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Howard Waldrop’s Look Back on a Decade of Film Reviews


A wrap-up, then, of the movies I’ve seen, or had to see, in not my favorite decade so far, in not my favorite century.

While we were off seeing stuff, I hope better movies were playing elsewhere. I hope you saw them; we didn’t.

How Lawrence and I work: early each year we look at the IMDb (and other sources) and try to sign up for stuff that should be good, or interesting, or something, based on past history, or buzz, or blind goddamn hunch. We’re often wrong on all three counts. We also say “We’ll do this one if no one else wants it.”

Then we wait for the release dates; sometimes movies never open in Austin, or are delayed everywhere, or stagger into town with no advance notice. Though we don’t go to them, one of the warning signs of crapola is the release of a movie with no press screenings (for our friends in the business) – they’re trying to sneak it into the googleplex and make some money from the rubes and the unwary before word gets out, as it always does.

Many times, if our reviews keep even one person from buying a ticket, our lives are justified. Or if we put you onto something you never ever heard of, playing one show a day at an out-of-the-way failing theater, we’ve also done our part.

In the thankfully-just-gone decade, has there been anything better than Monsters or The Incredibles? I doubt it. Has anything been worse than the Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland or the all-time celluloid-wasting champ, the Nicolas Cage remake of The Wicker Man, which will live forever in the Halls of Infamy?

Does anybody but us remember Mirrormask (an ambitious, good-looking failure) or 1408 (John Cusack – usually a fearless actor – in a one-man show, which in this case let him down)? Only we – and dedicated Hong Kong chop-sockey fans – saw Forbidden Kingdom. It’s like it never was made.

We could talk about the new paradigm SF movies – the Korean The Host, the South African District 9, and the aforementioned Monsters. Then you can talk about the ersatz new paradigm movies, you know, like little movies but with bigger budgets and more explosions, like Cloverfield and Skyline. It doesn’t work that way.

We couldn’t understand what the fuss about The Descent was, except it was about a bunch of women lost in a cave. It was as dumb as everything else out that year.

I left in the middle of an Armadillocon one year in 105 degree heat, walked a mile to the nearest megaplex and saw Stardust, which was nowhere as good as it should have been.

I’m one of the few people who thought Iron Man II was a better movie than Iron Man. I still don’t understand how The Watchmen, being a pretty faithful adaptation of a great graphic novel, wasn’t a great movie.

I wanted Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to be the greatest movie ever made. It wasn’t.

As I said, what’s next in the Indiana Jones franchise if they continue the adventures into the 1960s? Indiana Jones vs. the Manson Family? (“It’s the pictures that got smaller.”).

Jonah Hex: You take a character and all the supernatural background, and turn it into Wild Wild West 1½. Not the best use of your source material.

There were the glories of The Simpson’s Movie and Futurama: Bender’s Big Score, but you wouldn’t expect anything less of the people who’ve been rollicking us, and making us think, for 22 years now.

One of the highlights of our reviewing was covering the DVD release of The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, which was as fresh early in the 2lst Century as the day it was made in 1958. How much of the stuff made in this decade is going to look good in 60 years?

In retrospect you realize 300 was a stylistic dead-end, and the King Kong remake a bad idea from the start (especially the screenplay), although the idea seemed a can’t-miss before it was made.

Does anybody remember either 9 or The Nines, except people like us who had to see them? Grindhouse seemed like another can’t-miss — until you saw it. Splitting it into the salient double feature was one of the all-time great DVD marketing mistakes.

We weren’t charged extra in the 1950s for 3-D; when did they get the idea we’ll pay more now, when the technology is simpler?

The old dictum holds true: Make better movies and we’ll give you all the money you can handle.

Looking back on this fairly benighted decade, it isn’t the joyous picnic it should have been, and the l½ inch stack of first drafts of my halves of the reviews seems like a footnote to what I laughingly call my career.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but I wish I felt better about things the morning after.

Comments

Pingback from Howard Waldrop’s Review of the Decade of SF/F/H Film Now Up « Lawrence Person's Futuramen
Time February 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm

[...] took a little different approach than mine, just covering things we [...]

Comment from John Kessel
Time February 28, 2011 at 7:21 am

Howard, you just didn’t see the right movies, including three of the best sf movies ever made (IMHO): Children of Men, The Prestige, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Throw in lesser films like Inception and some of the ones you mention (though I still don’t understand why District 9 gets such good reviews from sf people) this decade ranks as high as any previous one and higher than most.

Comment from Lawrence Person
Time March 1, 2011 at 9:21 am

Howard saw The Prestige, it just slipped his mind. Children of Men would rank higher if it weren’t so ponderously sure of its own self-importance.

Comment from Todd Mason
Time March 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I will certainly second John (and your film-reviewing partner) in suggesting that ETERNAL SUNSHINE… is one of the best fantasticated films I’ve seen, and helped elevate the decade in that wise by itself.


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