Tag Archives: summer movies

Hollywood Musings

Sometime back, Hollywood twigged that summer when the kids were out of school and people who could afford it took vacations was a good time for big budget action movies. Some credit Steven Spielberg’s Jaws with being the kick-off point, but it gradually started happening earlier and by the 1970’s, summer became an established season for “tentpole” movies featuring fights, explosions and special effects, often on a large scale, that had a strong impact on studios’ revenues. That summer season was initially just the last half of June and the month of July, with smaller action films and comedies dropped off in the dog days of August. It wasn’t long though before the opening bell got pushed back to the end of May and the U.S. Memorial Day weekend, which back then was usually the end of the school year.

And there it stayed for a good bit, but pressures began to creep the opening date upwards. The first main factor was the establishment of the PG-13 rating in the U.S., back in the 1980’s, which made teens  the key audience for almost any action film and some of the horror films. Teens would see movies more than once and bring their friends. Teens were willing to watch anything with explosions, so Hollywood happily traded sex-filled thrillers for spectacles with violent fighting and ever more extravagant stunts. And, most importantly, teens were willing to go see big action movies during the school year if it got them out of the house. The second factor was international. World film outside of Hollywood developed and grew, with little interest in U.S. calendar issues. Foreign made films, some not even in English, jumped from playing only in a few U.S. urban centers to film festivals and then to U.S. multiplexes and DVD. In return, Hollywood studios became increasingly reliant on foreign funding for the big budget action pictures and global revenues became bigger and bigger and more important. Action pictures translated really well across languages and the barriers to distribution in many countries dropped. Release dates for non-U.S. markets became staggered or needed to be coordinated with the U.S. premiere.

So the opening launch of big “summer” movies moved up rapidly through May. And then April. In 2012, The Hunger Games came out on March 23 in the U.S. And this year, the fifth Die Hard movie: A Good Day to Die Hard, comes out on February 14th. That would be Die Hard — the franchise that has earned over a billion and whose last movie installment came out in June. Maybe they just had financing problems, or fear that going back to the original “R” rating for the films means a drop in teen audience rollout, but it seems something of an omen.  January and February have long been the dumping grounds months in which studios put out low budget action pictures they didn’t expect to do that well amid the expanded viewing of Oscar nominated films and random comedies. But hits from some of those low budgets  like Underworld over the last decade have now made those months more attractive, and every successful launch in March or April has shown it doesn’t have to be a special time of year to release big pictures. Additionally, the end of the year holiday season — an alternate time for big pictures — has gotten more important for action pictures, as well as animated films, and has been extended. The holiday big picture season now starts in early October in the U.S., instead of at Thanksgiving.

Given the deep need in Hollywood to up revenues, especially for their initial releases, to cover costs and deal with declining movie theater visiting in the U.S., it seems unlikely that September will long be spared. A year-long “summer” season is probably soon to be upon us, with a concentration remaining in July.  Note that this doesn’t mean that other types of films — comedies, romances, dramas, kids pictures, thrillers, etc. — aren’t getting made. There are more films being put out now than perhaps any time since the 1930’s, including oodles and oodles of documentaries, and their international take at the box office is also rising. There are more foreign films being imported to the U.S. then there used to be too. But the tentpoles, with their increasingly elaborate CGI effects, online PR blitzes and ability to invade previously nature doc only IMAX theaters, are coming at us fast and furious. (Fast & Furious 6 will be out May 22, which again is technically not summer, northern or southern hemispheres.) Meanwhile, the ability of lower budget action films to do pretty decent CGI spectacles, like the recent Warm Bodies, is rapidly increasing. So all in all, it’s an interesting time for action pictures.


Leave a comment

Filed under Movies/TV, SFFH

It’s May! It’s May! The Month of Great Dismay and Movie Previews

Climbing out of my sickbed stupor slowly, I will be getting to the SFF novels out there, but in the meantime, along with the tulips, the summer movie season is in full swing, and this year, it’s a super sized comics edition with something like 50 comic adaptation movies coming out. Okay, maybe not 50, but if Marvel and DC Comics keep it up at this pace, I can see things getting ugly in the next few years, not to mention all the graphic novels like Cowboys and Aliens.

In the comics category in May, we have:

1) First up Marvel’s Thor, where the arrogant Norse god of thunder ends up on Earth to be a superhero and save humans and Asgard from the apocalypse. It stars very big Chris Hemsworth and the very small, Oscar-winning Natalie Portman. And because Kenneth Branagh directed it, he also got Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard, as well as Colm Feore and Rene Russo. Thor is a rather humorless superhero in the Marvel universe, but the trailer does indicate that maybe they jazzed it up just a tad.

2) Priest, adapted from the Korean comic of the same name, and starring Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. It’s a post-apocalyptic alternate world in which humans have battled vampires for eons, living in walled cities under the protection of the Church. Bettany plays a priest, a warrior against the vampires now told that he no longer has a mission. When his niece gets kidnapped by vampires, however, the priest breaks his vows to go after her. I’ve done the trailer before, back before I really knew anything about the film. It’s basically a martial arts film with gooey vampires, but I’ve been known to like stuff like that:

Next up are the sequels:

3) The biggie is of course Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in which Jack Sparrow goes in search of the Fountain of Youth. I might not be as interested in this one except that they cannibalized Tim Powers’ historical fantasy novel On Stranger Tides to serve as plot for the film and it’s good stuff. Plus, I like seeing Ian McShane and he’s playing legendary pirate Captain Blackbeard and Dame Judi Dench is doing something in it, and it has killer mermaids. Killer mermaids is worth a look:

4) Also on the sequel plate, for the kids and kids at heart, Kung Fu Panda 2, wherein Po the Panda and his crew take an important road trip:

5) And for the grown-ups, the gang suits up for The Hangover 2, in which the most inept wedding party ever wakes up not knowing what’s gone on in Bangkok, Thailand and having to find this time the brother of the bride:

Then there are the additional summer comedies:

6) Everything Must Go, in which Will Farrell plays a drunk, depressed man who loses his job and has his wife leave him, changing the locks on their house and putting his stuff out on the front lawn. So he has a yard sale, which just might save him. It’s based on a short story by Raymond Carver, so it’s even erudite, with beer:

7) Bridesmaids aims to be sort of a The Hangover with women, starring SNL vets Maya Rudolph as the bride and Kristen Wiig as her in over her head maid of honor:

And lastly, we have the quirky, strange, indie projects that have debuted at various film festivals and used to seldom launch in the summer season but now regularly do:

8) Passion Play is a fantasy movie starring Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox. Rourke is a traveling musician on the run who discovers Fox, an actual winged woman, in a carnival and tries to help her, landing her in Murray’s clutches:

9) Beginners stars Ewan McGregor as a troubled guy falling in love and Christopher Plummer as his widowed, newly out of the closet gay father who develops cancer. The dog gets the best lines:

10) In Jumping the Broom, an African American couple from two different economic backgrounds are getting married in Martha’s Vineyard and their families clash. This seems maybe a little dated to me, but on the other hand, when the Smith family seem to be the only black actors to get major movie roles these days, this does allow a showcase for some great acting talent, and it looks to be a mix of funny and bittersweet:

11) And lastly, Hesher, in which a troubled young boy with a dead mother and grieving dad (Rainn Wilson) makes friends with a timid store clerk — played yet again by Natalie Portman who accidentally ended up the year’s MVP actress — and a messed-up vagabond named Hesher, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, getting his long haired freak on:

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies/TV, SFFH

Mad Hatter Awards — Entertainment Weekly Edition

We got the Summer Movie Preview edition of Entertainment Weekly recently. I’d already heard about one controversy from it, but I was rather amused at a bunch of market-speak that were worthy of Mad Hatter Awards, and so here they are:

1) First prize goes to director George Nolfi, who is helming his feature debut in The Adjustment Bureau, for which he also wrote the screenplay, a thriller based very loosely on a short story by Philip K. Dick, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, about a politician who falls for a ballerina and then must elude a shadowy agency that adjusts reality and seeks to keep them apart. Nolfi wants to pretend he didn’t do a sci-fi movie: “Sci-fi to me conjures up lasers and spaceships and time travel. This movie is told very realistically.” Because it is very realistic to be able to adjust the fabric of reality.

Philip K. Dick is of course the science fiction author most beloved by Hollywood. Numerous works of his have been made into film, and his dark, dsytopian visions have had a profound impact on cinema. Rather than capitalize on that or the large interest in SFF films, Mr. Nolfi seems to feel that thriller-goers will avoid speculative elements if you call them that, which is of course nonsense, as is the claim that sci-fi stories never deal with reality. I’m likely to see the film at some point, as I like both Damon and Blunt, but I suspect I will avoid Mr. Nolfi’s other films in the future, as he is most dreadfully out of date and out of touch with reality. He may need an adjustment from the bureau. 🙂

2) Second prize goes to actress Julia Roberts and writer-director Ryan Murphy for their comments on their up-coming summer movie Eat, Pray, Love, adapted from Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir. Roberts starts things off with the quote: “But one of the things I really loved about our approach to this material is that people took it very seriously. This wasn’t gone into as a frothy, girl journey. This is a person’s soul-searching experience.” And Murphy finishes it off with the appeal: “This is for the ladies who sat through five action movies with their boyfriends, and it’s their chance to say ‘My turn.'”

So, get it straight ladies — you do not like action movies; you like frothy girl journeys, because women’s movies are always usually  inconsequential bilge water. But this movie is not a frothy girl journey. It’s a soul searching story that will only appeal to women, who do not like icky boy movies. And they aren’t being condescending toward women at all, really they aren’t. Again, Murphy does the t.v. series Glee, which I like a lot, and Roberts is of course an institution to whom I’ve often given money. But as I have no interest in this film whatsoever, I will not be facing a crisis of conscience on this one. I’ll just go to the icky boy action movies that I drag my husband to. And wonder when actors and filmmakers will stop talking to me as if I was a little girl who had to be educated on proper female interests when they clearly don’t have a clue themselves.

3) Next in the special condescending toward gender section is the quote that is causing the Internet controversy — regarding the movie Salt. The movie, about a possible Russian sleeper spy, was originally written for a guy and was going to star Tom Cruise. But he dropped out, and they re-did it for Angelina Jolie. Which is certainly a nice thing and Jolie can definitely carry an action movie. But then we get this quote from the film’s director Phillip Noyce: “In the original script, there was a huge sequence where Edwin Salt [the original character] saves his wife, who’s in danger. And what we found was when Evelyn Salt [the new character played by Jolie]  saved her husband in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little. So we had to change the nature of that relationship.” They changed it by having the husband able to save himself.

Now, I actually give Noyce foolhearty points for openly declaring how much focus group research and studio concerns for demographics control the film process. But as a way to sell the movie to either men or women, it stinks. It particularly stinks for the audience of women who might be interested in this film. After lauding how they made Jolie’s character kick-ass and how much we should appreciate that they did so for a girl, they simply announce that as a woman, she can’t act totally like a guy [only the sexy parts of being guy-like, not the competent parts] and a guy can’t be saved by a woman in an action picture. Otherwise, his precious masculinity will be somehow threatened. Castrated, even. It’s Mad Hatter logic, made all the more funny because in her action films, Jolie’s characters have saved Daniel Craig (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,) Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith,) and James MacAvoy (Wanted,) among others, without apparently these films causing a castration crisis. I suspect, like The Adjustment Bureau, I will probably end up seeing Salt at some point, but these sort of things make the film sound more boring, not more interesting.

4) And lastly, we have Iron Man 2, where director Jon Favreau takes this swipe: “On one side, you have Spider-Man, which has its charms, and on the other side you have The Dark Knight, which has a complexity to it. We’re somewhere in the middle. There’s a certain humor, irreverence, and panache to Tony Stark. Thats what’s unique to us.” Yeah, that’s the scale — wisecracks and complexity. Forget that the essence of Spiderman is about the dark side of superheroes — with great power comes great responsibilty — and that the films are morally complex (particularly the story concering Doctor Octopus.)  Forget that The Dark Knight’s rift on vigilantism owes more than a few notes to Spider-Man. Forget that making Tony Stark a wise-cracking and irreverant superhero — which he’s not originally if you’ve ever read the actual comic book — was cribbed from fellow Marvel character Spider-Man, and is hardly unique to comics in any case.

I am, again, fond of Favreau and will definitely be seeing Iron Man 2. But that’s the point — Iron Man was a hit and the franchise is on-going, so “defining” the sequel was entirely unnecessary. Whereas the Spider-Man operation has been shut down and there was utterly no reason to diss Sam Raimi as being a director without complexity. So Favreau gets the runner-up award.

Honorable Mention goes to the folk who made Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. The film was supposed to originally be entitled Nottingham and tell the story from the Sheriff’s point of view, with Crowe playing him. Instead, they decided to re-make Prince of Thieves and have Crowe play Robin Hood back from the Crusades. It’s not exactly illogic, but it’s a sad piece of wimpy film-making.

So that’s all my kvetching for today. Something more interesting and less complainy in subject matter I’m planning to have up soon.


Filed under Movies/TV, SFFH