Itâ€™s Labor Day Weekend, and if youâ€™re like me, youâ€™re off to the movies. What to see: The unstoppable Sandra Bullock in another romantic comedy? Gamer? Hmmmâ€¦maybe a double feature, the unstoppable Sandra Bullock in another romantic comedy and Gamer? (What the heck is Gamer? Doesnâ€™t a sequel to The Crow usually fly into this spot?)
No, youâ€™re not like me. But Iâ€™ve got news for you: Iâ€™m not like me, either. Drag me to hell: Iâ€™m not gonna sit on my ass in some multiplex when the best weather of the season has arrived at the 11.5th hour. Iâ€™m going to sit outside and taunt the kids who have to go back to school on Tuesdayâ€”man, I hated Labor Day Weekend when I was a kid, knowing that the school bus was going to pull up like Charon the ferryman to escort me back to Hades.
Summer. It was good, now itâ€™s dead. And itâ€™s time to reflect on the corpse.
Boxoffice-wise, the top five films of the season were the Transformers and Harry Potter sequels, Up, The Hangover, and Star Trek. I saw the last three. (In a simpler time in my life, say any day before Aug. 25, 2008, I would have seen them all. The franchises got the boot.) And they were good. Well, The Hangover and Star Trek were good; I canâ€™t say I got down with Up, which struck me as minor Pixar, not out-of-gas Pixar like Cars but a little thin. Still, Iâ€™ll buy the DVDâ€”except for Cars, I have them all, even Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemoâ€”and give it another spin.
The best movie I saw all summer, and maybe all year, was The Hurt Locker. Nothing else came close. In dire times for the indie/foreign-language/anything- without-fighting-robots market it wilted in the heat, which was a real shame. Look for it again at awards time. It deserves another shot.
I donâ€™t worship at the altar of Michael Mann but I was enthusiastic about Public Enemies, a distillation of a great book (by Bryan Burrough) that should have been done as a miniseries. What made it to the screen, though, had choice bits. For once Christian Baleâ€™s boring remorselessness, pitted here against Johnny Deppâ€™s dapper brutality, made sense. The digital cinematography, a grainy mess in the Miami Vice movie, was arresting. In a thick haze of notable character actors Stephen Lang dominated with a hard gem of a performance; indeed, that last scene he has with Marion Cotillard was the finest of the year.
I lucked out this summer. I didnâ€™t have to go all that far to see some of the best movies, I just had to wait for them to open at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a five-minute walk from me. High on the listâ€”and again brought down by the ailing â€œspecialtyâ€ marketâ€”was the extraordinarily biting British comedy In the Loop, the other great film inspired in some way by the Iraq War. I savored the profanely funny dialogue that results from a slip of the tongue that edges Britain and the U.S. to conflict in the Middle East. Peter Capaldi (pictured) brilliantly whipsaws the gears of the plot into motion. There were complaints that the film was too abrasive in nailing bureaucracy bumbling to the wall, to which I say, war is hell.
I laughed a lot at the micro-sized Humpday, in which two straight friends agree to make a gay porn flick together for a (real-life) Seattle video event. Jitters, regrets, and one-upmanship ensue as the day of the â€œbeyond gayâ€ shoot approaches, while the wife of one of the would-be fuck buddies looks on with mystification. The improbable situation is a good front for a more, umm, penetrating look at middle-aged male friendship.
After my snit over the portrayal of Nigerians in District 9, I was primed for the Jew-hunting Nazis and Nazi-hunting Jews in Quentin Tarantinoâ€™s Inglourious Basterds. I found myself sitting next to two Orthodox guys, who would be a litmus test for outrage. I neednâ€™t have gotten myself so worked up; they seemed to have a good time, and so did I. As usual Tarantino has nothing to say about the real world; this is as far removed from the fact-based Defiance, or anything connected to World War II or the Holocaust, as possible. The constant shout-outs to his latest batch of favorite movies are however amusing, if limited, and the soundtrack kills. (We really need to have all of 1967â€™a Dark of the Sun available in digital form, and not just its main theme.) I could go onâ€”the film is conceived for going on, which is a plusâ€”but Iâ€™ll conclude by saying that if anyone is moved to seek out an UFA, Emil Jannings, or Danielle Darrieux movie because of this one Tarantino has done his job as a cinema scholar.
As for the flops, Larry Davidâ€™s osmosis of Woody Allen in Whatever Works didnâ€™t work. Better, though still a letdown, was the undercooked Bruno, whose unlikable narcissist was a dick with a dick. Warning: Donâ€™t let anyone take you to The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 or Taking Woodstock. Theyâ€™re taking you for a ride.
A confession. On Broadway thereâ€™s something called second-acting. You wait for the doors to open at intermission and, as no oneâ€™s paying attention to ticketing, just walk into the theater, scan for an open seat and enjoy the second act of Hair or whatever. I donâ€™t condone this practice but there it is. (See all of Hair. Itâ€™s a solid revival.) But I second-act movies all the time now. Thereâ€™s no one checking attendance at the multiplexes so I cruise in and get a taste of whatâ€™s playing next door to the movie I paid to see. And I can say that I spit out the hour or so I suffered through Hugh Jackman in the morose and poorly mounted Wolverine, with the bulk of Terminator Salvation leaving the same pukey aftertaste. But you know what? I enjoyed the 10 or so minutes I caught of G.I. Joe. Heâ€™s one doll I might check out on DVD.
So here we are: The beginning of the fall, as the leaves start to brown and the movies glisten with Oscar gold. It can be a frustratingly slow process, though, with a lot of dead spots till the main events arrive. To quote Green Day, wake me up when September endsâ€¦or sooner, if the crop arrives early.