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September 5, 2011

FMWL's Best of Summer 2011 (Part One)

List time!  With the temperatures dropping and the leaves getting ready to change into their Halloween costumes, I figure it's time to stop and smell this summer's midnight roses one more time.  This is gonna be a blitz style couple of posts, as I take a gander at a lot of films - I count  25 right now, and I might think of more as I type - that made The Mike smile this summer.  Ready? Let's Go!

Best Of: The Summer Cineplex 
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: What looked like a cash-in reboot at first turned out to be a fresh and original addition to the 1968 classic.  A great film in its own right, thanks to great effects, good acting from James Franco and John Lithgow, and a ridiculously well-done script.  (Read The Mike's Review)

Super 8: I saw Super 8 three times this summer, and I never was able to come up with anything to write about it.  To me, it's one of those movies that isn't worth analyzing, because I'm having too much fun with it to turn on the critical part of my mind.  J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg craft a fantastic sci-fi tale that made me feel like a kid again - which is the best you can ask for from escapist summer cinema.

X-Men: First Class: I'm a nerd about almost any movie based on a comic book, but the four X-Men movies of the '00s were a mixed bag for me.  And it's not even that I only liked some of the movies, it's more that I liked and disliked different parts of each movie.  Enter another prequel, X-Men: First Class, which tells a new tale of the young mutants, led by young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender).  The action is well done throughout the film, but it's the performances of Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence (as the shape-shifting Mystique) that really sold the film to me.  For the first time ever, I really cared about the characters in the X-Verse.

Captain America: The First Avenger/Thor: Speaking of comic book flicks, I gotta give props to a couple of fun diversions that made me smile this summer.  Both of these films - which exist primarily to tie everything together for next summer's The Avengers - felt like what I'd expect a comic book movie to feel like.  Thor charmed mostly with its acting, led by a starmaking performance by Chris Hemsworth, while Cap's film won me over with its pulpy World War II/science fiction hybrid tone.  On their own, I find myself looking forward to revisiting each film often. (Read The Mike's Thor Review)

Best of: New Releases to DVD/Blu-Ray
Hobo With a Shotgun: To those of us who missed this film's VOD and theatrical run, it seemed impossible that this grindhouse throwback could live up to the hype.  But I quickly realized I was wrong to doubt the film, because this Hobo provides unmatched thrills and gore.  The film's mean side is complemented by a varied sense of humor that uses gross out gags and quirky characters, and the end result is what should become a true cult classic. (Read The Mike's Review)

Super: A vicious comedy that seems slightly inspired by last year's indie hit Kick-Ass, Super is another truly unique film, featuring plenty of uncomfortable and inappropriate moments (such as Juno's Ellen Page commenting on the interior of her lady parts with a choice adjective).  I wasn't wild about the movie while watching it - even though I admired the lead performance of Rainn Wilson much - but the final act really pushed the film to a powerful place.  Many kudos to James Gunn (who was also behind the raunchy recent horror Slither) for continuing to push boundaries and make us love him for it.

Drive Angry: Todd Farmer is a screenwriter cut from the same cloth as Super's Gunn; he's also unafraid to do unpopular things to win over lovers of cheese.  With Drive Angry, he gives us cheesy special effects, Amber Heard's loveliness, cool cars, good gore, sinister satanists, an over-the-top Nic Cage, AND (last but not least) a wonderfully funny comedic turn from William Fichtner.  As fun as any movie I've seen this year. (Read The Mike's Review)

Rubber: I get the complains about Rubber.  It's a completely irreverent film that doesn't really say anything or mean anything about a killer tire.  But I couldn't help feeling respect for the crazy little film, because it (and I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, I know) was unlike anything I'd ever seen.  I mean, it's a movie about a killer tire that just rolls around and makes people spontaneously combust.  I'm for that.

The Perfect Host: Just saw this flick this weekend, and had a ton of fun thanks to a sharp performance by David Hyde Pierce as a scene stealing psychopath who hosts the best dinner parties - for his victims and imaginary friends.  It's an incredibly smart thriller with some interesting twists, and great work from Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford.  It's a psychological winner that's worth finding.

Best of: Upgrades to Blu-Ray
Conan The Barbarian: While Jason Momoa and company were bringing Conan back to the big screen for Lionsgate, Universal had a perfect excuse to remaster and re-release Arnold Schwarzenegger's two turns as the Cimmerian.  The first film has long been a fantasy favorite of mine, and the upgraded video and audio are fantastic on blu-ray.  It's slightly disappointing that only the theatrical version of the film appears on this version - an 80 second dialogue scene in the directors cut is one of my favorite Conan moments - but that's a small concern compared to this fantastic presentation.

The Stunt Man: OK, I haven't watched my copy of this one yet - I watched the DVD shortly before its release because I was too excited to wait - but everything about it existing makes me REALLY HAPPY.  This is one of the best movies about movies ever made, featuring superb performances from Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, and (most importantly) my beloved Barbara Hershey.  The images I have peeked at look great, and it's got plenty of features on the awesome flick.  If you buy one new blu this summer, I recommend this one.

Nowhere to Run: I might be the biggest fan of this cheesy Jean Claude Van Damme film, but I don't regret my love one bit.  An extremely loose reimagining of  the classic western Shane (one of my favorite films), Nowhere to Run offers Van Damme on a motorcycle, making awkward humor with a Culkin kid, facing off with Ted "Buffalo Bill" Levine, and wooing Rosanna Arquette on a farm.  It was a teenage favorite of mine, and I was tickled pink to see it looking shinier than ever - even if it is an extra-free blu-ray offering.

Cobra: One of Stallone's biggest bombs, but this excessive action film is a cult classic in its own way.  Warner's blu-ray disc gives us Marion Cobretti in all his match-chomping glory, and is incredibly crisp for a film of its age.  This certainly isn't one of the best films I've seen this summer, but the blu-ray did a great job of reminding me that there's a lot to love about '80s Stallone, even when he's in the middle of one of the silliest cop movies of the silly decade.

I'm gonna break this post up for now.  Apologies to all my horror lovin' readers - because this summer apparently didn't grab me when it came to new horror in theaters or on home video.  Did I miss something?  Do you have favorites I skipped?  Please, for the love of everything awesome, let me know in the comments below, because this realization makes me sad.  

In the meantime, rest assured that I'll be back soon with FMWL's best indie horrors of the summer, as well as my favorite category: the best genre films I fell in love with for the first time this summer!  Be well, Midnight Warriors!


Unknown said...

Good list-one note about SUPER-Gunn's been trying to make it since about 2002. It took him that long to raise the budge for it. Absolutely loved it, thought I was stunned at how dark it went.

The Mike said...

Y'know, I thought I'd heard something like that. I almost stopped myself after the Kick-Ass comment, but was rollin' and decided I'd check the facts later. Oops.

But regardless, it rocks.

deadlydolls said...

I agree on Rubber. I didn't REALLY like it, but I respected it and feel like it made a lot of people unnecessarily angry.

Super 8, however, was a letdown for me. It's fine though. I'll just rewatch Attack the Block and see how that story should've been done.

R.D. Penning said...

GREAT list! I LOVED Rubber! It was ridiculous and fun. It was like watching someone with a giant hand slap horror filmmakers everywhere in the face. It said, "Look at this... I can make an inanimate object as appealing as your horror movies". It said a lot about recent horror.

I'm glad you finally got around to watching The Perfect Host... man that movie is a blast. I have watched it three times now, and I don't get tired of it. The movie is a blast.

Also, Super 8 was definitely in my Top 5 movies of the summer. Great Job Mike. Watched Shark Night 3D last night... a whole bunch of horribleness.