2009 was a pretty wild year that none of us will soon forget, I'm sure. Although the movies as a whole weren't anything to squawk about, there were some gems that slipped under the surface and some that have been hyped all year. One trend I did notice is we had some pretty amazing stuff coming out from debut directors. Not only original in story but arresting in delivery and visuals.
Here are my faves in no particular order.
Franklyn never received a theatrical release on this side of the pond and it's a shame. This debut film from director Gerald McMorrow is an exercise in twisted genre mind jab fun. It's a dystopia wrapped in contemporary times all around a trio of lost souls. Ryan Phillipe stars in a pretty interesting role as a self appointed avenger, or so he thinks. There's an interesting line in the trailer from Sam Riley who describes a world where the person dictating the narrative believes his world is something completely different from the reality. Play close attention to that.
The cinematography of contemporary London and the dark, dingy futuristic dystopia of Meanwhile City is a stark contrast not only in it's beauty but in the narrative itself. Coupled with a great cast, this one was a subtle yet memorable film.
Franklyn is finally now availabine in DVD and if you like a sort of Lynchian narrative (told in linear format) mixed with interesting characters and an end twist, be sure to pick up Franklyn and get ready for multiple viewings.
Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans
I remember the outcry before this prequel came out. "No Selene? It'll suck! I'm not watching!"
I have to admit, I sympathized. After two successful movies, the director not only zipped back in the past but also yanked out his leading lady for a different turn. In the end, it worked out pretty well.
I enjoyed Underworld 3: The Rise of Lycans. Up until now the lycans have been the uncivilized "pets" of the vampires and much of the narrative was on the side of the vampires trying to survive against lycan threat. Just like Selene, we learn the truth the hard way.
Here in Underworld 3, I was rooting for the Lycans after seeing their inhuman treatments under the vampires' thumbs as their slaves. By the end I was rooting for the lycans to rise up and stage an all out war with the vampires.
The fact that this was a prequel with an ending fans were familiar with didn't take away from the story at all. In fact, it actually enhanced it. Knowing that Sonja and Lucien's romance would end in tragedy did give it a Romeo and Juliet kind of edge but it also added a foreboding feeling. My biggest gripe (as folks who I've chatted with already know) is the change of Sonja's character to look like Selene. We already know she shared a bit of the same relationship and demeanor with Viktor even though she didn't exactly "look" like Selene. In the short flashbacks from the first Underworld movie, her death scene was a bit different from this one and she had long curly blonde hair.
A tiny gripe in an overall enjoyable movie. Underworld has quickly become one of my favorite franchises. I love the war between the lycans and vampires, the world they inhabit and the history that unfolds to tie the two together. I'm in the process of working my way through the Greg Cox novelizations but I've enjoyed the first book very much.
Word on the street is that a new Underowld movie and scrpt is in the works.
Without Len Wisemen's direction (although it worked with Underworld 3), Kevin Grevioux and Danny McBride's involvement and story, I'm not sure how I feel about it. (Read more here).
Underworld 3 is now on DVD.
Words cannot express how much I love this movie. With a mixture of young adult curiosity, fantastical wonderment, fun characters, humor and a dash of love for reading, this was definitely one of my top favorites of this year. Brenden Fraser is always a pleasure to watch and seeing him in another adventure fantasy was hard to pass by.
Fraser plays a man who is deemed Silvertongue for his ability to read books alive. Whatever he reader, pops out of the book and into our world (what an awesome ability to have). 12 years after his wife disappears he is on the hunt for a book called Inkheart, but he's not the only one.
Andy Serkis, of Lord of the Rings Gollum fame, plays the villain here who is hunting Fraser and his daughter for their gift to use his ability for his own nefarious reasons. Paul Bettany was nearly recognizable as Dustfinger, a man who can wield fire right from his hands. And if I say he didn't look good doing it, I would be lying. The always awesome Jim Broadbent was great as the author of Inkheart and I identified with his wonderment at seeing his creations come to life. I always love Helen Mirren who kicks butt in every role she's in and I have to say I loved when she charged in on the motorbike and horse. I would gladly love some quiet reading time in her library.
Inkheart is my idea of a perfect family fantasy film that I could watch over and over. It's young adult material indeed but it doesn't talk over children while talking down to adults. There's danger, violence, fun, humor, a potential love story and everything that makes a memorable film. I love the world of Inkheart and the theme that books are magical. Some non-readers may find the book a tad heavy handed in that nature but to any book lover it rings completely true.
Inkheart is adapted from Cornelia Funke's trilogy of the same name. Like last years impressive and underrepresented City of Ember, I ran to the books to see how the story continues. Although there are some story changes, I enjoyed each incarnation. I also couldn't wait to see whether or not Inkspell and Inkdeath would make it the big screen and so far no word. I hear the book series gets better from the first book so I'm more than happy to dive on in.
The critics put this one through the ringer but I have to say I enjoyed it. Nicolas Cage starred as a scientist/professor whose son picks out an important piece of paper when his school pulls out a 50 year old time capsule. The piece of paper predicts every major event leading up to the end of everything. The mixture of Christianity's end of days allusion and dystopic future made this a nice entry into current sci-fi films. Some may have found it a bit heavy handed with the metaphors but I thought it was an interesting interpretation on the book of Revelations.
Director Alex Proyas is known for his awesome and memorable Dark City, one of my favorite films, and you can certainly see shades of that movie here. One of the most disturbing scenes is that of the plane crash shot in a very dramatic, raw and naked gritty fashion.
I can see how this would turn off movie goers. The film isn't pretty and even the end, despite the optimistic final shot doesn't end with the main character (or anyone else on Earth) prevailing. Nevertheless, the theme of family, belief and humanity is explored with simple yet sympathetic characters and very eerie "villains". Sure it could have been a bit more than it was, but for the film itself I have to say I enjoyed this one.
Terminator 4 is another one that has been hyped since it's inception. I was pretty nervous over the fact that McG was going to direct (I hated the Charlies Angels movies) and that Christian Bale was going to be John Connor. I know Terminator 3 was massacred and is hated by "Terminator fans" but I enjoyed all of the films revealing the whole story of Sarah and John Connor from its inception.
Although we didn't get the all out machine/human war everyone's been waiting for since the first Terminator, we did get a nice subplot with newcomer Sam Worthington (I will follow him...follow him wherever he may go) as Marcus, a man condemned to death but saved by science and technology, who later stumbles upon Kyle Reese and eventually Connor himself.
Marcus was the best thing in the movie probably because he was the most developed. The film assumed we knew all we needed to know about Reese and Connor but it would have done better to pretend like nothing came before or after and just focus on the now. Who is Connor and Reese in this particular reality? From the focus on Marcus, I expected him to live until the end and perhaps have a big part in orchestrating events in the next Terminator film. From the way this one ended, I'm baffled as to why he was given so much story and screen time. Not that I'm complaining much. I would have loved to have seen Moon Bloodgood's Blair Williams showed more. I have a feeling she had an interesting character if only we had a chance to get to know her more. I could see a possibly story just focusing on Blair and Marcus working under John Connor (unseen until the next movie).
Bale was the biggest bummer here alongside Bryce Dallas Howard. I feel like Bale was just going through the motions and here we got 'star fever' with Christian Bale playing Christian Bale playing John Connor rather than "This is John Connor! Resistance leader for humanity!" Plus he kind of killed it with this Michael Keaton imitation Batman voice.
I admire Claire Danes ever since I saw her from My So Called Life and throughout her career onto Stardust and I actually liked her Kate Brewster. Nick Stahl did a pretty good John Connor and I wouldn't have minded seeing them both continue in the series. I have to wonder if the creators would have continued with them if fandom wasn't so vocal against the third film.
I have the novelization on my list of books to buy and will be checking that out soon. Perhaps it will give a better insight as to the story and world so we can see what was left off the original screenplay (as novelizations are usually based upon).
I'm one of the ones who miss the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Storywise it was pretty interesting and I still have some episodes to catch up on towards the end. I have to say the flashfowards into the future with Reese's brother were my favorite parts of the series and I wish they would have incorporated the show writers into the movie franchise.
Despite some disappointments, this is an enjoyable post apocalyptic future film complete with machine chaos, shoot em up scenes and some awesome new robot soldiers. Looking forward to the next in the series.
I saw the previews for this film last year and was intrigued from the get go. The idea isn't too far off from our own reality and seeing Clive Owen do is espionage deal is always a fun trip (he should still be Bond). Coupled with Run Lola Run's (LOVED that movie!) Tom Tykwer, I know this was going to be an interesting movie.
The International deals with a particular bank who is using it's assets in international politics, war tactics and weapons dealings without it's customers knowing anything about it. Owen is an interpol agent following a case where whoever gets too close dies. It sounds like a run of the mill thriller but the story is pretty complex. I loved the suspense here and the twisty turny story which slowly unfolded to reveal who was doing what to whom.
When I saw the trailer for this movie on io9, I was completely blown away. I could tell it had a strong story and a mystery that would make the story interesting as it's told throughout the movie. I hadn't seen the trailer or mention of it anywhere else until I saw it there and immediately it went on my To See list.
Wow. What an awesome little movie. For folks like myself looking for some thoughtful sci-fi that really says something, this was a breath of fresh air. Sam Rockwell, who I loved from Galaxy Quest, showed he could do drama and switch up personalities when the character calls for it. Here he plays a man in space monitoring production of lunar resources that are sent back to Earth. His contract is for 3 years and after that, he can go home. Unforunately for him, things aren't exactly as he's seen and soon he is questioning just exactly who he is and how long he has been on the surface of the moon.
We get spoilery here. It turns out Sam (the same we begin to follow) is just one of many clones who are activated once the three years are up. No clone is supposed to see the others or else the jig is up and all of them will be terminated to make way for a new clone. One of them said it best "do you really think the corporation would spend money to train a new guy every 3 years?" I loved how the current corporate structure is wrapped into the world of moon and also how the themes that I love best in SF is explored here. Humanity. At one time we see two Sams, one who's the thinking yet temperamental side and the other who's the more caring and careful side. I saw shades of right brain/left brain here and I imagined they were both aspects of the real Sam's character.
Kevin Spacey lends his voice to Gerty, a HAL 9000 type of AI who helps each Sam adjust into his surroundings and also to keep the corporate suits back on Earth satisfied. I loved the different faces Gerty had to express how he was feeling and I grew a bit fond of the bot.
That's what I love about this movie. You get the raw emotion of desolation, abandonment, identity and humanity all in this little film. Director Duncan Jones cites Blade Runner as being a big inspiration and I can see it here as well since the movies share similar themes in creating life and being responsible for it after its inception. Jones' next movie was to be a more explicit nod to Blade Runner with a futuristic Berlin in a film called "Mute' but apparently it's been put on hold for his next feature Source Code. I hope we are able to see more of Jones' original talent and hopefully he doesn't go the way of fresh young directors in adapting toy franchises, video game movies or big budget shoot em ups.
Moon took the cake for my favorite movie of 2009 until this gem of a film came out. Wow! What a spectacle! My love of filmmaking and movies have returned because this is what it's all about. James Cameron said this movie would change the face of movies and the naysayers continually shut it down. Although it may not change the entire realm of filmmaking itself I think it has been a part of a few really good films this year that brought sci-fi back to really saying something in a spectacular context.
Pandora is a gorgeous world not unlike Earth was in its early days. Many folks have condemned the movie because the story is called unoriginal and trite. Sure the story has been told before but as a book friend of mine has said, if it wasn't happening there wouldn't be a need to address it. The story had my interest from its inception and even after seeing the execution I'm still blown away. The theme of changing oneself for the better, fighting for what's right and sacrifice is meshed in a story of discovery and love. Cameron has a way of bringing out great human themes in a breathtaking context. I wasn't sure how I would like the Na'vi aliens. I was a bit iffy when I saw the still shots earlier this year but my mind has definitely changed now.
Cameron has said he wanted to pen a novel within this world and I wish there was already an adaptation available now. The world of Pandora and the future context is ripe for so many more stories in this universe. There are a lot of things on that planet that I wanted to know more about and hope to learn more with the next few films in the trilogy. I can't wait until the dvd comes out so I can watch it over and over and enjoy the special features (which I hope it will be packed with). Sam Worthington continues to take my breath away (aside from his yummy handsomeness) he has a talent for masculine and somewhat abrasive heroes who always seem like they have a little something hidden under the surface. I loved him in Terminator Salvation and even more in Avatar as the hero Jake who falls in love with the world of Pandora and Neytiri.
The studio did good in releasing this near the end of the year so that this will stay in moviegoers minds as they enter the new year. A beautiful mixture of science fiction and fantasy, James Cameron's Avatar is officially my favorite movie of 2009.
Still to see: District 9