elite British special-ops something-or-other – appears bare-chested after receiving treatment that potentially turns him into a hulk, too. Roth is, after a fashion, all buff. He’s fairly lean, and has what we can guess are muscles pressing out against depilated skin. We’re clearly supposed to note this about him, his shiny torso with that hard-earned definition, and take it as a sign that he’s now a chemically/genetically enhanced human who might give our favored Hulk a run for his money, but Roth just looks like a tiny 45-year-old guy who’s been shelling out for a personal trainer for six months, and watching the carbs, someone who started out at a paunchy 140 and who’s down to 125 but it’s like all muscle. The same, pretty much, goes for James McAvoy in Wanted. All through the movie, in which he plays the heir to the greatest of a cabal of assassins, I kept thinking, “Why him?” He can be an interesting actor, but it’s always as a recessive type, someone with a bit of weasel in him. He has no physical presence. His role in Wanted called for someone who could effect a transformation from lowly clerk to archetypal badass. The best McAvoy can manage is starting out a clerk and ending up, more or less, a head clerk.

Final Rueful Admission
I found Vicky Cristina Barcelona just as delightful, in precisely the same way, as everyone said I was supposed to.