Oklahoma Gazette film reviewers take stock in 2008's erratic cine-conomy, detailing its tops and tumbles, and outlining good and bad bets for next year's movie market.
With a love for classic horror movies and Westerns, Bentin takes particular stock in movies made before the mid-1950s and well-told, linear narratives. No odd angles or handheld camera shake for this reviewer.
HIGH: Iron Man
At first glance, no movie in 2008 was more set to crap out than "Iron Man": wrong character, wrong cast, wrong director. Surprise! Nothing fades from memory faster than those prestige movies we refer to as "Oscar bait," but "Iron Man" is destined to be the most fondly remembered picture of the year.
LOW: College Road Trip
A stupefying example of a lousy comedy, this film comes courtesy Martin Lawrence, an actor you can always depend on for making comedy the cinematic equivalent of a CIA interrogation at Abu Ghraib.
BUY: Drag Me To Hell
Director Sam Raimi is taking a sentimental journey back to the genre that gave him his start " horror " with the deliciously pulpy sounding "Drag Me to Hell."
I have my doubts about Sacha Baron Cohen's next magical mystery tour, "Bruno," or whatever it ends up being called. I want to like this guy, I really do, but I thought "Borat" was "Boring."
SELL: Hannah Montana: The Movie
Predicting this one will win the Hoover Award for Suckiness is like shooting fish in a barrel. Hell, it's like dynamiting fish in a barrel. It's like dropping weapons of mass destruction on the finny little bastards.
Romanced by gritty action sequences and quirky narratives, Wertz is distracted by fight scenes and effects that run contrary to the laws of physics. Films that focus on characters and camera work are traded alongside movies that entertain with campy gore, nostalgic mood or retro sexiness.
HIGH: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
A delight in every way, David Fincher uses his typically dark directorial style to impart magic and wonder to a F. Scott Fitzgerald's story of a man who ages in reverse. Heartfelt, romantic and genuine, 2008 ended with this lyric narrative of love and loss.
A nebbish office dork discovers he is actually part of an ancient order of assassins tasked with keeping the world's powers under bulleted balance. Angelina Jolie squirms and purses her lips while guns blaze and minds glaze amid bizarre, unrealistic battles and a strange subplot centering around mystical fabric.
BUY: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
The sixth film in the "Harry Potter" series, the David Yates-directed "Half-Blood Prince" should be wholly dark and foreboding as Muggles and Wizards flee a compromised Hogwarts and prepare for a final showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort.
HOLD: The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's wonderful tale of a hungry family of foxes who outwit a trio of farmers. "Fox" has been burrowed and rescheduled a few times, which better mean Anderson and the A-list lineup of vocal stars have cooked up something truly clever.
SELL: The Janky Promoters
Ice Cube and Mike Epps are shady concert promoters who somehow land, but cannot afford to pay for, a performance by high-profile actor Young Jeezy, making his feature film acting debut in this guaranteed disaster. Janky fo' sho'.
Regular readers might have notice this trader's disdain for violence for its own sake, Robertson isn't very enthusiastic about action movies unless the story is particularly well-told. More apt to buy tickets for laughs, he dislikes pretentiousness, gratuitous special effects and "kid" movies that treat children like they're subnormal.
HIGH: Hamlet 2
While not a top choice for many (if any) critics, "Hamlet 2" is crazy on so many levels that it at least deserves a year-end shout-out. British comedian Steve Coogan heads a cast down a road that leads to Jesus riding around in a time machine with Hamlet and Einstein, and more drunken roller-skating than you could ever hope for.
LOW: Death Race
While touted as a remake of the Roger Corman blood-and-irony classic, "Death Race 2000," this year's version traded sick humor and social commentary for tired, video-game-style clichés and Jason Statham's one-dimensional screen presence. "Death Race" is notable for more than halving Joan Allen's career integrity.
The premise is pure gold: In 1998, a group of "Star Wars" fans discovers that one of them is terminally ill, and will likely miss a long-awaited movie release. The crew embarks on a cross-country road trip to Skywalker Ranch, where they plan to steal a print of the movie for their pal.
HOLD: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
This one could go either way. The "X-Men" movies got progressively lamer as they went, but the trailer for this prequel starring Hugh Jackman in the title role has a stripped-down, surrealist feel that could mean the kickass trailer raises expectations for what could turn out to be a "Punisher"-level comic book movie.
SELL: Crank 2: High Voltage
The plot synopsis from the Internet Movie Database says it best: "Chelios (Jason Statham) faces a Chinese mobster who has stolen his nearly indestructible heart and replaced it with a battery-powered ticker that requires regular jolts of electricity to keep working." With a believable plot premise like that, "Crank 2" will undoubtedly be a soul-destroying abomination while still managing to top the box office.
A sucker for black comedies, crime thrillers, stories about the death of the American dream and anything else that the average moviegoer might consider a downer, Bacharach's portfolio is devoid of most musicals, romantic comedies and self-proclaimed tales of inspiration.
HIGH: The Wrestler
It's difficult to separate actor from fiction in "The Wrestler," a gritty, uncompromising tale marking the comeback of Mickey Rourke. He gives a career performance as Randy "the Ram" Robinson, a has-been professional wrestler with one last shot at recapturing past glories. Haunting, poignant and darkly funny, the film is director Darren Aronofsky's first bona fide masterpiece.
LOW: The Love Guru
Toto, I don't think we're in "Wayne's World" anymore. With "The Love Guru," Mike Myers did the seemingly impossible and made Adam Sandler look highbrow. If Myers' ego didn't happen to boast a freakishly strong immune system, he would devote himself to 1,000 hours of community service in penance for this fecal flick.
BUY: Public Enemies
Über-stylish filmmaker Michael Mann goes gangbusters with "Public Enemies," the real-life tale of G-Man Melvin Purvis in hot pursuit of Depression-era desperados John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson. With snap-brim fedoras, blazing tommy guns and powerhouse stars " Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as Purvis " there's no way this crime won't pay.
HOLD: The Year One
The Judd Apatow juggernaut has demonstrated its aptitude for hilarity with foul-mouthed, man-boy comedies. Can that brand of humor translate to biblical times? Audiences will see with the Apatow-produced "The Year One," starring Jack Black and Michael Cera. One promising sign: It will be helmed by "Groundhog Day" director Harold Ramis.
SELL: Paul Blart: Mall Cop
For whatever reason, an idiocy quotient seems to dog movie titles that include a person's name followed by a job." Witness "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" and "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector." All indications are that this Kevin James vehicle will continue the parade of stupidity.
Although increasingly inconsiderate audiences drive him more toward DVD than theaters nowadays, Lott finds few things more pleasurable in life than a good movie. He appreciates an intelligent drama or thought-provoking documentary as the next critic, but also a down-and-dirty horror film or kung-fu flick. Whether it entertains is far more important than how prestigious it purports to be.
HIGH: The Dark Knight
With "Batman Begins" reinventing the Caped Crusader, I expected Christopher Nolan's sequel to be good " but not this good! A near masterpiece, this transcendent crime drama exudes the raw grittiness of '70s films by Don Siegel or Sidney Lumet, and truly deserves Best Picture consideration by Oscar.
LOW: The Foot Fist Way
The budget on this comedy was so low, they couldn't afford the comedy. A little Danny McBride insulting kids in his karate class goes a long, long way " to where a mere 85 minutes feels longer than a "Lord of the Rings" marathon. Hi-ya? Hi, yawn.
BUY: Sherlock Holmes
With "Iron Man," "Tropic Thunder" and sobriety under his belt, Robert Downey Jr. is on such a hot streak " one likely to continue with Guy Ritchie's action-oriented take on literature's most famous detective. With Jude Law in as sidekick Dr. Watson, the casting is anything but elementary.
It's tough to tell if this sci-fi thriller about young people with super powers will be a sleeper hit or just a sleeper. Judging from the trailer, it could come off like first-season "Heroes" (which everyone loved) or current-season "Heroes" (of which nobody needs more).
SELL: Hannah Montana: The Movie
Sometimes I get these headaches so severe that I'm driven to the point of nausea. Luckily, I have a prescription for a pill that'll knock them right out. Whenever I hear Miley Cyrus' voice braying on the TV in the other room, I have to take one.