Over the course of the last year, Elizabeth Banks has starred in five motion pictures (six if you open up the range a few months). A talented, appealing actress, Banks has dominated the multiplex with a successful range of genres and tempos, but I worry that suspense just isn’t her weapon of choice. “The Uninvited” is a slapdash offering of chills hinged on Banks’s tenuous ability to channel her inner Hannibal Lecter. She can’t manage the workload, and “Uninvited” doesn’t clutch a strong enough premise to overcome her lack of juicy depravity.
I have to admit, when Luc Besson sits down to invest in an offering of buttery popcorn entertainment, it’s an occasion to celebrate. Flipping through the likes of “District B13,” “High Tension,” “The Transporter,” and “Kiss of the Dragon,” it’s obvious Besson has a skill for picking out tight, twisted, lovable distractions, and “Taken” takes a welcome spot on his mantle of achievements. It’s an inconsequential action diversion, but damn does it pack a wallop over 90 taut, tempting Liam Neesony minutes.
As a Minnesotan for nearly my entire life, the fish-out-of-water comedy “New in Town” drives me up a wall. While innocent fun was poked toward the state in the Coen Brothers’ 1996 classic “Fargo,” the business of cartooning up Minnesota has almost become a full-time industry, last felt in the pop culture dynamo, “Juno.” Because many in the remaining 49 states will take “Town” to heart, let me assure you all: Minnesotans would never present meatloaf to a first-time dinner guest (it’s casserole/hotdish or nothing at all), they don’t eat Tapioca by the bucketful, and I’ve never heard anyone introduce the glory of Jesus in casual conversation. It’s been 13 long years since “Fargo” and numerous irritating Lea Thompson interviews, and my sense of humor concerning this topic has been rubbed raw; “New in Town” is nothing short of a character assassination attempt on Minnesota, and even worse, it’s a ghastly romantic comedy that requires heavy sedation to endure.
The new “Underworld” installment is being touted as the prequel the die-hard fans were demanding. That’s super-secret Hollywood code for, “Kate Beckinsale refused to appear no matter how much money was offered.” After the abysmal “Underworld: Evolution” from 2006, the prospect of another go-around with werewolves and vampires wasn’t welcome, though I have to hand it to the producers for having the sheer balls to replace Beckinsale with Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen, perhaps hoping acting expertise will pull this pointless prequel out of the gutter. The risk pays off for the rickety franchise, with “Rise of the Lycans” a swell, if profoundly trivial return to form for the creaky “Underworld” universe.
When we last left the state of the Vikings on film, it was in the hands of “Pathfinder,” a wretched motion picture that drained all the fun out of the brutal, mead-swilling culture. “Outlander” is a chance to redeem the legacy of the Vikings on the big screen, taking known quantities such as swords, machismo, and lush forest locations and adding what was always missing from the bearded tales of yore: bloodthirsty monsters from outer space!
Playing in the official “Harry Potter” fingers-crossed family film franchise sweepstakes, “Inkheart” comes armed with fantastical visual heights, a strong literary theme, and the inexplicable box office appeal of Brendan Fraser. What “Inkheart” lacks is a cracking pace and a reasonable deconstruction of an intricate plot for the uninitiated, leaving a feature film of determined scope plagued by dismal execution.
Yes, a movie titled “Donkey Punch” actually exists. What should’ve been a rowdy suspense piece that basks in the smirking idiocy of sexual myths and playground bedroom boasting is actually a toothless horror throwaway made on the cheap and elongated far beyond its expiration date.
Last time, Cinematic Titanic confronted their Mystery Science Theater 3000 heritage with the classic Christmas catastrophe, “Santa Claus Conquered the Martians.” Now the group is trying their luck with…nudity. Pushing their content experimentation even further, Titanic’s take on “Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks” presents a whole new challenge for the riff masters, tackling a film that’s as awful as any they’ve roasted before, only this presentation inches toward uncharted waters of adult entertainment.
While a boisterous member of the facepalm school of needless horror remakes, I’m sure “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” won’t raise the blood pressure of the average horror nut. After all, the original 1981 film wasn’t, ya know…any good. Atmospheric, perhaps, but not a breathtaking, hallowed genre creation. This 2009 update isn’t interested in manufacturing a severe facelift, instead holding tight to the dog-eared slasher playbook, adding the gimmick of 3-D to provide audiences with a front row seat to terror, and, for the most part, atrocious acting.
If someone would’ve told me a year ago that the top box office draws over the last few months would be dogs and Clint Eastwood, I would’ve laughed the laugh of kings (and then cried). Now, “Hotel for Dogs” doesn’t feature Dirty Harry in any type of supporting role, but it certainly has plenty of dogs, making it unquestionably irresistible to young audiences everywhere.
During his reign on the hit television show “King of Queens,” comedian Kevin James managed to combine the expected serving of fat jokes and pratfalls with a vigorous wit and nuanced domestic observation. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is his first solo starring endeavor, and there’s a flagrant absence of cleverness to gnaw on, replaced with a broader tone of family film hijinks. The end product won’t win any Oscars, but the edges of this slapstick action film retain James’s blitzkrieg sense of humor, making for a light comic adventure I’m positive kids will flip for.
The Christopher “Biggie” Wallace depicted in “Notorious” is a lying, drug dealing, adulterous high school dropout who held little regard for anyone other than himself. If not for the saving grace of rhyme, Wallace would’ve been just another statistic; a tired thug plagued by self-inflicted emotional wounds and stunningly selfish behavior. Of course, Wallace did find his way to a superstar rap career, leaving the bio-pic “Notorious” with no choice but to celebrate this questionable life, made legendary by its brevity and golden pop culture timing.
A Bollywood confection making a rare appearance on American shores, “Chandni Chowk to China” is an excellent reason why many of these productions fail to breakout beyond India. A deafening, slapstick-drenched, exaggerated bit of hokum, “Chandni” is an endurance test for the Bollywood uninitiated: a curry-flavored Three Stooges comedy via The Shaw Brothers playbook, with a healthy serving of Stephen Chow thrown in for taste. It’s an attractive bundle, but ultimately a punishing mess of a movie.
Cult films are best when they sneak up on the fringe audience, battling failure and disgrace to become something special, appreciated by a select few willing to cherish imperfection. “Repo! The Genetic Opera” is a motion picture that thirsts for alternative acceptance, positioning itself as a juicy piece of unlovable gothic muck that’s guaranteed to turn off mainstream audiences, thus assuring it life beyond the normal distribution timetable. “Repo!” is horrifically calculated to appeal to outsider mentality, but it clicks together rather marvelously, riding an offbeat sense of the macabre to peculiar, yet quite interesting results.
I respect that David S. Goyer desires to pen eccentric genre pieces that both conform to traditions and enjoy a few unique perspectives on scares. I just wish he would stop directing these movies. After three feature films of discouraging quality, Goyer suits up in a beret and jodhpurs again for “The Unborn,” which holds the miserable distinction of being the most dreadful film he’s fashioned to date. With past achievements such as “Blade: Trinity” and “The Invisible” to his name, it’s clear Goyer’s work is getting worse, and his imagination slowing to a crawl.
Nearly one full year after the sleeper success of the loathsome “27 Dresses” comes “Bride Wars,” another wedding-themed comedy that offers candy-coated marital madness to female audiences begging for estrogen escapism. It’s all labels, BFFs, and handsome, frighteningly interchangeable male co-stars. “Bride Wars” is also a missed opportunity for a crackerjack comedy, dropping any hint of mean-spirited delight to kitten play with mundane nuptial wish-fulfillment and half-realized romantic nonsense.
Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” isn’t some stiff, imperial historical bio-pic to be worked over like an all-day, mocha-flavored lollipop. It’s a film that’s lived in, preferring to experience the life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara through procedural busy work above simplified idol worship. A 4 ½ hour excursion into the mind of the revolution leader, “Che” takes an obscene amount of patience to endure, but the reward is a gorgeous expression of a life lived in constant pursuit of political and social ideals, and how that yearn manipulated a visionary into a man of action, eager, for better and worse, to change the world.
“Not Easily Broken” arrives in theaters fresh from the mind of T.D. Jakes, the controversial preacher who last made a dent at the multiplex with 2004’s “Woman Thou Art Loosed” (also known as the film that beat Tyler Perry to the punch, but didn’t have the correct venom to succeed). Jakes dishes up drama in massive helpings, and while “Broken” is oddly well intentioned, it takes head-to-toe protective padding to survive all the hysteria and tragedy, making the viewing experience more about wincing than Jesus-approved enlightenment.
Death defying professional wrestlers, an elderly baby, low-fi film worship, Bono, vampire love, botched abortions, pencil magic tricks, exposed penises, KISS worship, and perhaps the most polarizing sequel of the year.
These are the 10 best films of 2008.