If you had asked me in July how the 2006 summer movie season was shaping up, I would have launched into a vicious rant about the sad state of contemporary popcorn filmmaking. But that was then, and thanks to some recent quality releases, I have since come to appreciate this past movie season for what it was: a lukewarm period that saw a handful of premium titles, and even one masterpiece.
Note that I am talking about the summer's wide releases. Indeed, I didn't see very many of the season's more obscure offerings, but I have no doubt that such titles as "The Proposition," "A Prairie Home Companion," "The Road to Guantanamo" and "Half Nelson" will provide for some engaging viewing when they are released on DVD in the coming months.
But, living in Lodi, we try to make due with what the multiplexes decide to offer. Usually, that ain't much.
But let's focus on the positive - namely, "The Descent," which is an early contender for a high spot on my year-end top 10 list. Though it was initially slated for a limited run, Lions Gate wisely decided to release the movie into more theaters because they realized they had the potential for a modest break-out success with Neil Marshall's terrifying film about an all-female team of adventure-seekers who set out to explore a remote cave.
With a film of this nature, it's prudent that viewers see it with as little knowledge as possible, so that plot synopsis will have to suffice. But trust me when I say that despite its somewhat schlocky premise, "The Descent" is easily the scariest, most carefully constructed horror movie of the decade.
Marshall's film was the season's only four-star work, yet some robust competition came in three very different but equally unexpected forms.
First was "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which overcame unfavorable critical reviews to become the year's highest-grossing movie.
The good, not-so good, bad and just plain ugly summer moviesGreat:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Snakes on a Plane
World Trade Center
Mission: Impossible III
The Da Vinci Code
The Devil Wears Prada
Just plain ugly:
There have been better films this year, but for pure, old-fashioned summer spectacle, I don't think it gets much better than this. British actor Bill Nighy's turn as the villainous Davy Jones helped make this "Pirates" even better than the first, and gave audiences reason to look forward to the saga's third installment next summer.
Also notable were "Clerks II" and "Snakes on a Plane," which transcended their crude natures to become two of the summer's best offerings.
Haters can rag on them to their heart's content, but these movies were made for a very specific audience: 15- to 30-year-old males who are willing to wallow in potty humor and cheesy action in the service of a good, carefree time. If you don't fit that description, don't even bother.
Which brings us to "Nacho Libre" and "Miami Vice," the only two movies that I genuinely regret having seen.
The latter was severely disappointing considering director Michael Mann's track record with similar films, but it didn't even come close to approaching the horror that is "Nacho Libre," starring Jack Black in another tiresome role as a wannabe Mexican wrestler. Here's a movie so self-consciously unfunny that it makes "Napoleon Dynamite" look like the most naturalistic comedy ever made. In all honestly, I fail to see how anyone could find such degrading stupidity to be even remotely entertaining. I don't understand it, nor do I wish to.
(Of course, I understand that "Nacho Libre" may not have been the worst of the summer lot. Thankfully, I was wise enough to avoid the likes of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," "Little Man" and "John Tucker Must Die." If that makes me close-minded, then so be it.)
The rest of the summer's major titles kind of faded into one another in terms of entertainment value, with none standing out as especially good or bad. The remaining nine films that I reviewed were all worth seeing in one way or another, with "Poseidon," "X-Men: The Last Stand," "Superman Returns," "Cars" and "World Trade Center" receiving favorable three-star ratings. However, the only truly "solid" flick among those was "X-Men: The Last Stand," which gave us the year's best super hero movie in spite of the absence of director Brian Singer, who opted instead to helm the pleasant but underwhelming "Superman Returns."
Falling short of the three-star cut-off were "Mission: Impossible III," "The Da Vinci Code," "The Break-Up" and "The Devil Wears Prada," all of which had their strong points but ultimately failed to remain entertaining all the way through their bloated running times. The best of the lot was probably "The Devil Wears Prada," with Meryl Streep's predictably layered performance as an ice-queen magazine editor. "M:I 3" and "The Da Vinci Code" managed to satisfy some fans amid controversy, but they both suffered at the hands of filmmakers (J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, respectively) who were clearly out of their element.
And there you have it: a summer filled with some pleasant surprises, some real pain, and a lot of in-betweeners. This fall looks to bring some interesting projects from many noted filmmakers, and with any luck it will be more memorable a season for Lodi's moviegoers.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.