Movies 2009

(January 2, 2010)

I love going to the cinema after work: The Tuesday afternoon showings at my local cinema are quite affordable, and for most movies except the biggest blockbusters, the auditorium is usually almost empty. This enables me to enjoy a movie without being disturbed by laughing kiddies and popcorn chewing noises :)
Here’s a list of all the movies I’ve seen this year, along with a short comment or rating:

Twilight: A romantic drama with teenies on one side and fantasy creatures similar to, but not fully like vampires on the other. Not a bad movie, but I guess you need to be female and have read the books to fully enjoy it.

Valkyrie: I was quite surprised that a movie about German history filmed mainly with American actors actually works.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: The idea of a man aging backwards is a fantastic one, but in my opinion, the makers of this movie didn’t tap the full potential of the concept. Just like »Forrest Gump«, the movie retells the complete life story of a special person, but it fails to fully capture my heart. The effects are OK, though.

The International: A pretty well-made thriller, but not a highlight either.

Taken (German title: »96 Hours«): An awesome revenge movie. Liam Neeson’s role is as cold-blooded as it gets – when running into a room full of bad guys, he shoots them immediately, while the hero in virtually every other action movie would speak some pseudo-funny lines first.

The Reader: Very interesting and thought-provoking. Not at all a typical popcorn entertainment film.

Watchmen: As with most movies which are based on graphic novels, I was very skeptical about this one. The trailer looked so ridiculous that I didn’t plan to watch this movie at all. After having received lots of recommendations, I watched it anyway and was pleasantly surprised: The story really makes sense and there’s actually only one (OK, two) superheros in it :)

Knowing: An enjoyable »Apocalypse? Told you so!«-style movie. Unfortunately, the end is too far-fetched to be taken seriously.

Crank: High Voltage: Even more weird and unrealistic than the first part. This is the kind of movie where you really need to disable your brain to enjoy it.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: OK, it’s full of heroism and pathos and some of the stunts are overdone to hell and back. But in the end, I quite enjoyed this movie.

Star Trek: On the one hand, I doubted that a »reboot« of the Star Trek saga would work – but on the other hand, J. J. Abrams did it, so hopes were high. In the end, it turned out quite well: The actors picked for the leading roles are very fitting, and the return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock is just great. I’m not very happy with the fact that they started an alternate timeline instead of retelling the story of how the original Enterprise crew came together, but I guess it wouldn’t have worked otherwise.

Angels & Demons (German title: »Illuminati«): Solid, but not as good as »The Da Vinci Code«. The idea of having an antimatter bomb from CERN urges me to facepalm, but I can’t blame the makers of this movie for that – that’s clearly Dan Brown’s fault.

Terminator Salvation: An adequate continuation of the »Terminator« series. Of course it’s not remotely as good as »Terminator 2«, but then again, only very few movies are, so this doesn’t say very much except »it’s not one of the best movies ever made« :)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Again a solid movie in terms of story and visuals, but honestly I don’t remember anything tangible from it.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Not as bad as the second part of the series, but still not as good as the first one. ‘Nuff said.

Inglourious Basterds: The alternate version of the end of World War II is certainly one of Tarantino’s greatest movies. Never before did I see a movie that builds up suspense over such a long time just with dialogue. Roughly half of the actors in this movie are German and speak German, so it feels incredibly authentic even though it’s not realistic at all. Finally, there’s the amazing performance of a single actor which makes this movie absolutely awesome: Christoph Waltz plays the role of the smug and nasty nazi colonel Hans Landa with an intensity that easily matches Heath Ledger’s rendition of Joker in »The Dark Knight«.

District 9: This movie is often touted as being a low-budget production, but I don’t quite put it into that category. $30 million is certainly not a high budget, but it’s not that low either. Anyway, they put the money into good use: The story is fresh and alternative, the leading actor does his job extremely well and the special effects even put some multi-$100 million dollar productions to shame.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3: A quite decent hostage drama with great actors, but in hindsight, I have to say that it would have been sufficient to watch it on DVD/Blu-ray half a year later.

Pandorum: A sci-fi horror/suspense movie, similar in concept to the »Alien« series, and a quite good one at that. My only gripe is the inclusion of zombies, which are absolute unneccessary for the story.

Up: The topics covered in Pixar’s movies get weirder every time, but yet they always manage to create nice and lovely stories from whatever setting they chose. An old grumpy man flying to South America with his house (!) using helium ballons? Totally crazy, but Pixar makes it work.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (original Swedish title: »Män som hatar kvinnor«, German title: »Verblendung«): Based on the novel from Swedish author Stieg Larsson, this movie is a well-made thriller with a highly interesting leading character.

Pope Joan (German title: »Die Päpstin«): It’s completely unclear whether a story like this actually happened, but at least the movie is very interesting.

2012: It’s a Roland Emmerich movie, so the basic story (world ends, some random person helps saving it) is already known and ridiculous action sequences as well as ultra-stereotype characters are expected. If you know and accept that, you get a nice ride with stunning special effects.

Zweiohrküken: Half-assed attempt to continue the success of Germany’s most successful romantic comedy »Keinohrhasen» from 2008. Funny in some parts, embarrassing in other parts, nothing new in most parts.

Avatar: James Cameron’s sci-fi epos got loads of bad press because of its lame story, but I don’t think it’s as bad as they say. Of course the story is nothing new and the end is obvious even before the movie starts, but that’s not really the reason to watch this movie anyway. To me, »Avatar« is what I call a »scenery movie«, i.e. a movie you watch to enjoy the scenery. The particular twist, in this case, is that the outdoor environments with their lush vegetation are completely computer-generated, but in unprecedented quality. The motion-captured animations are superb, too, and never look artificial. »Avatar« also avoids some other potential pitfalls with computer-generated images: Creatures are mostly hairless, avoiding problems with unrealistic fur rendering, they don’t render fluids, and the Na’vi are certainly humanlike, but they are different enough to escape the uncanny valley. I only noticed a few irritating issues with compositing of real and CG images. Nevertheless, »Avatar« is clearly the new reference for computer-generated graphics in movies.

I watched three of the movies above in 3D: »Ice Age 3«, »Up« and »Avatar«. While I must say that the effect is indeed impressive, it isn’t a must-have feature – after about one hour, I just forget it’s 3D and simply watch the movie.

Another premiere for me was the Lord of the Rings trilogy: I have never seen these movies in the cinema back then, and on DVD I found the first part boring and the second part not that much better, so I skipped the third part altogether. A few months ago, my girlfriend talked me into watching these movies again though, and with a person next to you who can explain some of the missing details so you can follow the story, the movies are actually sort of enjoyable. But still, it’s a pity that even then, it’s just two good, but boring movies which serve as an introduction to a third, truely great one.

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