July 18, 2008 in Seven

Summer films worthy of praise & questions

 

It’s half past July and, on the same day that one of the summer’s most-anticipated films opens – Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” – it’s time to gauge how well this summer-movie season is going.

In years past, of course, the season already would be over. Once upon a time, summer films opened in June and ended in July. And nothing played in August.

Not so in 2008. This summer season began arguably in mid-April, and even now we’ve yet to see some of the most-hyped offerings: not just Heath Ledger’s final performance (as The Joker in Nolan’s film) but also Chris Carter’s latest attempt to resuscitate his “X-Files” franchise (July 25) and the latest “Mummy” movie (Aug. 1 without Rachel Weisz, who has been replaced – if that’s the right word – by Maria Bello).

But forget what’s to come. What have we seen so far?

Let’s split them into four categories: Wow!, Sweet, Ho-hum and Huh?

First the Wows!

“Iron Man” – It may get upstaged, critically and at the box office, by “The Dark Knight,” but so far this mostly lighthearted Robert Downey Jr. vehicle is the best of the summer action lot.

“Standard Operating Procedure” – Not that his take on the happenings at Abu Ghraib is the best of even a small lot, but Oscar-winning Errol Morris did give the summer something other than mere escapism.

Now the Sweets

“WALL-E” – Pixar does it again, mixing cuteness with great CGI. This is no “Finding Nemo” or “Toy Story,” but it has what every good family-themed movie needs: a whole lot of heart.

“Kung Fu Panda” – Not magical but, in familiar DreamWorks fashion (“Madagascar”), this is solid family viewing.

“Speed Racer” – Weird story from the guys who gave us “The Matrix” trilogy, but the CGI color scheme is totally awesome, dude.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” – Indy’s getting old, which explains the presence of Shia LaBeouf, but the fedora-wearing archaeologist can still crack his whip.

“Mongol” – Here’s a headline: Genghis Khan had a tough childhood. This Oscar-nominated epic may offer a Cliff’s Notes view of Chinese history, but the landscapes look great.

“Wanted” – Simple story given a lift by mad-Russian style of filmmaking. Thank you Timur Bekmambetov.

The Ho-hums

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” – Love the character of Hellboy (Ron Perlman at his best), but the film overall feels like a Greatest Hits of Guillermo del Toro compilation.

“Journey to the Center of the Earth” – Another case of 3-D making something ordinary seem slightly better than … uh, ordinary.

“Get Smart” – Without Steve Carell and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the jokes would seem kind of dim.

“Redbelt” – Nice acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor, but what’s with that ending?

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” – Not much of an improvement on the first installment. Are those English kids ever gonna learn how to act?

“Sex and the City” – Four years after the close of the HBO show and this is the best script they could come up with? Even some fans walked away wondering … “what?”

And, finally, the Huhs?

“Hancock” – Nothing remotely revolutionary.

“The Love Guru” – Alternate title: “Loathe the Guru.”

“The Incredible Hulk” – More like the less-than-average Hulk.

“What Happens in Vegas” – Should have stayed there.

“The Happening” – Didn’t.


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