We’re more than halfway through the year and it’s been a pretty solid one for films. Hail, Caesar; Deadpool; 10 Cloverfield Lane; Midnight Special; The Lobster; High Rise (understandably divisive, but I really liked it) are just some of the more notable things to hit the multiplexes so far in 2016. Sure, a lot of the bigger budgeted films have failed to live up to critical or commercial expectations (X-Men: Apocalypse; Independence Day: Resurgence; Warcraft; Martha MARTHA?!?), but it’s actually been impressive overall…which brings us to a disappointing July.
JULY 1, 2016
The Big: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN vs. THE BFG vs. THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR
It’s the big July 4th weekend…and Finding Dory will almost certainly win again, what with two probable write-offs and a threequel coming our way.
The Legend of Tarzan – Probably the next installment of The Benefit of the Doubt, The Legend of Tarzan is a baffling venture. A ridiculously high $180 million production budget (for comparison, Warcraft had a $160 million budget) for a movie that’s based on a character who hasn’t been relevant since Phil Collins won an Oscar. Much like Edgar Rice Burrough’s other major creation – John Carter of John Carter infamy – it’s a universe that seems out of place and out of time. While people complain about movies constantly returning to the comic book and the young adult wells, at least many of those have an ongoing public awareness. But what of Tarzan? Sure, director David Yates had amazing successes with his Harry Potter movies, but this is more like Popeye. People in their late 20s/early 30s and older might get the reference, but does it translate to a younger audience?
I guess a related and perhaps better question is – who is the movie for? It doesn’t look like a kid’s movie, but it’s a character that today is mostly associated for kid’s fare because of the 1999 Disney movie. Yet it doesn’t look overly adult either (compare it to similar yet distinctively more older audience fare such as Godzilla or King Kong). The “distinctive” color pallet (“this is the blue scene!”,”this is the yellow-y scene!”) can either be a neat feature or end up as irritating. The less-than-impressive animal effects are planting my initial impressions in the latter camp. Plus the horrendous dialogue – “You want me to scream? Like a damsel?” has been in almost all the ads. It’s terrible. And further hurting this movie’s chances for success are all the critics and commentators who will instinctively condemn this movie as a testament to/whitewashing of European imperialism, and negatively judge the past rather than the film itself.
The BFG – “Classic” Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl – seems like a can’t miss combination. Unfortunately, The BFG is coming out at an inopportune time. Disney’s decision to release this only two weeks after the hugely anticipated Finding Dory is another befuddling aspect of this week. Compared to the bright and cheery Finding Dory (as well as next week’s The Secret Life of Pets), The BFG doesn’t just look a lot darker, but also far more unwelcoming. I don’t mean this as a negative thing. On the contrary, the movie might end up a thankful throwback to the times when children’s movies were allowed to be dark and intense (e.g. Return to Oz, The Witches). But why choose that option and have to deal with a frightened child, when you can see a movie about dogs farting and only worry about which plush toy you’ll need to buy?
As a kid’s movie for adults who grew up with E.T., Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder one) and the like, maybe it has some appeal, But for a big summer spectacular in 2016? Not so much. The BFG seems like a movie that would have played better in the fall – not only would it face less competition (at least until Fantastic Beasts), but the extra hours of night coupled with Halloween makes us more susceptible to darker films. Plus it better primes the movie for desperate awards season fawning with the inevitable pull quotes promising a “return to form for Steven Spielberg.”
The Purge: Election Year – It would be a disservice not to mention it considering the popularity of the series, but I really don’t have a lot to say about horror movies in general. I’ve never even seen the first two Purges.
JULY 8, 2016
The Big: MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES vs. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates – This has not been a good year for R-rated comedies. Even ones that have done well critically (e.g. Keanu, The Nice Guys, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) have failed to capture a large audience. Like a lot of movies coasting purely on outrageousness, Dates – or We’re Two Wild and Crazy Girls! (it’s an old SNL skit) – doesn’t seem like it goes far enough to reach the out-of-control mark it’s so desperately trying to hit. It’s hard to do shock comedy in 2016, and if the best the ads can show us is bikinis and ATV zaniness?
Even more troublesome is the fact that the latest ads have taken to promoting it as a true story. This doesn’t bode well. (And not just because the last “based on a true story” comedy I can remember was the Jesse Eisenberg stoner bomb 30 Minutes Or Less.) How does calling attention to it being inspired by a true story add to the film? A couple of people cause a ruckus at a wedding – for a lot of people, that’s called a wedding. Unless there’s something actually novel about the real story (e.g. someone dies, someone gets arrested) that makes this more than Lady Wedding Crashers, it comes across as a desperate, last ditch marketing effort to give this movie some sort of gimmick.
The Secret Life of Pets – Pets make poop! This will be fantastically successful.
The Small: CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Things seemed to be going so well for Viggo Mortensen after Lord of the Rings. The Road and his Cronenberg collaborations (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method) were establishing him as a genuine acting powerhouse, and then he just went away. But he’s back in Captain Fantastic, a movie about a father whose right to raise children in his own fashion is threatened. The trailers give the impression of a movie that can go either way – either the type where you root for the underdog against all odds or the type where you feel “this guy is a lunatic, take those kids away” from the word go. It currently sits a 71% fresh with 5.9/10 average on Rotten Tomatoes, which probably indicates a technically proficient film that is nevertheless hard to actually like.
JULY 15, 2016
The Big: GHOSTBUSTERS
Ghostbusters is a movie starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. It is directed by Paul Feig. It is co-written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold. It is based on a movie from 1984.
The Small: GHOSTBUSTERS
Acknowledging that any other movie is in theaters this week is misogynist.
JULY 22, 2016
The Small: STAR TREK BEYOND vs. ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE
Star Trek Beyond – I admit to being an aficionado of original timeline Star Trek, but does this mean that I can’t appreciate the new Star Trek films for what they are/want to be? Of course not. But something about Star Trek Beyond just isn’t hitting – and it has nothing to do with the disappointment of Star Trek Into Darkness. The movie just hasn’t been promoting itself well. (Though part of that blame has to lie on Paramount, which has done very little to take advantage of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.) I want to look forward to this movie, but the ads with their overwhelming blue and orange color scheme, lack of interesting visuals, and overuse of Kirk’s “dead dad” speech doesn’t energize me. (No pun intended.) Unlike Into Darkness where the promos successfully implied the movie was purposely playing coy as not to give up a huge mystery, this one’s information-less promos seem more because there’s nothing to the movie. Except a motorbike chase. But I’ll stop here, because this will probably be the subject of an article later this month. I know. Exciting.
Though I would be remiss not to comment on actor Anton Yelchin’s death and its possible effect on STB. As good as Yelchin is (Green Room is another 2016 standout), his death will probably have a negligible impact at best. Yelchin never rose to the level of a fawning fanbase, and Chekov is no Joker. Of every character in The Kelvin Timeline, he was clearly the one they had the hardest time figuring out what to do with.
Ice Age: Collision Course – Is this still a thing? I’m genuinely asking. It’s like learning that there’s a fourth Open Season on the way. People constantly complain about being inundated with superhero movies, but consider how many terrible CGI animated movies are thrown our way with no real purpose other than to sell plush toys. We even had an Angry Birds movie earlier this year…and it grossed more than $100 million domestic. Angry Birds.
July 29, 2016
The Big: JASON BOURNE
After discovering that Jeremy Renner is really not a leading man for a tentpole property, Universal Studios threw a lot of money to Matt Damon for him to come back to the role where we know his name. (It’s the tagline.) Have we moved past Bourne? I don’t know. Older audience-centered action franchises are relatively rare, and after Spectre it might be nice seeing someone bring honor to the JB initials. Or maybe it’ll turn out that it wasn’t Renner’s fault at all, this franchise just got stale. In either way, it’s probably unfortunate to completely lay the blame on Marvel’s Hawkeye; it’s hard for anyone to be Lazenby-ed.
So that’s July. Not many small movies are coming out this month, but that’s true for most Julys, so Captain Fantastic is probably the art house favorite. Biggest movie? It’s a three way competition between Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, and Jason Bourne. I could make guesses about which will prevail in commercial and critical success, but I am honestly afraid to make any comments about one of those three films.