Summer movies? Boo! No, wait...Whoop-doo!
I think its both safe and fair to say this: Not one more movie ever needs to be made. Ever. Again. We've used up our fresh water well. We've gone to the depths and come back with the bends. Since its inception as an art form, each proceeding decade has been known for reinventing cinema on some evolutionary level. Then we hit the 80s, which was our last bastion of hope for imaginative storytelling. The 90s came on like a long slow drip of boring ineptitude. Or biggest hits were so-called duck press endeavors that managed to regurgitate everything that came before them. While Forrest Gump helped utilize and establish never before seen special effects, it was nothing more than a collage of past decades as reflected through the artistry of film. The same can be said of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (though it had the distinction of being made with no CGI or special effects). While it's bumpy and misaligned narrative flew down an exhilarating path, it was curbing from the director's own love of genre pictures. It was "something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new." And it set forth a weird trend of tail eating. Soon, every new comedy and drama, and horror was referencing pop culture from the past. The problem this presented? Future works would have nothing to reference except Tarantino's Gimp and Hank's Gump.
Sure, we started to see things pick up again in the Aughts. Directors and screenwriters set out to create new flights of fancy that held no bearing on reality. There were a few original endeavors that upheld the old 80s go-for-broke aesthetic as well as the gritty realism of the 70s. But this has mostly been a decade of remakes, reboots, twenty-years in the making sequels, and comic book adaptations of stories that were all written in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Sure, there has been some "new". But not a whole lot of it. That's not the depressing part of the story, though. The Aughts is a decade of fast food filmmaking. No one movie can sustain itself past its release date. Because audiences are now accustomed to never-ending freshness. They are hungry for more (no mater the content), and once it goes in one ear, it dribbles out the other and onto the floor, never to be heard from again.
Okay, there are the exceptions to the rule. Like The Dark Knight, which had audiences of all ages coming back for seconds and thirds. The real question is: "Why?" Why did this one film resonate so strongly with so many people? I haven't a clue. But its something that needs to be studied and analyzed by producers. Because everything else they have to offer is eaten quickly, barely digested, and shit into the ocean with a mouth that constantly screams, "What's next?" 2009 is a prime example of this. There are just far too many movies to choose from. The average filmgoer can't see them all. And it pours over us like a greasy bag of French fry dust to be devoured and discarded without further evocation. Which is sad. And this gotta-have-it culture of being first in line every time has never been more apparent than with audiences' reception of District 9.
Back in the day, this would have been a long lingering staple on the box office charts. People would have talked about it for months, and they would have gone back to see it seven or eight times. Now, despite its awesomeness as an overachiever, it upholds the same courtesy level as every other summer movie out there. It came, it went, and now we won't hear about it again, except maybe when the DVD hits for a minute. Why? Because people have already moved onto the next thing. The big-ticket item. In this instance, it's Avatar. James Cameron's twelve years later follow-up to Titanic. Fan and critic response to the trailer and the IMAX presentation have been slightly mixed to negative. At Comic-Con, I heard it blew people's minds. Until they saw District 9. And then it was an afterthought. I missed the whole giant 3D screen presentation on what buzzturds deemed Avatar Day. But I saw the trailer on my computer screen. Residing there, it gets a fairly hearty BOO! Judging this big, blue book by its cover, I'd say James Cameron now has his Howard the Duck. His Ishtar. His Heaven's Gate, and his Waterworld all rolled into one. The CGI isn't mind-blowing, as far as I can tell. And I feel slightly queasy when I look at the Na'vi for more than three seconds at a time. That said, this thing is going to be a gargantuan hit. People will rush to see it. Because of the hype. Heck, Avatar got its own off-school free day (Albert Einstein hasn't even achieved that distinction in Holiday, and the bastard created nuclear fusion and put bubbles in beer). The question is: will it stick? Doubtful. At this point in our self-imposed entertainment history, the characters could literally come out of the screen and interact with the audience, and people would be unfazed and onto the next thing in a heartbeat (Watchmen? Anyone?). That's just the way it is nowadays, and that's how this summer pretty much played out.
The big summer movie going season is nearly over, and it was an even keel on most accounts. Or so says the average couch critic. I personally loved a lot of the films deemed unworthy these past three months. Most notoriously, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It was a big clamoring mess of explosions and offensive kiddy babble. But I loved watching it wash over me in hues of garbled punk rock. It was everything I could have asked for in a big summer flick. It was a spectacle. So what if the story made little to no sense? And it was all over the map, literally. So what if Shia had a magic hand bandage that appeared out of nowhere? It's all-good in my book. Simply because it transported me out of this world for three hours and shoved me face first into an immersive IMAX environment that I'd never get to experience otherwise. It wasn't my favorite film of the summer. Not by a long shot. But I failed at gathering hate inside my rusty ribcage for this maligned live action cartoon. I'd gladly watch it again if the opportunity presented itself. But I, much like you and the rest of the filmgoing American populace, would rather move onto bigger and better things.
The following list won't mean much in a day or two. In fact, it's already obsolete, and I haven't even finished it yet. Next year, I will probably look at this list and forget that half of these movies ever existed. I doubt they'll be around after the encroaching tsunami. Doesn't matter. I'm still going to serve it up anyway. Here are my Boos! and Whoop-doos! of summer. Maybe you'll agree. But you'll most likely disagree. Whatever. It's all subjective (though I did wager their worthiness against our own viewer manipulated ratings system):
The Five Whoop-doo! Films of Summer that Managed to Defy the Heat and Humility, and the Regurgitational Narrative of the Aughts. These films pushed the boundaries of cinema to bring us into unexplored worlds and offered new insight into the plight of humanity. These were the classics from summer of 2009:
1) District 9: This is, without a doubt, the best sci-fi film of the last ten years. Full of imaginative story telling and compelling action, Neill Blomkamp has created an experience that will be remembered as one of the true summer movie masterpieces to come out of this decade. It brings a sense of excitement and joy back to the world of cinema, and it came on like nothing has before it. Quite literally, this Peter Jackson produced epic has put all other 2009 summer films to shame.
2) World's Greatest Dad: Like Blomkamp, Bobcat Goldthwait's hilarious drama pushed the boundaries of emotional storytelling, delving into uncharted depths with this perplexing look at father and son relationships. If Little Miss Sunshine and Juno can garner such Oscar praise, I don't see why Goldthwait's film can't achieve similar success. It has firmly placed the roaring comedian within the top ranks of our comedic pantheon of film directors. His latest tragic-comedy did what Judd Apatow's latest failed to do this summer, and that was stir us up with emotional relevance and make us laugh at the same time. Plus, we got to see Robin William's thick tip. Can anyone say: Bonus!
3) Tetro: This lush dream proved that Francis Ford Coppolla can still make compelling cinema when he wants to. Filmed in black and white, this quiet tale harkens back to a bygone era of filmmaking, where patience is given a chance to thrive within a story. Coppola's stirring drama managed to pull its audience out of realty, thus thrusting them into a world that was neither here nor there, leaving us to lingering in a weird limbo of miasmatic magic. Though witnessed by few, it has the ability to capture the film-loving hearts of many.
4) Inglourious Basterds: I heard the same thing from nearly everyone that saw Quentin Tarantino's latest film before I ever got a chance to see it for myself. "It's not what you're expecting." Then I read the viewpoints from many different critics. They all failed to adequately describe the experience of watching this riveting drama unfold as loquaciously as an unexpected tidal wave that sneaks up and washes away a village in the middle of the night. Even after hearing numerous first-hand accounts about the film's detailed structuring, It still wasn't what I was expecting. Instead of trivializing the War genre, or snip-and-clipping the best moments from it, Tarantino managed to reach in, and pull the conceit completely inside out. On the surface, this looks like a throwback to company platoon adventure classics like The Dirty Dozen and Force 10 from Navarone, but Lt. Aldo Raine and his men are but an added accoutrement to this fine fabled old Hollywood yarn, with its undercurrent of missions thrown into the foreground by the people we'd least expect. Each chapter acts as its own short film, and together, they tie into one of the more evocative and trying stretches of dramatic warfare seen in quite some time. Like Tetro, this endeavor requires old school patience. But the payoff is well worth the wait. And people that declared Inglourious Basterds too talky just aren't accustomed to dialogue as an art form.
5) The Hurt Locker: Told without the traditional structure of an action film, this traumatic tale of bomb diffusers in Iraq offered more thrills and edge of your seat excitement than any other big budget explosion extravaganza had to offer this summer. Director Kathryn Bigelow is apt at upping the adrenaline level in every single scene, and there isn't one moment that allows you to catch your breath. It will quite literally leave you dripping with sweat, even in an air-conditioned theater. The Hurt Locker arrived at the beset of at least a dozen films that carefully and mindfully depicted our middle east excursions. But this one was different. This was one war movie that actually proved to be entertaining and educational. Like District 9, it was fun and it had a message. Bigalow's low budget masterpiece was visceral and rough. And to the point. If you were looking for true gut wrenching thrills this summer, you couldn't have done better than buying a ticket to this faint kicker.
Not every film needs to uplift and change the face of cinema. I, for one, go to the movies to have fun. Not to bitch about them, or just to see them before anyone else gets a chance. Sometimes, believe it or not, I like to get liquored up and have a good time with my films. It's the so-called popcorn effect, and it doesn't always have to be a brainless endeavor. Who doesn't like to lie on their back and get a good ol' fashion rub'n tub on occasion? The five funnest films of the summer need no introduction. Whenever I am down, these are the films from this summer that I will look to in want or in need:
2) Star Trek
That's not to say this is the definitive list. I know a lot of people had a blast with The Hangover. Personally, I was let down by Todd Phillip's latest comedy. The hype got to me, and I went in expecting something extravagant and funny. What I got was good, but hardly mind blowing. And definitely not life affirming or challenging. It was what it was: The "real" sequel to 1984's Bachelor Party. The Final Destination gets an honorable mention, simply because David R. Ellis' fourth sequel remains a sheer blast of gory Whoop-doo! fun from the word go. Then there's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which got trashed before it opened only to hit like a swinging fist of adrenaline. A surprising number of people loved it for bringing them back to a 5th grade level. Though, I can't figure out if the after-release praise came courtesy of a Paramount handjob or not. I still haven't seen the film myself. But plan to in the very near future.
Now comes the bad news: Summer 2009's most unnecessary contributions to the four dollar bin at the local Wal*Mart. Yes. Its the Boos! of summer:
1) Imagine That
Yes, I am well aware that I said I Love You, Beth Cooper was going to be the sleeper hit of the summer. And that obviously was not the case. At this point, the sleeper hit of the summer still hasn't been declared. Call it office politics. Anyway, I leave you with the rest of the Boos! and the rest of the Whoop-doos! experienced during this intense 96 day heat wave.
It looks like a pretty even summer to me. There was good, bad, great, and awful in equal measure. I hope you enjoyed yourself, and found your ticket purchases well spent. Next week, we will look at the upcoming fall films. Until then: Eat Food! Kill Grandma! Whoop-doo!