And so the disappointing summer 2016 movie season comes to an end. We had such a good spring, it’s surprising how few movies from this summer have hit. Civil War and Finding Dory, obviously, but their popularity were a given. Nothing new or surprising really entered the zeitgeist. Sure there were a few smaller films out there that were quite good (I was particularly fond of Swiss Army Man and The Neon Demon), but on the blockbuster side of the spectrum? Even the decent ones (like Star Trek Beyond and, I guess, X-Men? Maybe?) failed to captured the public’s imagination. Anyway, let’s see what scraps will bring us into the fall.
AUGUST 5, 2016
The Big: SUICIDE SQUAD
If there’s one movie that might save this summer, it’s David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Sure, the beat-you-over-the-head-with-how-edgy-and-quirky-we-are Spencer’s Gift-ian marketing campaign is a bit trying, but people genuinely seem excited about it. It’s coming on the tails of a mediocre summer film line-up and has still managed to maintain a fair amount of mystery about its plot. Plus it’s selling itself as a Joker/Harley Quinn movie, and people love those characters. Though how much of The Joker will actually be in the movie remains to be seen (he’s rarely shown with any of the other members of the Squad, despite taking up the bulk of the marketing material). I still have doubts that The Joker will play any significant role in the main plot, and I still believe that he’s being shoehorned in because he’s The Joker and DC is desperate to win back friends. So very very desperate. But the ads have successfully presented a film that seems interesting and energetic enough to be worth a shot, and one has to give credit to DC/WB for getting people excited about a sequel to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (And yes, the Ultimate Edition is a slightly “better” version of Martha’s Boys, but it’s certainly a long way from good.)
Side note: the above paragraph was written before the reviews started coming in, and wow are they terrible. (31% Rotten, 4.9/10 Average Rating as of posting.) You’d think it not being directed by Zack Snyder and not having Superman would have eased the poison pens of some critics, but apparently not. Or maybe it did, and the movie is just that bad. Regardless, it’ll have a huge opening weekend; whether or not it holds remains to be seen. Though the bigger question is whether the DC Extended Cinematic Universe can ever overcome this stigma of a trilogy of failure, what with Wonder Woman and Justice League on the horizon.
(My Weekly Digression: The negative reviews of Suicide Squad has inspired some fans to start a petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes. Normally, nobody would care, much like nobody cares about anything on Change.org, but some legitimate media is actually covering it. A similar thing happened with Ghostbusters 2016 where average people felt compelled to defend that movie against “haters.” Even ignoring whether or not they saw the movie before going on the defensive, why do people feel offended on behalf of major studios? Sony and Warner Brothers are multi-national conglomerates that do not care about any of us as individuals. Both of those movies are primarily used as merchandising tools, be it for green-filled Twinkies or Officially Licensed “Daddy’s Little Monster” shirts. Unless you were actually part of the production, there’s no good reason to feeling personally slighted that a critic you’ve never met didn’t like a movie you have yet to see. You’re not going to get a pat on the head from Jared Leto.)
The Small: NINE LIVES
Wasn’t that Ray Kroc movie supposed to open on this day? (The Founder was moved to December for Oscar consideration.) Even though it’s opening wide, Nine Lives is small in comparison to the last ditch effort from WB to win people over after the dual catastrophes of Man of Steel and Martha. And this is such a weird venture – even for a year where pretty much every week has a family friendly film. It’s a movie where Kevin Spacey does the voice of A Talking Cat?!?!? Isn’t Kevin Spacey better than this? Isn’t Hollywood better than this? For as much as we criticize Tinseltown and their lack of creativity, at least they moved beyond the likes of The Shaggy Dog and Francis the Talking Mule. … Until now.
AUGUST 12, 2016
The Big: PETE’S DRAGON vs. SAUSAGE PARTY
Pete’s Dragon – One of the lesser known films in The Disney Archives (it’s on the tier with The Sword in the Stone), Pete’s Dragon is Disney’s latest attempt to repurpose all those films that previous generations held dear into a live action spectacle for a modern audience. Though having earned a cult reputation since its release in 1977, Pete’s Dragon lacks the wider popularity of some of Disney’s more iconic fare, but that’s why it’s been shuffled off to August, a month when nobody cares. After all, Disney has the live action Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins 2 on its plate for next year, so it can afford a slight financial misstep (though early reviews have been mostly positive). Sure, in another summer, maybe it would have had greater box office potential, but we’ve been inundated with kid’s movies this year and Pete’s Dragon does not have the brand recognition to overcome the over-saturation.
Sausage Party – I’ve long been a proponent of more adult animated fare, be it the existential dilemmas of Anomalisa or the ultraviolent mayhem of Heavy Metal. One only need look at the variety of animated series on television/Netflix to understand that there is so much more that can be done with this genre than child-centric fare such as The Secret Lives of Pets and Ice Age: Collision Course and even the Pixar movies that everybody feels compelled to absolutely adore. Maybe it’s an arbitrary reason, but because I want more adult fare, I am looking forward to Seth Rogen’s latest bawdy comedy, Sausage Party. Sure the movie might just be a collection of crass jokes and food puns, but so what? It could be funny, or it could be a 5-minute skit unfortunately extended to feature length. Nevertheless, I want to support more R rated animated movies. Besides, the old school Walt Disney-knock off and July 4th Grills Kill promos were clever.
Florence Foster Jenkins – It’s Meryl Streep in a leading role in a quirky period piece! If not preparing her for Oscar time, then it’s at least a guaranteed Golden Globe nomination.
AUGUST 19, 2016
The Big: BEN-HUR vs. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS vs. WAR DOGS
Ben-Hur – Why? Why remake Ben-Hur? (And we know, there was a silent version of Ben-Hur from 1926 that was released before the 1959 Charlton Heston classic. We all have IMDB. You’re not impressing anyone with that bit of trivia anymore.) But seriously, why remake it? And for a $100+ million price tag at that? Anyone interested in the story would probably want to see the original (either of them) over a remake. The majesty of Cinemascope and Technicolor and all the other cinematic wizardry of the 1950’s would certainly offer a more unique experience that this adaptation.
Plus modern audiences might be turned off by the hardcore religious angle of the film. (After all, it’s about a guy who turns his back on his Jewish heritage to worship Christ.). Sure, faith-based films have become enormously successful over the past few years, but a big reason for that has to do with the simplicity of the movies themselves. They have low budgets and bargain basement production values. They’re basic, straight forward family friendly melodramas with a message that belief in God will save the day. The fact that they lack action and extensive effects is one of their biggest selling points. Ben-Hur, with its iconic chariot race (now with quick cuts!) and scenic vistas, has the potential to turn off both of its potential core audiences. It probably would have been smarter to Fathom Events the original.
Kubo and the Two Strings – I’m actually fond of Laika’s offerings and find their claymation style of animation to be a welcome and visually impressive change from most every animated movie being CGI. But this is the summer, no, the YEAR, of kids movies, and this one will probably be lost in the shuffle. And even if it’s good, who cares? Finding Dory has the Oscar locked up.
War Dogs – The Hangover Trilogy’s Todd Philips attempts to get his Adam McKay on by transitioning from over-the-top comedies to current event satires. This one, a true story about two “journalists” (played by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) who become gun runners in the Middle East, seems like it has decent potential to be a good, dark, clever comedy. However, we’ve been burned in the past in that realm. The Men Who Stare At Ghosts and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot are just two of the recent films that have danced in similar territories only to elude critical or commercial success.
AUGUST 12, 2016
The Big: DON’T BREATHE vs. MECHANIC: RESURRECTION
Don’t Breathe – The latest horror movie from the Evil Dead remake’s director Fede Alvarez, producer Sam Raimi, and star Jane Levy (plus Stephen Lang), Don’t Breathe has a pretty suspenseful trailer and positive early reviews. Unfortunately, as a film about a blind man who traps aspiring robbers in darkness by shutting off all power to his home, it could very easily be confused with last month’s earlier Lights Out.
Mechanic: Resurrection – They’re making another one of these? A sequel to the Jason Statham remake of a Charles Bronson movie? I really want to see Jason Statham in better things. Whether in the manic thrills of the Crank movies or the excellent 1970’s heist throwback The Bank Job, he is incredibly charismatic and a really good screen presence. It would be nice for him to be in a movie that isn’t best suited for 2 AM on Starz.
So that’s August. Possibly the most dour month so far this year. Though I probably say that every month. Suicide Squad is almost certainly going to be the biggest movie this month, while I’m holding out hope that Sausage Party is able to be at least somewhat amusing. The studios are offering very little in the way of small movies, but I guess they are holding back until September/October to begin their Oscar push.