May was strong, right? May is going to be hard to top. May had Iron Man, which was awesome enough that I still refuse to force an Iron-pun on you about its Iron-clad box office returns or how it Ironed the competition flat without any sense of irony.
See what I did there?
Sadly, June was seriously lacking in any great pun-making titles. It was also seriously lacking in good movies. Let's review, shall we?
Kung Fu Panda & Wall * E
There's a trend with CG animated family films, and it goes like this:
1. Pixar does X
2. Some other studio takes the formula of X, jumbles around a few elements, hires 37 writers to write scenes based on storyboards they've already begun animating, acquire random famous people to voice it, and rush it out ahead of whatever the next film Disney and/or Pixar is due to release.
My three-year old already scolds his stuffed animals with the same accusatory finger that I point at him when he's in trouble, so I chose not to take him to see the martial arts packed Kung-Fu Panda. I won't deny Jack Black can conjur the funny, or that the film's visual designs were decent -- but at the end of the day, it was predictable and formulaic. I feel like most studios think that they are making these movies for kids, so it's okay to be lazy about the story.
Wall * E on the other hand, represents Pixar at its best. Pixar is left alone by studio note-makers. It doesn't try to rehash what it's already done. It isn't trying to beat anyone to a punch -- Pixar is simply trying to make decent films. And it succeeds. For some reason, I refuse to learn my lesson with Pixar -- trailers generally leave me feeling MEH, and I think to myself, "Oh I won't like that one." But I always do. A lot. Wall * E was a little different in that it had robots, so I was pre-sold. I love robots. Like in an unhealthy way.
Even the earliest trailers must have made other studios sweat. It was E.T. and R2-D2 in one. I went in expecting the best family film I'd ever see. It delivered on that, but what really surprised me was that it was also one of the best science fiction films I'll probably ever see. Again, this is where Pixar wins-- with being smart and making a solid film. On the surface, it's the story of a robot in love with another robot, and the lengths he goes to in winning her over.
But that's just the easy part for the kids. It's also full the most classic sci-fi tropes: a non-human character displays the most human spirit; a world of super-technology that comes at a price ; and man daring to do the things only Gods/fate/destiny must do. Humanity in Wall * E has devolved into a race of floating fatties, embroiled in their twitters and chats. It takes the spirit of Wall * E to return them to glory. I've heard a lot of people (conservatives) accuse the movie of being leftist, hippie, Apple-loving, tree hugging hypocrisy since its pseudo-Green message is put out by one of the biggest corporations on the planet. To them I say: eat it douchebags, you've had the Executive branch for the last few years, let us have our robot love.
So if you have a kid, and can only handle going to one of these sorts of films, please go for Wall * E and trust that Pixar knows the difference between a family film and a kid's movie with some veiled innuendo or crotch kicks to make adults laugh.
You Don't Mess With The Zohan & The Love Guru
Here's the thing. In a post-Apatow world I don't think there is room anymore for comedies starring former SNL stars who affect a silly accent, hair-do, or prosthetic. Will Farrell -- you're on the fence, better pick soon or you will likely go the way of Sandler and Myers. Even the three-camera sitcom is (thankfully) dying off. We don't need a laugh track, and we don't need you to be over the top. So stop making your silly voices and cramming the only funny parts of your movies into the trailers to trick us.
If you're a fan of these types of films, by all means, go. They will deliver on what you expect them to. If you go in expecting humor beyond a 10th grade level, save your money.
Dear M. Night Shamalyan:
Sixth Sense was good. It was different. It was clever. I'm in a minority that finds Unbreakable to be great -- it's where superhero films should be headed. Signs... okay wait. Hang the fuck on. These aliens are killed by water... and yet decide to invade a planet that's what? 80%? 90% water? They can master faster-than-light-travel...but they can't get into a creaky old wooden farmhouse? You're messing with me right? The Village... okay. Back to form. OMG TWIST AT THE END! We're getting tired and we saw it coming. Lady in the Water... now everyone is seeing you're full of shit. Every review is crap, box-office bomb.... and you respond by telling us all we're stupid and we don't get it? Comedy!
Stop making movies.
P.S.-- Your new film, The Happening, pretty much hinges on another big secret reveal am I right? It's funny -- this movie is so awful I felt inclined to spoil everyone I met by telling them how it's about plants getting mad at humans and deciding to produce poison that makes them kill each other. They all laughed and thought I was joking!
P.P. S.-- Seriously. Plants are mad. They want revenge.
The Incredible Hulk
It's too bad that the press for this film turned negative before anyone saw it. By now you've heard that Ed Norton, director Louis Leterrier and Marvel studios all disagreed about how the film should have been cut. Add this to the craptastic Ang Lee Hulk from from a few years ago, and the train of negativity blazed from the station at full tilt.
The damage was done before the film came out, and it's really too bad because it wasn't a bad film at all. In my opinion it shared the same low points as Iron Man-- overly set-uppy exposition in act one, and a cliche riddled villain magically showing up in act three. Hulk's high points, while not as awesome as Iron Man, were still quite entertaining. Borrowing much from the 70's Bill Bixby television version, Ed Norton was a pitch perfect Bruce Banner: gangly, nerdy, genius-y and emo as all get out. We follow him as he hops around the globe, searching for some sort of cure for his raging case of herpes. I mean, Hulkies. We all know the tale.
What non-Marvel fans may not pick up on is that much of Banner's work that lead him to being the Hulk is very connected to another superhero -- Captain America. His movie comes out in a couple years, but the set-up here is interesting.
As I said, it's a fun ride, but ultimately more likeable than memorable. My only nagging complain is that I'm from the school of thought that thinks CGI still can't do the job of replicating living creatures. Spaceships, explosions, landscapes -- great, fine. Anything with eyes -- I still think it looks like a cartoon. Couldn't they have just gotten some 'roid-case from the WWE and painted him green like the old days? With enough digital trickery they could make a real guy look BIG, like how they made those stupid Lord of the Rings Hobbits look small. But like I said. I'm old-school. I think Godzilla should ALWAYS be a guy in a suit.
By now you know I'm a comic fan, so it goes without saying that I planned to be very critical of this film going in. I should say upfront though, while I enjoyed Wanted the comic series, it wasn't ever invited to join zombies, cheese, robots, the X-Men, Blade Runner, William Gibson, and sweet potato fries in my MOST FAVORITE THINGS EVER club. The comic book was meant to be a deconstruction of superheroes, by taking place in a world populated only by supervillains. The protagonist continually brags about murdering, killing, stealing and raping. While I get that this is suppose to be taken allegorically, it still wasn't as smart as it could have been. In fact, one of writer Mark Millar's other books, Kick-Ass, does the same sort of thing in much better way.
For the film version, there are no super powers. Instead of supervillians, we are given assassins. I personally, am a fan of the thinking man's violence. I abhor the 80s brand of action film -- a Stallone or a California governor with a machine gun blowing shit up. When violence becomes a language, as in Fight Club, or a critique on the action genre itself, as in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even in an exploitive cartoonish romp as in Kill Bill, it justifies itself in my eyes. Wanted employs a little of each of these devices as we follow James McAvoy from being a sheepish pale office flunky who is mocked by ATM machines to becoming the world's premier assassin.
The journey isn't an entirely fresh one, (I'm working on an essay to bring about the end of the "act two training montage set to popular music"), but offers plenty of amusing insights and reflections on our culture, what is considered right and wrong, and the power of violence. It's not a brain-bending film, but it's sharply written and amuses on enough levels that it succeeds like my beloved Iron Man -- popcorn entertainment that doesn't insult my intelligence. If there was a single pick for June, Wanted would be it I think.
Up next -- July, which brings us the biggest contender for 2008 box-office winner: The Dark Knight.
Seth lives in Los Angeles. He is a writer of comic books (and unsold screenplays) and...