October 14, 2006

Movie Recap for September 2006: Jet Li's Fearless

September has now moved on. The transition period between the summer blockbusters and the fall Oscar season is moving on, and is nearing its end. For now we can look back at the month that was September and digest the offerings that it has brought us. Were there any worthy films to hit the big screen, or was it merely filler?

The month started off with what is traditionally one of the weakest weekends of the year. Labor Day brings with it the last hurrah for the kids readying to go back to school. There are plenty of parties and barbecues to attend, and generally little less attention paid to what is playing at the box office. This weekend brought the almost cartoonish Crank, the urban streetball themed Crossover, and the remake of the Christopher Lee film The Wicker Man. None of them made any lasting impact. I think the best of the weekend was Crank, I really dig Jason Statham as an action star.

The following weekend brought the actual weakest weekend that has been seen in years, with the top film bringing in less than $9 million. That top film was the monumentally bad The Covenant. Joining it was the infinitely better Hollywoodland, which was left to sink pretty quickly, and the chopped up action film from Thailand, The Protector. It was a mediocre weak in quality, with the best film doing the worst of the bunch. It also marked the first steps towards Oscar potential, in the form of Hollywoodland, which has a shot at a nod or two.

The Oscar potential followed through into the third weekend when The Black Dahlia was released. I doubt any Best Picture thought will be given, but possible cinematography and costume nods would not be out of the question. Offering up some competition were the football drama Gridiron Gang, the animated baseball movie Everyone's Hero, and the young men at a crossroads film The Last Kiss. My favorite of the weekend was The Last Kiss.

The transition into Oscar season continued as we saw the first Oscar flop in All the King's Men which seems to be trying just a little too hard. It was countered by the one release that is sure to be ignored by anyone involved with the Academy, Jackass Number Two. Falling in between were the likes of Flyboys and the fantastic period film from Hong Kong, Jet Li's Fearless. I still do not like the possessive added to Li's film, but it is still the best movie I saw during the month.

Finally, the last weekend of the month was highlighted by the return of Ashton Kutcher to the big screen. He had not one, but two films come out, and they both landed at the top of the charts, Open Season and The Guardian. Neither one was great by any stretch, but The Guardian is the obvious better of the two, brought up a few notches by the presence of Kevin Costner. The one other new release of the month was School for Scoundrel, a remake featuring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder. It was a mediocre outing that lacked having any bite.

The month is past, and there are three months left the year, plenty of Oscar hopefuls and just plain entertaining movies ahead of us. Before we get to the next month of films, let's take one more look back at what I saw in September.

Best of the Month: Jet Li's Fearless
Worst of the Month: The Covenant

Chronological list of the films I saw:

  1. The Wicker Man. This remake is a moderate success. There is a lot of silliness that goes on, but if you are willing to dig through it there is some interesting subtext. Its too bad that it takes too much effort to do so, by the time you get there, you just don't care anymore. **.5
  2. Crank. Deliriously over the top and just plain strange, this Jason Statham vehicle works as a stream of conciousness chase action film. Not as good as the Transporter films, nor as gloriously over the top as Running Scared, but still a fun ride. Sit back, turn off, and enjoy. ***
  3. The Illusionist. I have had a number of people tell me that this is the best film of the year. I will let it go, as there is a lot to like, but it is all let down by a generic love story, the kind that has been done to death and just wastes the talent that is on the screen. **.5
  4. The Protector. Tony Jaa once again proves that he is the future of martial arts films. Sure, the film was chopped to bits and the story made little sense, but it still had some of the most impressive filmed action of the year. That includes a wild 4 minute steadicam shot that took two months of planning. ***
  5. Hollywoodland. This was a very good look back at the 1950's era of Hollywood. Using the death of George Reeves as its focus, we are given a story of glamour and loss and everything in between. It is highlighted by good acting all around, and deserved better box office than it got. ***
  6. The Covenant. It takes a concerted effort to make a movie this bad. This was a joint effort from the director, to the writers, to the actors, all the way to the guys in catering. This movie just does not work and does not make sense. View at your own risk. *.5
  7. The Black Dahlia. Brian de Palma's a style master, and he puts it on display again here. It is just too bad that the style was at the expense of the substance. the story is weak, it is as if they did not know where they wanted to put their focus. The acting was decent, and the dialog was pretty good, but the lack of direction holds this back from becoming a must see. ***
  8. Gridiron Gang. It may have followed the formula, but it was still quite effective. There is a good contrast between the hope that the football team gave and the gritty gang-oriented life on the streets. Dwayne Johnson puts his considerable charisma on the screen, showing that he actually has acting ability. ***
  9. The Last Kiss. Very good film about a guy who does not want to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. He has reached a crossroads and it scares the hell out of him. His decisions lead him down a path that could destroy his future. A touching film that is more than just Garden State 2. ***.5
  10. Jackass Number Two. I'd be lying if I said that this wasn't funny, I'd also be lyign if I said it was a movie. It is a collection of idiotic stunts edited together in a strangely lyrical pattern. Worthy one viewing, as I doubt I would revisit it. **.5
  11. Jet Li's Fearless. Wonderful movie. It may not have the poetic beauty of Hero or the visceral fights of The Protector, but it is an impressive display of action and drama surrounding a person from China's past. This is one of Jet Li's better acting performances. The action is impressive, and the story of self discovery easy to relate to. It is too bad that Li is retiring from wushu films, but this is a fine note to exit on.***.5
  12. Feast. There is nothing quite like a quirky, energetic, low budget horror film, and this one delivers the goods. It is the result of the third season of Project Greenlight. It has some blood, some action, and a healthy dose of humor. ***
  13. Flyboys. This World War I drama features some truly breathtaking bi-plane dogfights. The story and acting are all pretty good, but it is the flying that really makes this one worth seeing. ***
  14. The Guardian. Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher team up in this drama about Coast Guard rescue swimmers. It follows a formula, but it is exciting and is bolstered by a good Costner performance. **.5
  15. Open Season. Eh, another mediocre animals on an adventure story. I am starting to get a little tired of these tales, and this one does not bring anything new to the table. It may even make you question if celebrity voices should be used (I dare you to watch the deer and not see Ashton Kutcher). **
  16. School for Scoundrels. A dark comedy that forgot to bring the dark or the comedy. It has a few moments, and is raised to watchability by Billy Bob Thornton. The problem is that the story is perfect to have a little bite to it, but the bite never comes, it is content with letting out a couple of little barks. **.5

So, did you see anything in Sepetember?


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