It has been a great many years since a summer movie season excited me. In the spring, as release schedules took shape, I found myself almost giddy. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything -- a piece for each of the different personae in my psyche, a film for every voice in my head:
Some superheroes to please my inner twelve-year-old who still reads comic books. Some nostalgia trips for the little boy who ate up the Spielbergian suburban adventures. Some pathos for the grad school writer. And some indie oddities for the angsty 90s art schooler. All that was missing was a sex romp for the teenager who never got laid.
Here are my impressions of the first month of the season:
First off, to every female ever: shut up. I know Robert Downey, Jr. is sexy. I know he can act. I know he is awesome. When has he ever NOT been awesome? Stop acting like he was a newcomer before this. Note: "every female ever" = mrs sherwood.
Iron Man was the first out of the gate, and thus far, the best film I've seen this season. The things it got right make for a hefty list. Perfect casting, respect for the source material, and amazing production value. Most important though, it got us geeks on its side LAST summer at ComicCon with sneak peek footage. There were some standard first act annoyances..."Oh, you must be (character name here) that (plot function here);" and the third act spiraled into one too many villain cliches -- but the ride was totally worth it.
At the end of the day, it was what I look for in a "popcorn" film -- it was fun, but it didn't insult my intelligence. If there's one thing I hate, it's hearing that a movie is good if you "check your brain at the door." Why would I want to do that?
Oh... No, Speed Racer... No. When making my picks for the box-office betting pool, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be the surprise flop of the summer.
First, The Wachowskis. I still haven't forgiven them for the Matrix sequels. What the hell was going on there? Any movie that rides on me buying Keanu Reeves can do anything beyond a first grade level loses all credability.
Secondly, was the original cartoon THAT good? I don't think it was. Even though I've been an anime fan since Starblazers in 1981, I didn't catch Speed until I was a teenager. I've always appreciated the kitsch-ness, but I really couldn't take it for more than 10 minutes at a time.
Thirdly, who is this movie for? Kids haven't seen the cartoon. Those who did might enjoy the realification of the kitsch, but for two hours? What it came down to was focus. Or rather, a complete lack of focus. The plot, the conversations, and certainly what was on screen, were very hard for me to grab onto. It gave me a headache.
SON OF RAMBOW
What is it about British kids that makes me feel all happy and AWWWW? What I liked about this story was that it captured exactly what I was talking about at the top of this feature -- those days when summer films filled my imagination for the rest of the year. Son of Rambow focuses on two young boys so obsessed and inspired by a film that it completely occupies their imaginations. Will, an overly-sheltered boy, partners up with Lee, a local bully, and together they film their adventures, inspired by a pirated copy of First Blood (the first of the Rambo films). It made me wish DV technology was around when I was 10.
Really, this movie could have been bad, but cute little kids with accents get a pass.
When I hear "David Mamet," naturally the first thing I think of is Mixed Martial Arts championships. If you told me the guy behind The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Unit, and Bambi Meets Godzilla was going to make a movie about Ju Jitsu I'd probably have kicked you in the nads, Wolfman style.
At the end of the day, it suffered a fate similar to that of Speed Racer and struggled to find an audience. Fans of fight films were given no action scenes and fans of Mamet were wondering where the point was.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
I tried, everybody. Really. I didn't want a repeat of Star Wars, so I avoided the spoilers. I didn't get my hopes up. I didn't go in wanting to hate or love - I did my best to go in clean and just let the movie surprise me.
The first shot of the film is a CGI gopher popping up out of the ground and acting cute. At that point my heart just sank. "Really? REALLY?" I said to myself. Did I accidentally walk into Caddyshack: The Next Generation? What in the blue fuck is this? It's like George Lucas is just giving me a big ol' computer-rendered middle finger with this gopher.
My friends have accused me of obsessing over this three-second shot, but it really was a portent of things to come. You know you're in trouble if two of the most well known, box-office killing filmmakers in the world decide to lead with a special effect for a cute-factor laugh.
There are elements of the film that work -- the humor, some of the action, and every now and then you feel like, "Oh wow, I'm watching Indiana Jones and it's new!" But then you realize you're completely lost in a convoluted plot (What did those Russians want? Why did they want it? Why are those CGI monkeys only attacking the bad guys? What is the treasure they are looking for?) and everything that should be clear (the story) is buried, and you're being barraged with overt winking and nudging to remind you this is a sequel to movies made 20+ years ago. Lesson in subtlety to George and Steve: We KNOW Sean Connery played Indy's dad. The photo on the desk -- that's cute. It's okay. When Indy has to go to the photo, pick it up, look at it longingly and talk about how Dad is dead -- you're over-selling.
At really, that's my big complaint - over-hyped, over-sold, and over-done, and not in a fun way like the originals, but in a sad, pander to the lowest common denominator way.
SEX AND THE CITY
While I haven't seen it, I hear rumors that this movie may be a big draw. It's a story about three ragged old women who rally around their pet horse Carrie, and their wacky attempts to put her out to pasture for breeding purposes. There's a big race in Central Park and Carrie wins the day after they insert "Mr. Big," a plastic dildo of some sort, into Carrie's rectum to make her run faster.
Be back with the next batch of summer hopefuls, soon!
Seth lives in Los Angeles. He is a writer of comic books (and unsold screenplays) and...