The 2015 summer movie season is nearly a thing of history, but not before we weigh on the highlights, low-lights and everything between.
James: So, the summer movie season is pretty much over. I guess just to start things off, did you think this was a good one or a bad one?
Erik: I don’t have strong feeling about this season one way or the other. I wouldn’t say that either bad or good movies dominated the season. It was fairly even, now that I think about it. For every Inside Out there was a Pixels. For every Age of Ultron there was a Fantastic Four. Also, while there were a couple of films that affected me – either in a deep emotional, “I’m about to cry” way” or a visceral, “that was so awesome” way – there wasn’t anything that made me angry – Fantastic Four, I pitied more than anything else. So, I’ll just say 2015 had an average summer.
Tyler: I have to agree with you Erik though I likely lean more towards the negative side of the spectrum. There were a couple of movies I really loved but only about six that I can say I really liked. I’d have to look again at last summer but other than Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out, nothing really grabbed me or felt ‘special’ particularly in the way Boyhood did last year. For me there was a lot of stuff I thought was ‘just fine.’
Karen: Some strong female-oriented movies this summer – Mad Max: Fury Road, Spy, Pitch Perfect 2- even Inside Out, Tomorrowland and Ricki & the Flash all expanded women’s roles more than we typically see, refreshing.
James: Perhaps it may have more to do with my general pessimism about modern Hollywood, but I suppose I thought summer 2015 was a bit better than average. Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out and Straight Outta Compton all had a sensibility, intelligence and resourcefulness that isn’t regularly exhibited much in mainstream filmmaking. However, with Spy and Trainwreck, female-centered films did seem perhaps a bit more dominant this summer. Any thoughts?
Tyler: We can debate whether the intelligence of the portrayal of women in Straight Outta Compton later but you both are right. I didn’t notice until now but five out of six of my favorites of the summer – hell we could say six if we count Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – all prominently featured female characters. It’s hard for me to judge if this is a shift in my own tastes, Hollywood’s or a combination of both.
Karen: Not just prominent roles, but really turning the traditional role for women on its head – Spy, for example, we’ve never seen this type of female protagonist. Even though it’s a spoof of the spy genre, it’s very refreshing to see Melissa McCarthy just kill it. In Pitch Perfect 2, the women’s lives do not center around seeking romance with men or getting the guy, but rather on perfecting their team performance and creating that female bond. Inside Out’s main female characters Joy and Sadness really carry this movie in a very unique way.
Erik: I’m hoping this is the start of something – a female film character renaissance, maybe – and I hope Marvel Studios/Disney takes note because – and I touched on this in our Ant-Man discussion – as the gatekeepers to arguably the most dominant film franchise at the moment, it’s more than a little sad they don’t feature more women getting in on the action. Plus, the geek in me just wants to see some of my favorite female heroes on the screen. Not that comic books are known for their progressivism (and I say that as a comic book fan).
Tyler: I think female characters could benefit from the lack of comic source material as it allows there to be original strong female characters- i.e. Furiosa (Mad Max), Susan Cooper (Spy) and Isla Faust (Mission Impossible). Unfortunately there will always be a retrograde Claire Dearing (Jurassic World), but the state of female driven blockbusters is definitely stronger than it’s been in a while, if not ever.
Karen: I would add Amy (Trainwreck) to the list of stereotype-busting female roles.
Erik: And I would like to add Sue Storm (Fantastic Four) to the list of awful female roles.
James: While there was definitely terrific roles for women this summer, there are clearly great strides still to be made in Hollywood to create some sort of balance. One film that got hammered for alleged misogyny was curiously, the biggest movie of the summer – Jurassic World. First, I suppose we should tackle the beast itself. Did anybody else find it a bit strange that Jurassic World proved itself the king of the summer?
Karen: This is Chris Pratt’s time. He is the draw after great likeable, comic turns in The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as building on his 6-year stint on TV’s Parks and Recreation with Amy Poehler.
Tyler: Jurassic World just didn’t work for me. I understand why people loved it and that it succeeded because parents could take their kids who were the same age when they saw the original. For me it was part of a growing trend of blockbusters that are fine to good but not great.
Erik: This really was a summer of contrasts. You had the follow-ups to older franchises that succeeded (Jurassic World, Mad Max:Fury Road) and ones that failed hard (Terminator Genisys, Vacation). I think perhaps what helped lead to the success of the former films and the failure of the latter two was the marketing. Mad Max: Fury Road had an awesome trailer, and Jurassic World made the smart choice of showing as little of the Indominus Rex (the movie’s biggest draw outside of Pratt) as possible, while Genisys spoiled its entire plot in one trailer, and Vacation’s was nothing but call backs to the original film.
Karen: Speaking of contrasts, I enjoyed the small indie coming-of-age films Paper Towns and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which were a nice change from the big, loud blockbusters of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World.
James: I want to get to the indie world in a minute, but before we leave the blockbuster fold, I want to discuss the gargantuan summer that Universal Pictures had. With successes that included Jurassic World, Minions, Pitch Perfect 2, Trainwreck and Straight Outta Compton, I just wanted to touch on what you think Universal got right, or at least better than the other major studios this summer.
Tyler: They did it with variety. They’re one of the first studios who got it right by understanding that everyone likes to go to the movies but not everyone does because they feel excluded. My parents, who rarely see anything in the theater anymore, saw Jurassic World. There’s a reason that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel did well for Fox and why I think A Walk In the Woods will do well when it hit theaters this week.
Karen: Universal already came into the summer with huge wins in Fifty Shades of Grey and Furious 7. I agree with Tyler that variety was very important – they had some very popular movies but also were able to market others that really appealed to diverse sections in the culture.
James: Catering to multiple demographics, what a concept! Was there anything that came out this summer that any of you feel was under-appreciated? I can say, without question, that some of my favorites of the season were films that seemed to come and go with little fanfare like Tangerine, Mistress America and The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Any favorites you want to give some love to?
Tyler: I’m still holding out that word of mouth will spread for Mistress America as it’s only been out for two weeks in Chicago. It’s strange to say because it’s not an indie and the movie was a big success but I still feel like Spy was under-appreciated. Everyone I spoke with who hadn’t seen it, voiced a lot of hesitancy around a solo Melissa McCarthy vehicle because her bad stuff often focuses too much on her physical comedy. I often forget that people don’t seek out trailers online and often don’t know that a movie exists until the TV spots air two weeks before release. Those that saw it, agreed that it was excellent but I felt like more should have sought it out.
Erik: This wasn’t really an indie film, but a small release that took me by surprise was The Gift. Granted, it’s done quite well considering the budget was only $5 million, I just wish I actually knew some people I could talk about it with. I haven’t seen a really good simple thriller film in a while, and Joel Edgerton’s first directorial effort filled a void in me I didn’t realize was there. Dope is another fairly small film that did well for itself, that I simply wish had gotten more love.
James: It’s striking that this summer saw very few “indie” breakouts- for instance, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Grand Prize winner at Sundance) pretty much fizzled at the box office. The few specialized titles that did well (Mr. Holmes, I’ll See You in My Dreams, Far From the Madding Crowd) pretty much exclusively appealed to older audiences. Was there anything to that? Are indies in trouble or were some of the other titles just not clicking in a certain way? What do you think?
Karen: I think some of these films will find their audiences down the line. Summer’s heavily-promoted films may have monopolized audience attention, but hopefully word of mouth will slowly spread for some of these other quality but under-attended films.
James: Well, Mistress America and Tangerine deserve their due, that’s all I will say on that. Did anything- either a specific film or a broader theme- really rub you the wrong way. I can start by saying I really came out of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl not understanding the fuss one bit. In separate but equally infuriating ways, that movie and Jurassic World made me the crankiest of any that came out this summer. Any frustrations you want to get off your chest?
Karen: Tomorrowland. What a waste of resources! Brad Bird, Disney, George Clooney. It just never came together. What a disappointment after a promising first 20 minutes.
Erik: Again, nothing made me angry per se, but Fantastic Four depressed the hell out of me. Just about every moment I spent watching the film, was a moment I spent feeling embarrassed for everyone involved. I know these were good actors, and I want to believe Chronicle wasn’t just fluke for Josh Trank, but there was no joy to be had. I guess if anything pissed me off it’s the fact that no one can get Doctor Doom, the biggest and simplest (he’s smart and evil, that’s it) Marvel villain right. Okay, that’s another thing: Ant-Man’s villain, Yellowjacket. How is it possible, twelve films in, the MCU has only had two memorable villains?
Tyler: I have to say I was disappointed that Straight Outta Compton was just than a well-made, well-acted biopic and didn’t touch more on what their first album did for the country as whole, particularly those outside their world. The only thing that made me close to angry was Entourage. I was mad that it was just the TV Show, I was mad that none of the characters matured since I was 18 and really into the show and lastly I was mad that it made me realize unwarranted, gratuitous, female nudity isn’t enough for me anymore (even if I’m a better person for it).
James: Before we bid Summer 2015 a fond adieu, really quick, what was your favorite film of the season? Mine, without hesitation was Mad Max: Fury Road, a magnificently violent fever dream built on endless imagination.
Karen: Mine was Inside Out– highly inventive, funny, moving, entertaining, yet cutting-edge psychologically educational as well.
Erik: Inside Out for me too. If only because it was the antithesis of Tomorrowland. The latter film’s message: sad people are destroying the world; the former’s: it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
Tyler: Mad Max, hands down. Though Inside Out is a close second.