It’s been an interesting summer movie season so far. For the most part, the big tent pole crowd pleasers have been mediocre at best and there’s hasn’t been a buzzy, must-see movie like we got with Inception last year. Super 8 comes awfully close, but I think it was less a big summer movie than a little spring or fall one. Its pleasures are smaller scale, more intimate, with the sci-fi element more set dressing than anything else. 30 years ago you could get away with releasing a movie like this and let word of mouth carry it over summer, but now there are just too many big movies sucking all the air out of the room. That’s not to say it isn’t doing well with almost $37 million (corrected from initial estimates of $38 million) since Thursday, but it’s dividing audiences and a lot of people were disappointed by the build up. I think it will continue to do well and play best to audiences over 35.

Bridesmaids has had some cultural snap to it even if it’s only pulled in a bit more than half of what Hangover Part II has rung up. The people who’ve seen it seem to like it and it’s my pick along with Super 8 for the best movies of the summer so far.

As for Inception had more than a few issues, but still there was a level of excitement and a feeling of originality surrounding it that made it feel special. Of course there’s still a month to go until we reach the similar point in summer this year that Inception came out in 2010, but I can’t see a movie coming that will fulfill the same function. Green Lantern will milk the fanboy set of plenty of lucre, but it’s hard to picture it having a cultural moment. I have higher hopes for Captain America, but the same feeling applies. The nonsensically titled Transformers: Dark of the Moon will be huge among audiences who have been dropped on their heads (which will be enough to make it the highest grossing movie of the year in my estimation), but again there’s no zing here. Cowboys & Aliens? Maybe, but again this one will probably appeal mostly to the nerd herd. Cars 2? Don’t even get me started on this Target toy commercial. Pixar has more than earned the benefit of a doubt, but a sequel to my least favorite of all their movies doesn’t hold a lot of promise.

Is there anything I’m overlooking? Oh yeah. Harry Potter and the Whatever of Whatever. That’ll be huge, but again I don’t see it playing outside of its (admittedly huge) established group of fans. Remember, I’m not talking about box office totals here, I’m more interested in cultural relevance and awareness. I’m talking about the kinds of movies people who don’t see a lot of movies every year end up seeing and talking about.

Interestingly, despite the presence of a big, significant, blockbuster heavyweight, there have been a couple of outstanding limited releases carving out a spot for themselves from among the people who aren’t interested in whatever movie is big that week. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is doing really well in less than 50 theaters, while Woody Allen’s lovely Midnight in Paris broke records in limited release and expanded well this weekend. I doubt it will get to the $38 – $40 million range of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, but it should do better the $23 million of recent hits Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point.

That’s all I’ve got this weekend. Now it’s your turn. How does this summer stack up so far for you?




11 Responses to “The Summer so far”

  1. Super 8 is the film I’ve seen in a theater in months and I liked it in spite (or maybe because) of my low expectations. Special effects weren’t nearly as bad as the trailer (the monster hammering on the box car door didn’t even show up in the finished product). There were some pretty great, old-school action set pieces that deliver on the whole Spielberg throwback vibe Abrams was going for.

    I only wish the alien had received a more coherent explanation and send-off. After the great build-up, I felt that the pay-off was somewhat lacking the emotional punch of, say, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and nowhere near the heights of E.T. That the film invited these unfair comparisons is the filmmaker’s fault.

    Also watched I Saw the Devil today on Netflix. I’m still parsing my thoughts about the subject matter, but it’s a damn good suspense film. Some of the jolts are of the cheap ‘gotcha’ variety, true, but it seems like the only directors who can deliver this kind of horror film anymore are the South Koreans. Kim knows how to set up his scares, how to plant that first seed and let the shock creep in.

  2. This past week yielded some highlights on the cultural scene, including an off-Broadway stage play based on and titled after Ingmar Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly. The 90 minute drama featured celebrated British actress Carey Mulligan (as Karin) Chris Sarandon, Jason Butler Harner and impressive newcomer Ben Rosenfield in extraordinary form. This claustrophobic work, adapted by Jenny Worton from the first part of Bergman’s early 60’s “Faith Trilogy”adaptation of the Swedish auteur’s 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly – a dark, psychological exploration of madness and artistic creation by the sea. The theatre has never succeeded in capturing escalating madness as well as the cinema, which has at it’s disposal the use of the close up, visceral editing, and the orchestration of sound and visual elements which can’t quite be replicated on the stage. The play, faithful to the film’s story arc, depicts Karin’s return to her family’s Swedish island home after a stay in a mental institution. She’s joined there by her slightly older physician husband Martin, her hack novelist father David, and her brother Max, a lonely soul who’s taken up playwriting in an effort to emulate his father’s creative efforts. As the family’s old resentments resurface and Karin’s father reveals the extent of his cold creative impetuses, Karin’s madness worsens until it reaches its breaking point. Mulligan is raw and riveting in trying to emulate the great Harriet Andersson, and within the form’s limitations is often electrifing. Ben Rosenfield nearly matches her as Max in a portrayal of stark intimacy. Two major contributions come from set designer Takeshi Kata and lighting supervisor David Weiner, but the spare music from David Van Tieghem gives the film some added emotion. David Leveaux’s direction tries to isolate the intense dramatics, but there’s a cold and distancing quality to the adaptation that makes it only intermittingly effective. Basically Through A Glass Darkly is a series of vignettes based the film that recapture much of the wrenching emotionalism, but only a hint of the film’s explosive power. Note: It was wonderful to again meet our great friend and site colleague Phillip Johnston, who joined Lucille, Broadway Bob and myself for this production and a late night meal at The Dish. Phillip and Lucille enjoyed some steak, while Bob and I opted for veal parmigiana.

    On the film scene Lucille and I saw the following, several with the kids in tow:

    Battling Butler **** 1/2 (Monday evening) Keaton Festival at Film Forum

    The High Sign **** (Monday evening) Keaton Festival at Film Forum

    13 Assassins **** 1/2 (Thursday evening) Cinema Village

    Super 8 **** (Friday afternoon) Edgewater Multiplex

    Submarine ** (Friday evening) Montclair Claridge Cinemas

    Keaton’s personal favorite film, Battling Butler and the wonderful short, The High Sign will be discussed in the Keaton round-up in August, but it was again a joy to hear Steve Sterner and Ben Model providing live piano accompaniment. The Japanaese samurai film 13 Assassins by Takashi Miike is the best of it’s kind since the glory years of Kurosawa and Kobayaski, and features an operative 45 minute final duel to the death that is heart-stopping. Prior to that, characters are beautifully examined setting the stage for the final assault. J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg collaborate on a wonderful and nostalgic take on the 50’s monster movie (Super 8) that offers the full gamut of emotions, and some arresting set pieces. At times it’s narratively uneven, but it all comes together in the end, and is hardly the worse throughout. The British coming-of age drama Submarine was a big hit on the festival front, but one wonders how this often excrutiating film could have seduced viewers into setting aside the overbearing narration, and the alienating characters. It was patterned after Rushmore, and is wholly unoriginal.

  3. I’ve had a great movie-going weekend. It actually started on Thursday with Midnight in Paris, which I enjoyed. There were some scenes and minor characters I wasn’t completely into, but overall I enjoyed it. Nice to see Owen Wilson back to his old self.

    Friday night I saw Tree of Life, which I enjoyed immensely. I can sympathize with those that are struggling with the ending and I can also appreciate some of the criticisms I’ve read, but overall I really respect Malick’s willingness to take huge chances, force the audience to draw its own conclusions, and tell a deeply personal story. Even ignoring the opening and closing bookends that folks are struggling with and the cosmic creation sequence (which I found phenomenal), the heart of this film is an evocative study of an American family focused on the growth and maturation of the oldest son. The acting, direction, editing, cinematography, and narrative for this long, nearly wordless section are excellent in my opinion. I was honestly blown away by it.

    And yet I accept that not only has Malick thrown his detractors more grist for the mill, he’s delivered a film that is more unabashedly “Malickean” than any of his previous works. If he annoyed you before, he will likely irritate you even more with Tree of Life. But I believe if you liked The New World or Days of Heaven, then you might love this film.

    Saturday afternoon I saw Super 8, which didn’t work for me. I loved the main performances and can see how it might appeal to people, but it just didn’t work for me.

    Saturday night I finally caught up with The King’s Speech. A solid film certainly, and I’m not surprised it won all those Oscars, but I don’t think it deserved all of them.

  4. I’m with you on both counts WJ. My expectations were modest for Super 8 and it delivered some fun that no other movie has managed so far this summer. I also loved I Saw the Devil. I never was able to decide if it was especially deep, but it was solidly entertaining.

    I think in some ways Abrams shot himself in the foot with Super 8 by being coy about the monster. I think it built a lot of people up into thinking the monster would be more important than it ultimately was and some folks were disappointed. Personally, I loved seeing a movie for once that didn’t have every cool frame spoiled. by the time I saw it. There was still an element of mystery in a similar way to Cloverfield, the difference being that the movie around it was much much better.

    Sam, we are in agreement on both 13 Assassins and Submarine. I look forward to eventually seeing the director’s cut of the former and am utterly flumoxed as to how Submarine is getting such good reviews. I liked it a bit better than you in that I admired that it was trying to shake up the teen romance, but I wish it had replaced it with something actually interesting.

    Joel with the exception of Bridesmaids, you pretty much condensed the best of my summer into one weekend, even if one of those movies didn’t work too well for you. All in all, I’d say 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.

  5. I’m working on a trial so no movie-going for me. I did catch The Caine Mutiny and King and Country on TCM on Saturday night though. Great movies.

  6. I think you got it right when you said the sci-fi element of Super 8 is just set dressing. It’s a small character drama with big flashy sets. My husband, who did not like it very much, said “I don’t go to a creature feature for the family drama and the cute kids.” Conversely, I was much more interested in the kids than in the monster, and I’m fine with that, so it pretty well worked for me. It does lay on the Spielberg so thick it suffers in comparison to the original hits, and I thought it lost momentum and some credibility in the last third, but it was entertaining and compelling. The alien stuff was just an excuse for the dramatic story they wanted to tell, and the alien got the short shrift of all of them, I thought. But whatever. I had un-high expectations, so it was fun enough, I’m glad I saw it, and I got about what I expected. I get why people are divided on it, though. For me, it was all about the kids.

  7. “I don’t go to a creature feature for the family drama and the cute kids.”

    Brevity is indeed the soul of wit.

  8. “I don’t go to a creature feature for the family drama and the cute kids.”

    I love that guy, JB, although I’d point out that Aliens had family drama and a cute kid and I’d go to that creature feature anytime.

  9. “My husband, who did not like it very much, said ‘I don’t go to a creature feature for the family drama and the cute kids.’ ”

    Well not every movie can be Piranha 3D. Sucks for him that this was simply not the movie that the marketing suggested.

  10. As much as I liked Super 8 overall, I think it’s tainted by that ridiculous, schlocky ending. I think it would’ve been a better film had he invested a bit more time into developing the alien as a character instead of a plot device. It can either be a Cloverfield-style mystery monster or a King Kong-style misunderstood giant, but it’s very difficult to have it be both. Abrams’ undoing is that he tried to have it both ways — I’m still not clear what the creature was doing with its human captives — and ended up with a tonal mess.

    And the kid giving up his mom’s pendant just rubbed me the wrong way. It was way too on-the-nose and a pat resolution for the whole bereavement thread.

    A week later, I’m still dissatisfied with the ending. All that said, Super 8 is still one of the best summer blockbusters to come down the pike for a while, probably since The Dark Knight.

  11. I rather loved the ending myself. It added some emotional resonance.

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