Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Bummer: Mostly Poor, Disappointing Films From The Studios; Promise And Strength Elsewhere

A scene from "Cars 2", John Lasseter's film was a let down, especially after the initial "Cars" of 2006.


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
day, August 28, 2011

Summer could be said to be a "dump" season as much as January is for films, and this summer was largely a failure where fresh, invigorating and exciting films were concerned, in Hollywood, although a few Tinseltown productions were impressive.  The independent market provided the best movie mileage, as it has for a number of years.

Here are the summer's biggest disappointments, poorest films and best pictures, ranked in order from the most disappointing film first, etc:

Biggest Disappointments

"Super 8" - After one of the best opening half hours in a film this year, J.J. Abrams fails to build on what he has, and a bright start becomes a lazy, distracted movie and an overblown edition of a Spielberg alien adventure akin to "War Of The Worlds", "E.T." and "Close Encounters".  (Mr. Spielberg, a mentor of sorts to Mr. Abrams, produced "Super 8".)  Like last year's "Toy Story 3", the best moments in "Super 8" happen early and very late (in this case during the end credits.)  Despite a good premise and vision, Mr. Abrams doesn't sustain the story.  This one soon falls fast and flatter than a pancake, with plenty of holes and loose ends, though Michael Giacchino's music score is excellent, as are Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard and debutant Joel Courtney.
(Released in the U.S. on June 10.)

"Cars 2" - Pixar and John Lasseter are hoisted on their own petards with this eye-popping but empty, expedient auto-adventure, which took a big detour with its 007-type spy adventure interrupting its race-car comedy mood.  Michael Caine can't save this messy, auto-piloted vehicle designed to speed away with your money and any short attention spans it captures in the process.  (Released in the U.S. on June 24.)

"The Help" - Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel is said to be a strong, effective account of racism, violence and relationships between black servants and white housewives in Mississippi in 1963 but on the big screen Ms. Stockett's childhood friend Tate Taylor reveals little of that power.  Comedy and caricature are on the menu rather than an effective depiction of the era and subjects of the film's title.  The film feels fabricated and hollow as a result.  "The Help" belongs to a genus of films ("Driving Miss Daisy", "Mississippi Burning") that sanitize or rewrite the history of race and race relations in the South for audience comfort, frankly for the comfort of many in its white audience.  (Released in the U.S. on August 10.) 

"One Day" - Another adaptation whose film edition misses something its forerunning book captured.  Ironically, David Nicholls adapted his own best-selling book about two friends and potential lovers who catch up on July 15 each year over 25 years.  Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess play the duo but their chemistry is weak, as is Ms. Hathaway's English accent.  Any intended sympathy for certain characters from the book doesn't translate to the big screen.  The film is generally miscast.  Several actors look out of place for Mr. Nicholls' material.  Lone Scherfig's direction lacks potency and the film's style is as tedious and annoying as everything else about "One Day".  (Released in the U.S. on August 19.)

"The Debt" - This film starring Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington among others, opens on Wednesday.  Review to come.

Leslie Mann in "The Change-Up", directed by David Dobkin.  Universal

Poorest Films

"The Change-Up" - The most dreadful film of the summer is the worst so far in 2011, and Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman and Leslie Mann are lost, awash in misogyny, misanthropy and consistent horror-type gags involving babies, women and general mindless stupidity.  David Dobkin's comedy panders to the most guttural and cynical as it torpedoes notions of family life and singlehood.  (Released in the U.S. on August 5.)

"Green Lantern" - Ryan Reynolds, so good last year in "Buried", is buried in a second forgettable summer 2011 film, the lifeless, putrid "Green Lantern", possibly the poorest film adaptation of a DC Comics superhero.  Mark Strong and Blake Lively also star, as do Peter Sarsgaard and Tim Robbins, who looks as if he's about to burst out laughing in some scenes.  (Released in the U.S. on June 17.)

"Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" - Everyone familiar with Michael Bay's films knows what they're in for, but his latest frolics in the carnage of 9/11/01 during a prolonged action sequence whose realism is eerily reminiscent, if not intentionally similar, to the attacks on New York City's World Trade Center towers ten years ago.  Mr. Bay's film is furnished with talking inanimate objects and wind-up toys as human beings (and vice versa.)  The  good and bad robots are indistinguishable during the action sequences.  Why spend millions on action fight sequences if you can't distinguish the participants in them?  Mr. Bay's film did benefit the makers of Aspirin however, as sales (and attention spans) soared through the roof.  (Released in the U.S. on June 28.)

"The Hangover Part II" - A trace-over of the original and wildly funny 2009 film, but with far lazier and disastrous results.  Ken Jeong, a talented actor, goes into negative, screechy overdrive and brings what was a funny character into a full-blown racist stereotype of an Asian.  It's excruciatingly painful to watch Mr. Jeong here, and the movie is savage, violent, shallow and devoid of laughs, more a limited chuckle fest than a cheeky, slick comedy.  Everything about the film is either frantic or slow motion -- and always tired.  (Released in the U.S. on May 25.)

"30 Minutes Or Less" - Economical tasteless comedy about a pizza delivery man who has to rob a bank in order to get money for two slacker criminals and save his own hide, goes nowhere fast.  Ruben Fleischer directs a pitiful story based on actual (and tragic) event where a pizza delivery man was killed in 2003.  Aziz Ansari plays the stereotyped sidekick to Jesse Eisenberg, but his character is an exhausting spectacle of caffeinated anxiety stuck on repeat.  The film is replete with racial stereotypes and looks unfinished.  If the characters were forty years older, "30 Minutes Or Less" might have been hilarious.  (Released in the U.S. on August 12.)

Best Summer Films

John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker and Leeon Jones in "Attack The Block".  Sony/Screen Gems

"The Tree Of Life" - Terrence Malick's spectacular impressionistic vision was so beautiful and impacting that it lingered for many days, and got better after repeated viewings.  Meaningful, magical and masterful, "The Tree Of Life" was about something in a summer of Hollywood films that were about little.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn play father and son respectively over different time periods, Pitt in the 1950s, Penn in the here and now.  A universal experience, Mr. Malick's non-narrative drama dazzled us with visions that 3D couldn't replicate.  (Released on May 27.)

"Road To Nowhere" - A film-within-a-film, Monte Hellman's neo-noir about a murder mystery and a movie does everything right, down to its stellar direction, script and performances.  Dear Academy Members: please consider Shannyn Sossamon for best actress.  Her work as Velma Duran and as Laurel Graham is terrific.  The actress brings a strong, cerebral approach to both characters.  Ms. Sossamon captures atmosphere, attitude and feeling so well, and her composure and calculations are so good you often cannot tell which character she's playing at any one time.  (Released in various U.S. cities at different times beginning in June.)

"Senna" - Asif Kapadia's exciting, moving and entertaining documentary has the ingredients of a feature film.  Filled with dynamic personalities and genuine drama, this account of Formula One racing champion Ayrton Senna not only gives us insight into the world of competition and Formula One but also a multifaceted look at one of the sport's greatest champions and ambassadors.  (Released in the U.S. beginning in early August.)

"crazy, stupid, love." - Romantic comedy done right.  Finally in 2011 a Hollywood film showed us the ups and downs of love in memorable, entertaining ways.  A fine ensemble cast made this film funny, warm and unexpectedly moving.  Marisa Tomei is one of many standouts.  Glenn Ficarra and John Requa direct a film that makes fun of romantic comedy and evokes some of the stronger adult dramas and romances of the 1960s and 1970s.  (Released on July 29.)

"Attack The Block" - Joe Cornish  wrote and directed this clever sci-fi horror-comedy about estate toughs in South London who defend their part of town from an influx of aliens from outer space or thereabouts.  The revelation of this film, aside from its script, is the major feature film debut of John Boyega, charismatic and proud as Moses, a young man who becomes a thankless hero.  The film is a sly mix of 1950s B-movie sci-fi horror and 1990s urban drama and it works well.  Jodie Whittaker also stars.
  (Released in various U.S. cities beginning on July 29.)

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