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"Best and Worst Films/TV Programs/DVD/Blu-ray Releases of 2009"
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: All of them
Genre:
All
Release Date:
2008
Review:

It's the end of the year (not the end of the decade as so many of these publications/internet sites are claiming so the "Best of the Decade" lists are premature--perhaps those putting them together need to go back to school. The decade began in 2001 NOT 2000 and ends in 2010. Maybe they are getting a jump on the end-of-th-world by two years as well) hopefully all of your holiday shopping is done and you look forward to 2010 being better than 2009. I know it was a rough year. Many people are still out of work, the economy appears to be no better or worse and banks continue to make stupid decisions including paying out bonuses to executives who approved risky ventures that put us all in the poor house. I don't know about you but I had to tap my 401 and retirement thanks to these bozos. Unfortunately the clowns putting on the "entertainment" rarely change only the venue so we'll no doubt have some idiotic meltdown somewhere else. ***

There were some things worth looking back fondly on in 2009--the distraction that kept us going while everyone tried to decide if the emperor had no clothes on--we all that entertainment. The networks continued to their slow slide into oblivion as they fought for a smaller share of the pie with the internet, games and other distractions mimicing the foolish dance of the music industry. They're starting to panic because they've made you buy everything you purchased years ago on video on DVD and now only some of you want to buy (yet again) the same thing on Blu-ray. To paraphrase that great prophet Pete Townshend twice--won't get fooled again and the new boss is the same as the old boss. That should about cover it. ***

We did have some highlights in 2009 and some lowlifes that snuck into the theater/store and made away with our money. Let's take a look at both. ---

Best of 2009:

It's a surprisingly short list. I've got 10--count 'em!--10 items listed and that's it. No recounts, no hanging chads (whoops, wrong decade and what's worth a dated political joke), no doubt about authorship and citizenship (ah a topical political joke of sorts). Here they are in all their glory naked or not the best of 2009. ***

 

1. "500 Days of Summer"-

Got to preview this movie on DVD the other day and I have to say there hasn't been a better movie that manages to capture the randomness, fun and sadness of a romance that almost blossoms. Marvelous honest performances drive this well written and directed film and it's worth buying on DVD or Blu-ray. ***

2. "Star Trek"-

At least Paramount got something right when they asked J.J. Abrams to reboot their Trek franchise. I've heard a lot of Trekkers complain (it's not Trekkie by the way that's an insult) about this reboot. Surprisingly, a lot of people were confused by the plot (I guess Abrams overestimated the intelligenc eof his audience once again). ***

"Star Trek" isn't earthshaking what was is that Abrams made the franchise FUN again. That's something that's been missing for some time. Yes, it had some narrative holes (which film doesn't today--it's how well you do the slight-of-hand not in films to distract the audience--then you don't mind the cheesy fact that it IS an old magic trick as much) but the film was perfectly cast (kudos to Karl Urban who--in my mind--was the BEST performance overall managing to capture the essence of the character, pay tribute to Deforest Kelly without copying his performance) and, more importantly, Abrams realized what Nick Meyer did over twenty years ago when HE rebooted the franchise with producer Harve Bennett--it's about the characters stupid. Well made with some truly stunning visual effects, "Star Trek" was a perfect melding of pulp entertainment and some weighty themes as well. ***

3. "District 9"-

At first I wasn't sure about this film. It's not because of the quality (it's terrific) but it was about the HYPE. Hype ruins movies creating unrealistic expectations much as the rumours about your first time having sex might--it could be terrific or not it all comes with EXPECTATIONS and the baggage you carry forward. ***

"Distrcit 9" meshed allergory (apartheid), political conspiracy and the redemption of one man who suddenly discovers that he doesn't want to be a cog in the machinery because otherwise the machinery will crush him. It's about character and our main character in the movie marvelously played by Sharlto Copley suddenly discovers his humanity by losing it. Director Neill Blomkamp tackles a number of difficult themes in what turns out to be a surprisingly blunt look at prejudice, our own lack of humanity & greed and manages to turn the last 20 minutes into a Jim Cameron style blast of action. It's well worth watching and managed to transcend the hype because it truly took things we'd seen before and made them new again. ***

4. "The Hurt Locker"-

Kathrine Bigelow directed one of the most powerful films of the year and ditched going for honesty and directness in this drama. Bigalow's drama follows an elite bomb squad as they face dismemberment and death every day in Iraq. It's one of the best drarmas of 2009 and, heck, if we assume I can't count, I'd go so far as to name it one of the best of the decade (even though the decade's not over yet mind you...remember I lost my ability and common sense just like all the other "Decade's Best" idiots out there). ***

5. "The Hangover"-

You're asking yourself--what's wrong with this idiot naming this one of the best of the year? It's tought to take a movie with what could be seen as an "American Pie" premise and allow it to transcend that level of idiocy. With strong, memorable performances from Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. It all works. Seamlessly. It's also damn funny. ***

6. "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince"-

It's a miracle when a franchise can get BETTER with each film. So far the Harry Potter franchise has done so probably because it had a solid basis with J. K. Rowling's novels. That doesn't mean though that the makers couldn't screw it up. They don't here. Harry Potter continues to tackle the themes of growing up, being a teenager and the darkness right around the corner that ALL teens must eventually face (whether it be Voldemort, pimples or the dangerous world that surrounds us). ***

7. "Inglorious Basterds"-

It's far from a perfect film and Quentin Tarentino throws in a few too many tributes and cinematic love towards those films he cherished growing up but this fantasy film that asks "what if we assassinated Hitler and brought a close to WWII before the Normandy Invasion"? Fiction fans that have read all of those "alternate history" novels in the science fiction section of their book store probably cheered to see a film like this made. What matters is the way that Tarention deftly combines black humor and some of the best suspense sequences this year along with pure exploitation film violence. It's a huge improvement over the tepid "Death Trap" which suggested that QT had lost his QC. ***

8. "Avatar"-

Sure it's "Dances with Wolves" on an alien planet to some extent but it's also much more than that. Cameron doesn't tackle any new themes here and his story isn't as wildly inventive as some of his other work but he does manage to score by combining new technical break throughs with a strong performance from Sam Worthington. Films about going native are nothing new but once again Cameron tackles something old and makes it new again by crafting a marvelously entertaining film with a message (OK, if you want a bigger message maybe you should contact Western Union or use the internet for that matter), pure entertainment value and visual brilliance. It's not his best film but it's a strong return proving that if Cameron isn't the King of Our World he is of the one presented here. ***

Is "Avatar" flawed--yup. It runs about 20 minutes too long, is a bit morally simplistic but it allows the contrast between belief systems--one based on greed and the other society focusing on how interconnect the environment is to the people--but it's a science fiction allegory or fantasy if you will tying into OUR treatment of our own planet. It's visually stunning. Cameron needs somebody to tell him when to trim his films a bit. Just because you spent X million dollars on a project doesn't mean you have to use EVERY scenes you shot. ***

9. "Fringe"-

The sophmore year of Abrams' TV show (maybe Abrams' is "King of the World" this decade) proved to be every bit as inventive as the first season. Abrams as previously mentioned recycles old ideas but makes them seem fresh (borrowing from writers like Philip K. Dick, Dan Simmons and others in creating a show about an interdimensional war brewing). The show upped the suspense level and even brought Leonard Nimoy out of retirement. It also gives us John Noble every week which is a gift. He's one of the best actors working on TV right now and continues to startle with his complex portrait of Dr. Walter Bishop space cadet, brilliant scientist and, perhaps, one of the causes of the war. ***

"Fringe" has had some minor hiccups this season as well. The elimination of Charlie (it was a budget cutting move from what I understand although the writers used it to their advantage to make it a narrative that tied in nicely to the main story arc of this season) was a bad move. Likewise, the show hasn't pushed the main story arc as quickly as they should this season with a bit too many stand alone episodes. Here's an epic idea--develop another story arc in the second half of season two that dovetails with the conclusion of THIS season and tie up the loose ends of the interdimensional war. Perhaps we end up NEEDING the help of those from the other side for this conflict. It's just an idea J.J. ***

10. "Mad Men"-

On one level this show remain pure soap opera but what, in essence, is great drama? The show deserves the acclaim it got and this season was a stunning one where we find out that not everyone is who they claim to be and the ad agency's fate up in the air. To say anymore for those who haven't followed the show would be spoiling it for those who haven't seen it. ---

Honorable mentions for Best: "Supernatural", "The Closer", "Criminal Minds", "Lost", "The Office" (which had game this year), "30 Rock" and "Lie To Me". ---

Top 10 Disappointments:

"The Worst":

 

1. "Transformers:

 

Revenge of the Fallen"-A horrible film poorly written (interestingly by the same folks who wrote "Star Trek") where the action is so relentless and explosively graphic it almost borders on pornography, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" proves two things 1) Americans have no taste (it was the highest grossing film of the year and gross describes it's quality) and 2) Michael Bay has yet to prove he's more than a hack. ***

2. "Up"-

I know lots of folks that fell in love with Pixar's ode to togetherness but, quite frankly, it was about as entertaining as "Bolt" and of the same quality. The difference is that I expect far more from Pixar and Pete Docter (director of "Monsters, Inc."). This isn't the first disappointing Pixar film ("Cars" continues to be the studio's nadir) but it just proves that even a great studio can occasionally stumble. ***

3. "The Ugly Truth"-

Yep, it was ugly. This "comedy" about the differences between men and women demonstrates one thing--you can't take the grossness of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" graft it on to a chick-flick template and come away with a hideous monster that makes Frankenstein's Monster look like a candidate for "America's Got Talent". ***

4. "Paranormal Activity"

This flick was nothing more than "The Blair Witch Project" redux. It did prove that anyone with a digital camera, two people who can't act and shooting in your own house can convince studios to plunk down good money for a vapid suspense horror thriller. Yes, the director strung us along for awhile creating tension but the film truly was just a glorified episode of that horrible Sci-Fi (I can't bring myself to use the term "Syfy"--it's ebonics in action) TV show where people go to houses to find out if they are haunted (except there they usually have a rational explanation for what's happened). Again, hype can damage a film but, quite honestly, hype improved this film for a lot of people "convincing" them that they saw a good movie. They didn't. The only paranormal activity here was the mysterious way that the audience's pockets were picked for the money to see this film. ***

5.

"Jon and Kate Plus 8"- Almost all reality shows are odious but this one where a family exploits their own children, failing marriage and pending divorce for fame is horrible. The reason that American's watch this show must be so Americans can feel better about their own lives. The other reason is because it's hard to turn away from a car accident. It's a pity that these folks are celebrities and proves than even common folks when fame is thrust upon them can be idiots and selfish. ***

6.

"18 and Counting"-A show about a family that already has 18 children (my God I can't imagine what the uterus of this poor woman looks like) and is expecting a 19th. In our world of precious, shrinking resources it makes little sense (beyond religious reasons) to have this many children. Please, please, please someone sent this family to Family Planning, tie her tubes or, at the very least, take away the TV camera. WE are enabling them. ***

7.

"Parks and Recreation"-The allure of this show eludes me. I'm a big fan of "The Office" but that doesn't mean you can successfuly duplicate the casting/writing/direction and magic that happens with that show. Luckily "The Office" had a strong template with the original British series. This is just unnecessary and most of the time unfunny to me. ***

8.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still"- I liked this remake even if it collided at the intersection of bad and overwrought. Seriously, the remake had its moments during the first fifteen or twenty minutes and then went off the rails particularly with it's anticlimatic ending. It's entertaining and in a cheesy sort-of-way is the evil twin of the original Robert Wise fclassic film. Evidently the Earth truly only stood still during the two hours it took this movie to unfold. The Blu-ray was worth it for one reason and one reason alone--you got the ORIGINAL "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (sadly without any special features or even the commentary track by Robert Wise and Nicohlas Meyer) in the same packet reminding us that copying a masterpiece doesn't make the copy a masterpiece as well. ***

9.

"Star Trek: The Original Series-Season 3"-If the first season of "Star Trek" was stellar, the second flickered like a pulsar the third was a black hole that sucked everything good about "Star Trek" into it spewing it all someplace else as stellar garbage. It's no wonder that the third season has the "Red" shirt color to it--this is the season that made the series marketable because of enough episodes for syndication (all that anyone truly cared about at the time) but also killed the series for a long, long time. It would take "Star Wars" to ressurect the series along with all of the syndicated viewing of the show. ***

So we should be thankful for these episodes for one reason and one reason alone--it allowed others to discover the Trek universe. Most of the episodes from the third season seemed like leftovers left out for a weak--they may have looked decent enough from far away but once you got close the smell overwhelmed you and made you sick. Sadly, most of the episodes here would make perfect material for "Mystery Science Theater 3000" in its heyday (heck, even "CSI: Las Vegas" did a marvelous job of lampooning the show in an episode from this year and most of the targets of that episode were the worst episodes of season two and the best of season three). ***

The mystery here for "CSI" to solve--who killed "Star Trek" and why? It truly wasn't the studio or the network but the "talented" folks behind-the-scenes. I can't completely blame Fred Frieberger or Arthur Singer (Producer and story editor respectfully) for this mess. Gene Roddenberry left the show keeping his title but limiting his day-to-day activity because he didn't get the time slot he wanted running away like a petulant child. The result was like a butcher serving up hamburger and calling it steak--it may still be meat but that doesn't make it QUALITY meat. ***

What adds insult to injury is that Paramount is charging a premium for the Blu-ray release for this just as they did with the first two seasons (it seems to me that it should truthfully sell for the same price as "CSI" or, for that matter "Fringe" but Paramount has been nothing if not greedy regarding it's highly profitable Trek franchise. ***

10.

"Psych"-

It's entertaining but like "Monk" it's fatal flaw is that it's "Columbo"-lite. My wife loves it. Hope she doesn't see this review. ---

 

 

Dishonorable Mentions:

 

"Monk" (I don't hate the show but it's so predictable), "CSI: Miami", "Dollhouse" (a great concept that was savaged by Fox and, by the end, not worth saving), EVERYTHING on "Syfy" (particularly Wrestling--it's pretty darn close to a Syfy product as any I can think of but just not entertaining), "Saving Grace" and almost ALL "reality TV' but particularly "The Housewives of Beverly Hills". Why? Why should we reward these morons who enjoy the advantages of life but still make stupid mistakes? Why should they be made into celebrities. Trust me in that a homeless person's plight would be even MORE riveting and moving. Please somebody remove these idiots and whatever you do DON'T let Simon Cowell breed any more TV shows. Trust me on this he's driving the average IQ down a notch with every idiotic TV program spin-off he's come up with.

Final Words:

 

Make up a list of your worst and best, share it with friends but whatever you do don't take it personally--people confuse their personal taste with an attack on their personal values and that's not the case. Different strokes for different folks. OK, "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen" might be an exception to this. Hope Optimus Prime doesn't hunt me down. Happy Holidays!

 

 
 
 
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