I posted my comments on Mamma Mia a few weeks ago, but PJ and I have also seen several other films at the theater this summer that I haven’t had time to review yet. So, I thought that I would sit down and write one post to catch up. To organize my post, I’ll move from my least favorite to my favorite.

5. X-Files: I Want to Believe

PJ and I began what was then our friendship watching X-Files together almost every Friday night back in 1994 and 95. I will therefore always have a soft spot for the early years of the series (i.e., before it got so hopelessly bogged down in its “mythology”). Consequently, I was really looking forward to seeing the new movie and to finding out what Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been up to.

Some of X-Files: I Want to Believe fulfilled my expectations. I like what’s happened between Scully and Mulder. I also like that each is still having a crisis of faith — Scully in God and the Catholic Church and Mulder in the paranormal. Gillian Anderson is particularly good at conveying Scully’s dilemmas and issues.

Unfortunately, however, the plot of the movie is just ludicrous. The moment that it became laughably bad was when Scully conducts her research into stem cells as a cure for a rare brain disease on google. She literally goes from googling “stem cells” to operating on a kid, inserting stem cells into his brain. What’s more, she does this in a Catholic hospital. It gets worse from there, including one plot twist that is needlessly homophobic. The “x-file” in the film is just stupid and ultimately insulting to the franchise’s fans.

4. Sex and the City

This is another movie that I’ve been looking forward to. I love the television series (PJ and I have been spending our summer rewatching it). And I couldn’t wait to see Jennifer Hudson’s follow up to Dreamgirls. This is another case where I wanted to see what’s happened to the characters in the intervening years.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It had enough key elements from the series to please fans like me. I was especially impressed with Sarah Jessica Parker‘s acting in this movie. She’s really great. Carrie requires a lot of range, and Parker definitely delivers.

My only criticisms of the movie are that it’s a little too long and Hudson is wasted in her role. Indeed, her character is almost totally extraneous to the real plot. They either should have incorporated her into the entire movie or cut her character all together. I guess I also found Mr. Big’s motivation at a crucial moment to strain the limits of credibility, but I’m ultimately ok with that.

3. The Dark Knight

Again, The Dark Knight is a movie I’ve been looking forward to. If for no other reason, I — like everyone else — wanted to see Heath Ledger‘s performance as Joker.

Parts of this film are amazingly great. The opening bank robbery scene, for instance, is one of the best opening sequences ever. (I was recently reading a datalounge.com thread about great film openings; their picks were mostly kind of lame compared to this!)

Indeed, nearly ever scene with Ledger in it is great. He creates a Joker who is seems to be the king of chaos but who really has a method to his madness. I have to join the crowds of fans hoping that Ledger is acknowledged posthumously with a Best Supporting Actor nomination (and perhaps even the win). It wouldn’t make up for overlooking him for the win when he was nominated for Best Actor for Brokeback Mountain, but he deserves it for this role even if he had never performed before or if he were still alive to accept it. He’s really great in the movie — certainly as good, if not better than Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (which I loved!).

The Dark Knight is adapted — or perhaps inspired is the better word choice — by a few graphic novel versions of the Batman. I thought the movie realized these adapted elements really well.

My main criticism of the movie is that it too should have been a shorter in length. I thought that some of the early parts, which are meant to flesh out some of the consequences of the Batman’s brand of justice on Gotham City’s criminal underworld, were unnecessarily long and too diffuse. It was difficult to follow the action in certain sequences. But when the Joker takes over and the plot really becomes about the Joker’s mind games with Batman, the movie soars.

2. Wall-E

I’m not really into animated movies anymore, but I loved Wall-E, the heartfelt tale of a solitary robot working to clean up the earth after an environmental catastrophe leaves it uninhabitable for humans. When a routine probe droid, which Wall-E calls Eve, is sent back to earth to determine if it’s now time for humans to return.

The animation in this movie is great, and I admired its ability to transcend the medium to make its robotic characters seem human and real. There’s real heart and optimism in this movie, something you don’t often get in serious movies these days.

The film also makes delightful use of a clip from the 1969 film Hello Dolly! I loved this movie as a kid — I remember being allowed to stay up late once when I was about late elementary school or early junior high to watch it (this would have been sometime around the early 1980s). I saw it again not too long ago; it made me wonder two things: 1) how could my parents not know that I was gay if I was asking for special permission to stay up to watch a movie this gay?! and 2) how did I have such bad taste in movies as a young gay kid?!

Wall-E seems a shoe-in for Best Animated Feature this year. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser.

1. Brideshead Revisited

My favorite movie so far this summer is Brideshead Revisited, the new adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel. This is a beautiful, intelligent adaptation of a great novel.

The first thing one has to deal with in reviewing a film like this is to explain his or her view of adaptations. There was a much beloved television adaptation of the novel in 1981 that starred Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. While that adaptation is certainly to be praised for its faithfulness to the novel, it’s a little too reverential for my tastes. There’s not enough raw passion in it for me.

This new adaptation excels in portraying the characters’ emotions and desires. Charles Ryder, played by Matthew Goode, meets Sebastian Flyte, played by Ben Whishaw while at Oxford and the two young men become intimate friends. Their friendship becomes increasingly troubled, however, after Sebastian takes Charles to see his family home, Brideshead, a magnificent estate, and Charles increasingly becomes a pawn manipulated by Sebastian’s mother, Lady Marchmain, played by Emma Thompson. The relationship comes to a crisis when Charles falls in love with Sebastian’s sister Julia, played by Hayley Atwell, instead of Sebastian.

The film emphasizes the novel’s themes of the decline of the aristocracy during the inter-war period and the death-grip that religion can exercise on people, preventing them from achieving the one thing they want most: happiness.

The film also foregrounds Sebastian’s queerness, and Whishaw does a great job with Sebastian. I like that he makes him undeniably gay — nelly even — without making him just a stereotype. Goode and Atwell are also effective as the star-crossed lovers, but the movie belongs to Thompson. She is magnificent. She gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and I think it will be a shame if the Academy fails to remember her at the end of the year. Her embodiment of this woman is better than anything many of her British contemporaries have been praised for recently.

I guess that catches me up on summer movie reviewing. Next I’ll try to turn my attention to the music I’ve been listening to and the books I’ve been reading this summer.

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