August 23, 2006

Ahh the Memories

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September’s fast approach means three things: Ithaca’s weather is actually still nice enough to make one forget about the upcoming winter, the Boston Red Sox’s autumnal free fall is right on schedule and the only new Hollywood releases will be the garbage studios need dump before Oscar season. Before all that starts, let’s take time to look back on the summer movies of 2006.

Mission: Impossible III
J.J. Abrams’s entry in the spy franchise reincorporated the most important element missing from John Woo’s film: the team. Mission: Impossible is supposed to be about the team and doesn’t work when Ethan Hunt goes solo like in the first sequel. Surprisingly, I was able to forget all of Tom Cruise’s scientology shenanigans to rate M:I:III as one the summer’s best. The bridge shoot-out scene was hands-down the coolest action set piece of the summer.

The Da Vinci Code
Now that the film version of Dan Brown’s book has come and gone, perhaps we can put our obsessive fascination with it to a rest. The movie was a by the book adaptation, so to speak, but wasn’t a very inspired film. Ian McKellen’s Leigh Teabing brought some much-needed levity, but the film’s somber tone left me bored and unexcited which is exactly the opposite reaction one should have in an adventure film. My biggest strike against the film, and the book, is that the story’s a lot like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but not nearly as much fun. I like my grails in cup form, thank you.

Superman Returns
This possibly was the greatest disappointment of the summer in terms of expectations vs. payoff. Bryan Singer wisely chose to forget most of the Superman film canon to create a sequel to Superman II. However all the new technical wizardry unavailable to earlier incarnations of the franchise made the newest version better in the visual effects department but not in terms of story. Brandon Routh filled the caped hero’s tights adequately but didn’t make us forget about Christopher Reeve. Kevin Spacey did well as Lex Luthor but his evil plan was an overly complicated variation from the first Superman. Can’t an evil genius come up with something original? Nevertheless, the return of Marlon Brando’s Jor-El and John William’s kick-ass theme put a smile on my face.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand
While I’m still not ready to say it was better than X2, part 3 of the X-Men trilogy delivered a very satisfying (possible) end to the series. My biggest complaint is that Cyclops, one of the coolest characters in the X-Men universe, was given steadily less screen time until being unceremoniously dispatched at the beginning of the second sequel. Also, my sympathies with Magneto’s point-of-view muddled the supposed moral superiority of the mutant team. Who would have thought Dr. Frasier Crane could pull off blue fur?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Like David Ortiz with the Boston Red Sox, Johnny Depp carries the Pirates franchise by sheer force of will. While not quite as good the second time around, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are still better than they should be for a series based on a theme park ride. Orlando Bloom continues to be one of the blandest actors in Hollywood, and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. We’ll have to wait till next summer to see if Captain Jack Sparrow is freed from his carbonite tomb. . . I mean giant squid.

The Devil Wears Prada
I have to admit I actually enjoyed this movie despite my low expectations. The film delivered an appropriate amount of summer confectionary with realistic commentary on the sacrifices in pursuit of a demanding career. Actress Emily Blunt might be the summer’s break out star with her portrayal as the acerbic assistant to the fictional Runway magazine’s editor.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
My question going in: Will this be better than Anchorman? Granted it took me a few viewings to fully appreciate Anchorman’s brilliance, so the Will Ferrell team had a pretty high bar to clear. While the laugh/minute ratio was lower, enough quality jokes existed to make Talladega Nights a future staple of every college kid’s DVD collection. Best moment: Ricky Bobby attempting to drive with a cougar. Best joke: “This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.”