Hope on the Horizon for Dismal Summer Movie Season
There’s a great deal of handwringing going on in Hollywood at the moment and it’s your fault. Yep, the bean-counters in Tinsel Town are worried and wondering why you’re not spending more of your hard-earned money to see the summer movies they’ve produced. Attendance is down nearly 20% from last year while ticket sales are charting at just under 7% for the same period. This is of concern because the summer movie season, which now begins at the end of April and extends to Labor Day, is when the studios make the bulk of their money and with budgets for blockbusters ranging anywhere from $100 – 200 million, a bomb at the box office can spell doom for any and sometimes many studio executives.
While those in the know have been trying to figure out why theaters are more empty than they’d like, coming up with reasons as varied as ticket prices being too high or the increased quality in home entertainment systems being the main culprits, the reason for the downward trend is simple – this summer’s movies have been just plain awful.
There’s been very little to write home about since May as much of the product that’s littered the multiplexes has lacked imagination or the conviction to follow through in developing their unique premises. Disney’s Malificent looked grand but lacked substance; Edge of Tomorrow was intriguing then undercut itself with a nonsensical conclusion; an unrestrained Kevin Hart smothered Think Like a Man; the sole purpose of Transformers: Age of Extinction was to leave its audience deaf and battered; Tammy proved that too much of Melissa McCarthy is a bad thing; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes overstayed its welcome while A Million Ways to Die in the West and Sex Tape proved once more the old adage that “dying is easy, comedy is hard” is true, as nary a laugh was found in either film and truth be told, I did die a little having to sit through both. And these opinions are not just my own. According to the Rotten Tomatoes website, which averages the ratings of nearly 200 critics to get a consensus, of the films mentioned about only Edge and Apes got overall favorable reviews.
The few films I have liked this summer - Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, 22 Jump Street, How to Train your Dragon 2 and Snowpiercer – were all rated positive by Rotten Tomatoes making for a summer of more hits than misses.
Obviously, what Hollywood is dealing with is a self-fulfilling prophecy as the films they’ve been making have yet to produce a big enough draw to lure people away from their homes. I bet the lure of binging on Netflix, at a cost of only $7.99 a month, is far more enticing than paying a record high ticket price for a mediocre product.
However, there is nothing like the communal experience of going to a movie which can’t be duplicated at home and let’s face it – the popcorn’s better there as well. Fortunately, I have sensed a shift in the past couple of weeks and there’s hope on the horizon as a series of movies are set to be released in the next month that will re-instill your faith in films, both large and small. The tide began to change with the release of the delightful romance Begin Again and the action thriller Lucy, two films that couldn’t be more different yet both exceeded my expectations by having far more substance than their ad campaigns led me to believe. Both of these are still in area theaters and are well worth your time. They’ll keep you occupied until the following movies come to town, each of which proved to be distinctive as well as entertaining in their own unique way.
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1) – When this film was first announced, I mentioned to a fellow comic book aficionado that this was the first mistake Marvel Studios had made since nearly cornering the market on superhero movies. After all, who’s going to want to see a film featuring obscure characters, one of them being a talking raccoon? Well, I am here to eat a bit of crow and admit that sitting through Guardians was the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer. This has the feel and tone of the first Star Wars film as it contains extremely likable characters, an adventure told at a breakneck pace and wisely doesn’t take itself too seriously, achieving just the right balance of drama and comedy. Even if you don’t like superhero movies or feel as though you might be lost if you haven’t seen any of the other Marvel superhero movies, give this one a shot. It’s the perfect jumping on point for these films and I guarantee you’ll be scrambling for a figurine of that talking raccoon to put on your desk as soon as the credits roll.
Calvary (August 15) – This thought-provoking drama stars Brendan Gleeson as Father James Lavelle, an Irish priest who is threatened while hearing confession, told that he will be killed in a week’s time. The mystery of who makes this threat and why is only one of the compelling plot points in the film. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh has larger issues to tackle as the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and the many scandals that have rocked in over the past hundred years takes center stage as we see that many in this tiny Irish village have lost their way and their behavior is a reflection of it. We’re left wondering why Father James goes to the trouble of trying to counsel them – they’re a rather despicable lot – yet his behavior winds up being an example of true faith in a faithless time. Thought-provoking and moving, this is one of the best films of the year while Gleeson deserves, at the very least, an Oscar nomination if not the award itself.
Boyhood (late August) – Director Richard Linklater’s audacious experiment is so simple on the surface and yet winds up to be one of the most profound and poignant experiences you’re likely to have at the movies this year. 12 years in the making, the film focuses on one young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) who we first meet at the age of seven and who we see grow up before our very eyes into a 19 year-old embarking on his freshman year in college. The trick is that Linklater kept everyone in the same roles – including Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his parents and his own daughter Lorelei as his sister – so over the course of the film’s 160 minutes, we watch them age over a 12 year span. No one changes greater than Coltrane and seeing his transformation from inquisitive child to a shy, grounded young man is a marvelous, moving experience. Get ready to hear a great deal about this one – and rightly so – as this isn’t just the film of the year, it’s a movie for the ages.